As a kid coming of age in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minn. in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were certain things I took for granted: the summers would be as hot as the winters were cold, the Timberwolves would perpetually pack an arena but deliver no championships to their loyal fanbase, the Mall of America was our most frequent social activity, and Prince was so woven into our local culture that he was rarely discussed. Like the 13 lakes that punctuate the city, the Purple One simply was—as if he had always been there and forever would be.
En route to a game or concert at Target Center, I might think to glance at his star First Avenue’s Wall of Fame, where he got his start. While driving to one of our 10,000 lakes for a day of fishing with my father, we’d regularly pass Paisley Park, the stark white structure that looked like it had landed upon the otherwise sedate suburb of Chanhassen. A cruise through downtown Minneapolis would inevitably route you past the “music wall” on the side of the old Schmitt Music building that a pre-fame Prince eventually made famous. And if you were savvy enough to get into your underaged self into one of the city’s hotter nightclubs of that era, you might be blessed with a walk-through by the diminutive, but nevertheless larger-than-life musician.
Prince Rogers Nelson was such a part of the fabric of Minneapolis that for the most part, we took our resident genius and beloved hometown hero for granted.
Accordingly, when the icon died unexpectedly in April of 2016, it was not only a devastating shock to the systems of his countless fans but to the city and surrounding areas of Minneapolis itself. As one of my high school friends noted at the time, “to us, he was home.” After years spent living in the Twin Cities, I made my first pilgrimage into of Paisley Park until that winter; so present was Prince’s spirit that you almost expected him to emerge from one of the studios. But perhaps most moving was his office, where his desk was exactly as he’d left it, almost as if he’d just dipped out to grab a (vegan) snack.
I like to imagine that desk is where Prince wrote the 30 pages of notes that formed the basis The Beautiful Ones, the memoir he began with writer Dan Piepenbring in the months preceding his death. In parts autobiography, retrospective and archive, and a reverential chronicle of Prince’s last months as he embarked upon becoming a first-time author (as told by Piepenbring), the book pulls together memories, notes, rare photos, an early outline of what would become the script for Purple Rain, and even the handwritten lyrics to some of Prince’s most famous songs (and others that are far less so) to give an inside look at how south Minneapolis’ native son became the most prolific entertainer of his or perhaps any other era.
“Prince’s handwriting was beautiful, with a fluidity that suggested it poured out of him almost involuntarily,” writes Piepenbring in his introduction, and I emphatically agree. “The pages were warm, funny, well-observed, eloquent, and surprisingly focused. This was Prince the raconteur, in a storytelling mode reminiscent of his more narrative songs, such as ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker’ or ‘Raspberry Beret.’”
But among the many revelations about Prince’s process, principles and mercurial personality, it’s his humanity that looms largest. Insights about his family, influences, sexual awakening, profound love of blackness and his steadfast belief in the power of black women, in particular (“African women have an unspoken language,” he writes), the enigmatic entertainer becomes not only accessible but vulnerable, and an already profound musical legacy becomes even richer for what is revealed about the man behind it. It’s a must-have for any Prince fan (as well as a bit of closure on his loss), and a fitting tribute to the man who changed the landscape of pop music with his genre-bending, unapologetically out-of-the-box style.
On Monday, Nov. 18 in New York City, historic venue The Town Hall will celebrate the release of The Beautiful Ones with an evening of music and reminiscences by Piepenbring, Spike Lee, The New Power Generation, author and producer Greg Tate and more, presented in partnership with Strand Books and directed by artist/activist Gbenga Akinnagbe (most recently seen on HBO’s The Deuce and Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird). Per a press release:
The Beautiful Ones, which Prince himself named, choosing the title of one of his iconic songs from Purple Rain, was completed and will be celebrated with an exclusive special event at The Town Hall in New York on Monday, November 18 at 8pm.
Prince: The Beautiful Ones – A Celebration of his Memoir, Life and Art will feature performances by The New Power Generation, Prince’s former backing band from 1990 through 2013, and special musical guests. Speakers include filmmaker Spike Lee, Prince’s editor Chris Jackson, and Dan Piepenbring, Prince’s handpicked co-author for the book. The Town Hall event is presented in partnership with Strand Books and directed by artist/activist Gbenga Akinnagbe, fresh from a year-long run in Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway smash To Kill A Mockingbird. All ticket sales include a hardcover copy of The Beautiful Ones. Proceeds from the event will benefit Harlem Children’s Zone.
“Prince is a once in a lifetime artist. I count myself thoroughly blessed to have lived during his musical reign,” said Akinnagbe. “And he did so much for others during his life. With this event benefiting Harlem Children’s Zone, we continue his legacy.”
Ticket purchases for Prince: The Beautiful Ones – A Celebration of his Memoir, Life and Art start at $65 and also include a hardcover copy of The Beautiful Ones; the book is also available in digital, audio and hardcover formats online.