In 2004, Prince had the highest-grossing tour in the world — surpassing even Madonna — simply because he chose to. With a strong new album in Musicology and decades of hits to back him up, he put on an amazing series of in-the-round, tour de force shows that left fans stunned.
Also: He tried to convert me.
At the time I was a music writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. Prince was coming to play two sold-out shows in Denver and I wanted to write a piece on this new phase of his career. He had done several interviews after a long silence but quickly got frustrated. His publicist told me Prince was sick of seeing the words “diminutive” and “Purple Rain” lead off nearly every piece published, so he quit doing interviews. I countered with a long proposal, explaining that I’d written extensively about his moves after his public “slave” dust-up with Warner Brothers. I understood his artistic and business motivations and wanted to have a serious talk. Several days later, Prince reviewed it and sent a one-word reply: “Approved.”
When we met in Milwaukee, everything went sour. The traffic from Chicago made the entire tour late. This was the one show of the tour not in-the-round, so a new setup and extensive soundcheck were needed. I sat alone in the empty amphitheater as Prince put his band through their paces for more than an hour while he personally tweaked the sound from every corner of the place. He scowled as his crew labored to get it just right, while I pinched myself at this private concert.
Everyone asks: “What was he like?”
In his dressing room backstage, he gave me a warm handshake and the big Prince smile. He couldn’t have been more cordial and relaxed, despite the strained soundcheck. It was like shooting the breeze with anyone — he couldn’t have been more down-to-earth. I had good questions and Prince gave great answers, smiling slyly as he saw the record industry imploding through downloading — something he had made profitably available to his fans for years. He insisted he didn’t want to say “I told you so!” But his grin said otherwise.
My allotted 20 minutes grew to more than an hour as he brushed off his handlers and kept talking. I felt guilty as I heard the cheers of fans outside, knowing I was the hold-up. Finally, I insisted he had to stop and get ready for the show.
During the interview, we had talked a bit about God, both as a deity and as a subject in Prince songs such as “The Holy River” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” While he lyrics and stage show could be risque, he had never stopped believing or invoking God’s name in his songs. “He is great,” he told me, adding that he still felt compelled to write about God because he was such a big portion of his life. Prince had been raised a Seventh Day Adventist, but in 2001 he became a Jehovah’s Witness. Soon after, a Jewish couple in Minneapolis answered their door on Yom Kippur to discover Prince on their porch with a copy of the religion’s newsletter, The Watchtower, in his hand. Turns out they were fans, and they invited him in.
On my way out the door, Prince gave me a Watchtower pamphlet, looked me in the eye and told me that when I was ready I should call his publicist anytime, day or night, and she would get him on the phone immediately so he could convert me himself.
I said I’d let him know if that day ever came. Now it never will.
The next day, Prince put an apology on his website for the two-hour show delay. When the tour hit Denver a few weeks later I picked up my tickets as the box office. My wife and I kept walking down, down, down, following the usher. He planted us in front-row tickets at one of the four corners of the stage and Prince shredded on guitar for two hours right above our heads.
Nothing diminutive about him. I’m gonna miss that guy.