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Date printed: Sat 16th Nov 2019 11:41pm PST

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Forums > Prince: Music and More > Toronto Star's Return of the Purple Reign
Thread started 04/18/04 11:41am


Toronto Star's Return of the Purple Reign

Yet another Prince's Back! long piece from Canada's biggest daily. It's more like a summary of all the other "Purple Reign" articles, but with new info on Prince's sightings in Toronto. Apparently, he asks for seven ice cubes in his soda when he goes to the movies, an then he likes to buy all the seats and get popcorn without white bits.
Apr. 18, 2004. 01:00 AM

Return of the Purple reign
With a scorching Grammy performance, a hall of fame induction, a new album and tour, Prince is back in the spotlight


INDIANAPOLIS—When you're a musical genius, you don't need an opening act.

That means 12,000 Prince fans while away an hour listening to canned James Brown until His Purple Badness is ready to take the stage at the Conseco Fieldhouse.

When you're a musical genius, you deserve a proper introduction.

That means on the final strains of the Godfather of Soul's "The Payback" the lights in the arena dim and overhead giant video screens reveal Alicia Keys lauding you into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

When you're a musical genius, people are just happy to see you.

That means that when you finally saunter out in a white pinstripe suit, red shirt and 4-inch white pumps (yes, pumps, not platform heels), this elated crowd with a median age of 40 — some in jeans, others in leather and few as sartorially bold as you on a mauve day — get to their feet and stay there for the first 50 minutes of your set.

They're appreciative when you kick off with "Musicology," the funky lead single from your new album of the same name, which is being released on Tuesday. But when you segue into "Let's Go Crazy," they take you literally, increasing the fervour as you deliver more hits from 1984's Purple Rain, which sold 13 million copies and was No. 1 for 24 weeks.

They regard you with the reverence appropriate for a master songwriter, producer and Oscar-winning composer who learned to play more than a dozen instruments by ear and has sold more than 100 million records.

When you're a musical genius, it's easy to pretend you haven't missed a step.

The most memorable moment of the Grammy Awards in February was Prince and Beyoncé's opening number.

The pairing of the vivacious 22-year-old R&B It Girl with the inscrutable 45-year-old erstwhile rock star on a medley of his hits was a combustible entree that the rest of the program couldn't sustain.

"It was hot," said Wayne Williams, Flow 93.5 FM's program director.

"And the response was amazing. People were like `Prince where have you been?'"

The appearance served dual purposes: It introduced him to a new, young audience and signalled to his diehard fans that something was up.

And something was.

Five weeks later he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then came word of a new album and a North American greatest hits tour which lands at the Air Canada Centre July 27. (Tickets go on sale tomorrow.)

But the most surprising revelation was that Musicology would be manufactured and distributed by Sony Music's Columbia Records.

Prince hasn't had a Top 10 hit since the mid-1990s, when he became embroiled in a bitter feud with his longtime label Warner Bros. He accused the company of under-promoting his work and refusing to cede ownership of his master recordings. The label countered that he was flooding the market with expensive, mediocre records. Trapped by his contractual obligations to Warner he changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph and appeared in public with the word slave scrawled on his cheek.

His fans hung in the balance.

"I understand the whole enslaved to the record company kind of thing; he was trying to make a statement," said Williams. "But he did take it a little too far. People were like `Give me the music, man, I don't care about the business.'"

Dubbed The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by the media, he established his own record label, NPG, and began releasing music online in 1997. But the raw funk of Crystal Ball and electric folksiness of The Truth were too indulgent for the pop masses and floundered without major label promotion.

He cut one-album deals with EMI and Arista, but those discs, Emancipation and Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic respectively, weren't fruitful either.

"I don't think he was looking for commercial success," said Scott Morin, director of jazz for Universal Records. "He was just so glad to be free of Warner Bros., he wasn't editing himself in any way."

But when you're a musical genius, you don't want to be forgotten.

So, after years of languishing on the sidelines, The Artist's apparent indifference to mainstream sales has dissipated.

He reverted to the name Prince in May of 2000 following the expiration of his final contract with Warner Bros. And Musicology, while not a great pop record, is more accessible and reminiscent of his earlier work. Plus, he has embarked on his first major concert tour in six years and is talking to the press — sort of.

Laughter — loud, sustained and unapologetic — greeted The Star's request for an interview.

"Honey, you should see the long list I have," said Prince's pleasant L.A. publicist Ronnie Lippin. "Do you know anyone who wants the cover of Rolling Stone?"

Her notoriously reticent client rarely grants print interviews and refuses to be tape recorded when he does. Some believe he plays cat and mouse with both his fans and the media.

"In public he cries wolf a lot, but he's the master of his own publicity," mused Morin.

"I do think he is a genius, but he has a sense of entitlement," said C.J., veteran Minneapolis Star-Tribune gossip columnist and subject of a Prince song, "Billy Jack Bitch."

"People are very respectful here and I can't believe he was being treated in such a manner that required him always going around town with these gigantic bodyguards.

"I just don't have a lot of patience for the way he behaves towards his public."

Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, he was named after the jazz trio his parents belonged to. He fell in love with music when he discovered his father's piano at age 5. He achieved his first No. 1 single "I Wanna Be Your Lover" in 1979, founded groups such as The Time and Vanity 6 and released 30 albums in the last 25 years.

After years of flagrant bachelorhood, he married his former backup dancer Mayte Garcia on Valentine's Day 1996. A son born to them later that year was said to have died of severe birth defects. The couple parted in 2000.

The following year he married Torontonian Manuela Testolini, 27, a former employee of his Minnesota-based Paisley Park Studios.

That's about the same time he became a Jehovah's Witness — a conversion that has had a profound impact on his work. The author of songs about oral sex and incest now focuses on the sacred and political tracks from his vast catalogue.

"There's certain songs I don't play anymore, just like there's certain words I don't say anymore," he told Newsweek last month. "It's not me anymore. Don't follow me way back there. There's no more envelope to push. I pushed it off the table. It's on the floor. Let's move forward now."

It was C.J. who first reported about the suburban Minneapolis Jewish couple who opened their door to a proselytizing Prince.

"People are very interested in how he seems to have changed and blossomed as a human being, but don't forget he had his goons steal that kid's camera at the airport," she said referring to the suit recently filed against the singer and his bodyguard by a college student who said he was assaulted after photographing Prince get off a flight in Minneapolis.

Nonetheless, the artist who posed on the cover of 1980's Dirty Mind in bikini briefs and a trench coat, now references Jehovah in interviews and laments contemporary music.

"Now there's all these dirty videos," he complained to Newsweek. "We're bombarded. When I was making sexy tunes, that wasn't all I was doing. Back then, the sexiest thing on TV was Dynasty, and if you watch it now, it's like The Brady Bunch. My song `Darling Nikki' was considered porn because I said the word masturbate. Tipper Gore got so mad. It's so funny now."

Funny, Prince has always had a dichotomous relationship with women: from chauvinistic songs like "Little Red Corvette," to the female empowering "Pussy Control," all the while promoting artists like percussionist Sheila E., singer Rosie Gaines and his current bass player Rhonda Smith, but preferring the intimate company of docile, naïve women, including 18-year-olds Carmen Electra and Nona Gaye.

"Prince just like any human being is complex and contradictory sometimes," said Mansa Trotman, 30, a Toronto fashion marketing manager and Prince aficionado. "I don't find his music sexist, but I do see a love of women and the female form."

He lives among us, you know.

Prince and Testolini split time between L.A. and their swanky Bridle Path mansion. They keep a low profile but have been spotted at Toronto nightclubs and restaurants, courtside at Raptors games and at concerts (Macy Gray, George Clinton).

"Whenever he's in town, he comes by," said Travis Agresti, general manager of the Inside Lounge on Richmond St. "He usually just relaxes in a corner of the VIP section, but some times he'll get in the DJ booth and spin records."

It's the same story at Fluid, C-Lounge and the now-defunct Society: Prince's security calls ahead, checks things out, then the singer takes a low-key spot, either alone or with his wife, and sips coffee, Amaretto on ice or Merlot through a straw.

From doormen to partygoers, everyone who has encountered the 5-foot-2 entertainer on the town describes him as friendly, yet bashful.

Publicist Jane Harbury recalls seeing him at Norah Jones' show at the Palais Royale. "He was with an entourage, but everybody was respectful of the fact that it was Norah's show, and he seemed to try to not make his presence bigger than her show," she said.

However, his eccentricities were evident during occasional 1 a.m. visits to a Toronto cinema where he paid cash to rent out an entire theatre to watch movies with his wife.

"He would ask for juice with seven ice cubes, couldn't be more or less," recalled the manager who asked not to be identified. "And you know how you get yellow bits and white bits in popcorn — he only wanted the yellow bits. And he liked his ice cream kind of runny.

"He was always pleasant to me, he'd look at my cross (pendant) and touch it and say, `You're blessed.' But my staff was not supposed to talk to him or look at him; that turned me off a bit.

"And he always showed up in a limo, which was weird, since his visits were supposed to be a big secret."

When you're a musical genius, you're allowed to be ironic.

Prince is the kind of musician that other musicians respect.

"He's ridiculous," says Toronto producer Malik Worthy in the bad means good sense.

The Chicago native played guitar in Prince's 1990 movie Graffiti Bridge and later recorded with him at Paisley Park.

"Remember, he played, wrote and arranged all of the music on his early albums himself," said Worthy. "And although he created his own style you could hear his influences (James Brown, Sly Stone) in his music."

Roots drummer Ahmir Thompson said recently in Rolling Stone magazine: "His ability to create on the spot is mind-boggling. Like a hip-hop MC free-styling, he executes ideas off the top of his head in a very convincing manner.

"But there must be at least 20 ways to prove that hip hop is damn-near patterned after Prince, including his genius blatant use of sexuality and the use of controversy as a way to get attention.

"`When Doves Cry' is one of the most radical No. 1 songs of the past 20 years. Here's a song with no bass line in it, hardly any music. I hear people speak of the Neptunes all the time, like, `Oh, man, this is some new shit!' `When Doves Cry' is a precursor to the Neptunes' one-note funk grind, a masterpiece of song with just a drum machine and very little melody."

Prince has "always been five to 10 years ahead of the curve," said Morin, noting that he was one of the first artists to make his music available on the Internet.

Although he has the deal with Columbia, members of Prince's New Power Generation Music Club were able to download Musicology two weeks ago and get first dibs on concert tickets. In addition, all concertgoers receive a free copy of the album on their way in.

The paperwork heralding the arrival of Musicology boasts that "school's in," and so Prince has been complaining about the prevalence of lip-synching and educating young artists in old-fashioned musicianship.

"When I was rehearsing with Beyoncé for the Grammys," he told the Today Show, "I sat her down at the piano and I helped her to learn just some simple scales and then tried to encourage her to learn the piano because there is a language that musicians know that's a little different than, say, just a singer."

When you're a musical genius, you don't fake encores.

You don't run off the stage at the end of a two-hour set, leaving your band members in position and then return at the first hint of an ovation.


You and the New Power Generation retreat to the wings and wait while your fans flick lighters and whistle and cheer and stamp their feet and call your name; which they will do for five minutes, and then 10 minutes even though there's work tomorrow and the babysitter has school.

As time passes, they become more instead of less fervent, even though the house lights aren't up and you haven't performed your biggest tune.

Because they know that you've been known to end shows without encores. They know that with you there are no guarantees.

So when you finally emerge in the Jesus tunic and grant them one more song with an extended solo on that symbol guitar, they thank you.

After all, you are a musical genius.

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Date printed: Sat 16th Nov 2019 11:41pm PST