MINNEAPOLIS — When you attend a wedding in a remote apple orchard in suburban Minneapolis, you don’t expect nearly every guest in attendance to regale you with stories about their encounters with the late pop genius Prince. But that’s exactly what happened to me. Guests at an apple orchard wedding on a warm September afternoon delighted me with Princely anecdotes until doves cried. Or at least until the ceremony started.
After all that pre-nuptial Prince talk, I was a bit disappointed when the wedding officiant didn’t open with “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to celebrate this thing called life...” And none of the vows included the promise “I would die 4 U,” but now we’re getting a bit off-topic.
The keyword is “Minneapolis.” If you talk to the residents of Minneapolis, even ordinary apple orchard wedding folks, it seems that everyone has a Prince anecdote. It’s been six years since he passed away, but Prince is still a larger-than-life, lace-trimmed hometown hero. He may have been 5-foot-3, but he looms large. He was an enigma and a prodigy who oozed eroticism and spirituality. He also sported a killer wardrobe of petite pantsuits (Jiminy Christmas, that tiny waistline!). People still come here to bask in the Princely aura of the Twin Cities.
There’s even a dedicated Prince store at Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport where you can purchase last-minute T-shirts, hoodies, vinyl, magnets, and any essential Prince or purple tchotchkes you may need to bring home from your trip.
A Minneapolis friend pointed out — with just a tinge of bitterness — that not even Minnesota native son Bob Dylan has a store at the airport. If a Dylan store ever does open, please call it High Altitude Homesick Blues.
But back to Prince, the one with the store at the airport, thank you very much. Earlier this year, the city unveiled a 100-foot, $500,000 mural on what would have been his Purple Highness’s 64th birthday (christened with a purple party). Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the city, they’re celebrating the 35th anniversary of the opening of Paisley Park, Prince’s former home, recording studio, and personal concert venue that is now a museum.
Those were the only excuses I needed to explore and trace Prince’s footsteps through Minneapolis. They’re tiny footsteps because he wore a women’s size 6 shoe, but they’re still plentiful. You can find the spirit of Prince by touring his beloved Paisley Park (we’ll get there momentarily), visiting the many Prince murals in the city, stopping by places where scenes from his 1984 film “Purple Rain” were filmed, or even shopping in his favorite record store.
Before I did any of those things, I wanted to find the connection between Prince and Minneapolis. What did the city imbue into the man and the music?
There was only one person with the answer: Elliott Powell. He’s a liberal arts professor and an associate professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota. But, more importantly, he teaches courses on Prince (sign me up!) and is working on a book tentatively called “Prince, Porn, and Public Sex.”
According to Powell, the origins of Prince’s music can be traced back to an August 1966 race riot in North Minneapolis. Out of that unrest, the city, along with Black leaders, created a community center called the Way. It was a gathering space for the Black community, but it also morphed into an incubator for neighborhood talent. Among the kids who practiced and performed there was young Prince Rogers Nelson.
“That’s where Prince did a lot of rehearsing as a kid,” Powell said. “That’s where he learned stage presence. But it was also a place that affirmed blackness. And so when we think about a lot of the race-conscious music that Prince created, there’s a link there. Even if a song is not directly tied to the city of Minneapolis you can get a sense of the influence of Minneapolis.”
It was at the Way where Prince developed a competitive streak that continued as he matured into an adult and started playing gigs at First Avenue, the club that was the epicenter of Minneapolis’s funk/pop/rock scene in the 1980s. First Avenue was also where about half of “Purple Rain” was filmed. The club is still very much in operation and should be a stop on your self-guided Prince tour.
There is one essential stop for Prince fans visiting Minneapolis, and that’s Paisley Park. Opened in 1987, the strange-looking building located in the suburb of Chanhassen, contains Prince’s recording studio, living quarters, and a club. After Prince passed away in 2016, it became a museum and event space. It’s also where Prince would perform last-minute, late-night shows. Well, sometimes perform. The High Priest of Pop would randomly Tweet that he was planning to jam mere hours before a show. Sometimes he would put on an amazing performance at 3 a.m. Sometimes he didn’t bother to come down from his bedroom. It was the luck of the draw.
Now, visitors can choose from an “ultimate” 3-hour experience at Paisley Park ($160), a two-hour VIP tour ($85), or a 90-minute Paisley Park experience ($48). Although I rank myself high on the scale of Prince fandom (I started buying his records in middle school), I opted for the 90-minute tour, and it was more than sufficient. The lyrics of the 1985 song “Paisley Park” say “Admission is easy, just say you believe and come to this place in your heart.” The song never mentioned the admission fee. I believed in my heart, but I still had to pay.
A purple-haired docent took us through the rather odd-looking building, starting with Prince’s hang-out space and kitchen, which looked like a diner, through to the studio where he recorded (or at least partially recorded) “Lovesexy,” “Batman,” “Graffiti Bridge,” and other classics.
Prince was always intensely private, and that tradition continues at Paisley Park. Cell phones are collected at the entrance and placed in bags that can only be reopened by staff. But I don’t need my phone to remember the thrill of being in the recording studio where Prince spent long nights working.
The highlight of the tour was an exhibit that featured 300 pairs of Prince’s custom-made shoes, most of them booties. Prince knew couture as well as he knew how to shred guitar. The shoe exhibit is worth the price of admission to Paisley Park. I audibly gasped with excitement when I realized I was standing in front of the tiny cloud-covered shoes that Prince wore in the “Raspberry Beret” video. Near the end of the tour, our phones were returned, and we entered the performance space, which is also filled with memorabilia.
If you ever need a refresher on what a cultural powerhouse Prince was, this is the place to get it. Could any other city, or any other era, have produced someone so musically divine and self-assured?
Back in the city, I made a beeline for the Prince murals. The most impressive of the batch was painted by muralist Hiero Veiga earlier this year. It’s eight stories tall and depicts Prince at three stages of his career. You can find it at 1st Avenue and 8th Street. There’s also a 30-foot Prince mural on the side of the 424 building on Washington Avenue in the North Loop that’s worth seeking out. If you’re feeling nostalgic, I suggest the Schmitt Music Mural at 94 South 10th St. This isn’t a Prince mural, but a young, grinning Prince was photographed here in 1977.
Meet Minneapolis, the city’s tourism bureau, has a comprehensive list of Prince-centric locations worth visiting (www.minneapolis.org), from where he was born to where he was married. I cherry-picked from the list because I still needed time to see the Mary Tyler Moore statue (priorities, people), but I made sure that I went to Prince’s favorite record store, Electric Fetus.
Electric Fetus is large and ranks high on my list of favorite record shops, and not simply because Prince shopped here, although that doesn’t hurt. There’s an expansive area with gifts, clothes, and other bric-a-brac for those not seeking music. But I suspect Prince headed straight to the CDs and vinyl. While I was there I purchased records from Elvis Costello, the Go-Go’s, Roxy Music, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Lizzo.
I’m pretty sure that Electric Fetus stocks every Prince record ever made, but I’d like to think I was channeling Prince with my purchases. I tried to be as eclectic as possible, conjuring the spirit of Prince’s varied tastes. I’ll never amass a collection of 300 shoes or write a song for Sheena Easton, but I can at least honor his legacy by keeping my ears and mind open, and supporting a very cool record store.