Purple Prose and Pictures Tell a Prince's Tale

Prince plays the Coachella Festival in 2008.
Prince plays the Coachella Festival in 2008.

Since the sudden and shocking death of Prince in 2016, there have been several books released on the Purple One. Among them the bios and photo books like My Name is Prince, Prince: A Private View and Nothing Compares 2 U; detailed works on his studio sessions and a memoir from his former wife Mayte Garcia with The Most Beautiful. There’s even one partially penned by the man himself, though The Beautiful Ones only contains the brief beginnings of the autobiography he had started just prior to his passing.

book cover
The latest into the fray is Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia. Written by British music journalist/broadcaster Paul Sexton, the text is largely based on interviews he conducted for a two-hour 2017 radio documentary produced for the BBC, Prince and Me.

Some of those subjects include several with legit and close ties to the artist—including childhood friend and early band member André Cymone, bass legend Larry Graham, ‘80s-era sound engineer Susan Rogers and former girlfriend/musical collaborator Susannah Melvoin. Though the reader has to wonder about the absence of extended comments from some of his better known collaborators, like members of his most famous backing band, the Revolution (which included Melvoin’s sister Wendy).

All speak of a man who was always confident and secure—even as a teen—that he was gifted, talented and would become a star. They speak of his insane work ethic and productivity in the studio (the vaults at his Paisley Park home/soundstage/studio are said to contain thousands of unreleased songs and fragments).

They also talk about his need to carefully control and cultivate his image, self-shrouding in mystery, his control freak/perfectionist tendencies and often high-handed tactics which could rub even the closest to him the wrong way. A reader surmises that Prince viewed those in his orbit as “characters” in own grand book or movie, to be summoned at his beck and call as if he were actual royalty.

Others recall the seemingly playful teenage sense of humor, or the quiet philanthropy for people and organizations that was never publicized.

Sometimes, the more interesting anecdotes come from people few even hardcore Prince fans know. Like Alan Edwards, the publicist who, wanting to work for Prince, flew overseas to Minneapolis, where he was driven to Paisley Park and ushered into a suspended room to listen to Diamonds and Pearls.
After the last song ended, Edwards was driven right back to the airport where he was quizzed about the record by the limo driver and flown back to London. All without meeting his potential client. Three days later, he was informed the job was his.

It was still later that he finally met his boss, for about 15 minutes, at a club at 5 a.m. at the end of a very long night when Edwards had assembled a group of journalists who were supposed to conduct interviews. Prince decided “the vibe wasn’t right” and left. The entire time, Prince never spoke to Edwards directly, relaying any conversation through his bodyguard, even though they were standing only two feet apart from each other.

And if Prince didn’t like the sound mix during a concert from the stage, he would hide in a large road case, be pushed right through the crowd to the soundboard in the middle of the venue, jump out and adjust the dials, then hop in and be pushed back. With no one in the audience knowing anything.

The hundreds of photos in the book feature live shots, memorabilia, TV appearances, costumes and posters. Most seem to have been licensed from agencies and even auction houses, but they are not overused or familiar images. Just the visual look of Prince’s costumes and evolving hairstyles is interesting.

Ultimately, the book could have benefitted greatly from a wider range and number of voices discussing their working and personal relationships with Prince. And that book is still out there. But for those who can’t get enough of the enigmatic artist, it’s a worthy addition to the Purple Bookshelf.

Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia
By Paul Sexton
144 pp.
Welbeck Publishing