Where Were You?
I was just about to board an airplane for my first trip to Europe in 20+ years when I heard the news. A musical icon had passed away and a personal favorite of mine. It was April 21, 2016, the day Prince Rogers Nelson passed away.
Ever since that day, I have been traveling to-and-fro across Europe and the United States finding movie locations, places I've only seen in pictures, and hunting landscapes and architecture. So when it came time to plan out my trip to North Dakota via Minneapolis, it was a no-brainer to do a little research and find some of Prince Rogers Nelson's old haunts and maybe some Purple Rain movie locations.
The following locations are the ones I found and made it to. I decided to share them, along with some of my thoughts and memories of the "The Artist."
The Prince House - From Purple Rain
Location: 3420 Snelling Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
Prince's music always had a funny effect on me. He was so creative and ahead of his time, I usually didn't like his new albums when I first heard them. The first time I heard songs from Purple Rain, I thought, who could listen to that? Of course his previous hits like 1999, Little Red Corvette, and I Wanna Be Your Lover were much more approachable and fairly mainstream.
Then after saying I'd never buy the album, a friend talked me into seeing the movie Purple Rain. From that day forward, I was a Prince fan. Putting those songs in context helped me grow an appreciation and then a love for the music. Prince was going to break me out of my musical comfort zone and I'm glad he did.
I soon couldn't get enough and started buying all the 12" singles of his music so I could get the bonus "B-sides" like Erotic City, 17 Days, and so many other great songs. It took a long time for me to find one of my favorites. It is a song called God and it is subtitled as the Love Theme From Purple Rain. I can't find the video of the original to share with you, but leave it to YouTube to give me something! This one is a piano version, rather than the guitar version with backward masking (I'm showing my age with all of these vinyl record and tape terms), but it still shows the haunting beauty in this very simple piece of music.
The house itself is easy to get to. I believe the Prince estate owns it for now, but it isn't something to tour. In fact, someone might just live there, so respectful photos from the street should be enough. Note that the cellar door is not there and they extended out the front of the house. The interior scenes were not shot at that house from what I've heard - only the exterior.
First Avenue and 7th Street Entry
Location: 701 N. First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
If you head downtown, this spot is hard to miss. Just a couple of blocks from Target Field and easily accessible via the last two stops of the downtown Blue or Green Metro T lines, First Avenue will be instantly recognizable to anyone that has seen Purple Rain. The performances from the movie were filmed here and you see many shots from the outside. This was a favorite venue of Prince before and after Purple Rain.
Still an active music venue, the facade is covered with the names of the greats that have played at this Minneapolis icon. Right above another favorite of mine, Bob Mould, you'll find Prince and to the left, his band in the 80's The Revolution.
Keep up your hunt and you'll find a few more favorites. I always am amazed to think Prince assembled The Time simply because he needed more bands available to play his huge catalog. Knowing he was going to try new musical styles, he could feed them the less experimental R&B and funk compositions. Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Jellybean, I still love their music, although they decided to change their name to the Original 7ven so they could perform freely and not have any issues over who owned the name The Time.
The Orpheum Theater
Location: 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
One thing I found a little disappointing about tracking down Prince locations - many of them had been burned down or destroyed. His original recording studios were all gone. The few places that remained were a couple of performance venues like The Capri Theater on Broadway where Prince played his first solo show as a benefit, and the Orpheum Theater where some theater scenes from Purple Rain were filmed.
The Electric Fetus
Location: 2000 S Fourth Street, Minneapolis, MN
I didn't have time, but you could also visit Prince's favorite record store the Electric Fetus. It was said he shopped there right up until his death.
US Bank Stadium
Location: 104 Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
No, Prince never played at the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, but I remember Super Bowl Halftime tribute where the image of Prince singing "I Would Die 4U" stood tall above the stage and then the stadium lit up and radiated purple into the night.
It still gives me chills to think about it.
I always wondered if, being a child of Minneapolis, Prince's affection for purple might have come from the Vikings? Seeing this stadium still rocking the purple just brings those memories back.
And while we're talking Super Bowl memories, before we get to the must see venue in the Minneapolis area for Prince fans, let's remember that amazing rain soaked performance the Purple One gave when he did play halftime of a Super Bowl in Miami:
Paisley Park (Not really purple - but how else could I post it?)
Not far from the shores of Lake Minnetonka (no, I didn't purify myself in the waters!) in the town of Chanhassen you'll find Prince's home for all of his recording from 1987 until his death in 2016. Just a note. This place is like Fort Knox. When your ticket says don't arrive until 20 minutes until your tour, this is not a suggestion, you will be turned away until your time.
Also, because Prince didn't have a will, his estate is still not settled. I don't want to say this venue may be unavailable in the future, but if you're in the Minneapolis area, I wouldn't put it off. Right now it is being run by the same group that handles Graceland in Memphis. It is a great tour.
I could have used up my phone's entire memory card taking pictures and video inside of this amazing facility. However in respect to Prince, who never allowed videos or photos in the building while he was alive, photos cannot be taken and the smartphone had to be left at the desk or in the car.
Since I can't share any photos, I'll share some of what I experienced. And to spice it up, I'll share videos of my 10 favorite Prince songs.
10. I Wanna Be Your Lover (From his debut album "Prince")
Released right smack dab in the middle of the disco era along side The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and KC & The Sunshine Band, this song stood out as something new. I remember Casey Kasem giving a little background on this new artist "Prince" and I had no idea in that moment that this newcomer would go on to such a prolific career.
As for your first impressions of Paisley Park, when you get past the guard and front desk - if the gold and platinum records on the wall don't tell a story, those eyes of Prince looking down on you will. A painting of the artist in clouds keeps close tabs on you while you wait for your tour. It is said the painting was Prince's way of keeping an eye those coming to the studio.
9. The Cross (from "Sign of the Times")
If you haven't heard this song before, you might be surprised at the heavy gospel theme in the lyrics. But Prince was always full of surprises and religion permeated quite a few of his songs. But rather than mixing it with the sexual themes he once did, instead he imparted struggles and strife, and made it an anthem of hope. This was a real standout track for me on the "Sign of the Times" album.
Speaking of shock value, as the tour continued into the main atrium adorned with a skylight, painted doves, and a pair of real doves, encircled by rooms dedicated to a few of his albums, I made my way into his office where he was on the television giving an interview about no longer using foul language in his music. He was making a point that shock value only works for so long, so it wasn't a tool he used anymore.
8. Computer Blue (From "Purple Rain")
I love both parts of this song. The beginning half is Prince in all of his funk meets rock glory. Not hard to tell he was a fan of Jimi Hendrix. But the kicker is when he slides into the melody that his father wrote. This is a great piece of music but it is how they showcased it in the film that makes it incredible.
After having some time to enjoy the different rooms (the "Black Album" room had a security lock on it, a joke true Prince fans should get), we walked past the kitchen area where Prince and his guests might catch a Minnesota Timberwolves game or chat over a beer, and we headed into Studio A. For me, the wanna-be music producer, seeing this studio and getting to hear some of his unreleased music was energizing yet bittersweet. To think that Prince used to hang out behind that big console with a microphone at the ready, but that these rooms would never see that kind of activity again, was a sad thought.
7. Live 4 Love (From "Diamonds & Pearls")
I regret that I never got to see Prince in concert. I will say that Prince taught me a lesson. When you get a chance to see one of your favorite artists, don't say "maybe next time." He came through my hometown a few years ago and I passed, thinking I'd have ample opportunity to see him in the future. What an idiot!
I love how absolutely funky this song is. This was the last song before he became "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince."
There is a long hallway at Paisley Park that features a painting of Prince, but to the right of him it also contains his influences like Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, and Miles Davis (Prince had an album under the name Madhouse 8 with Miles Davis). On the left, you see all of the people he influenced like The Time, Shiela E, Tevin Campbell, etc. A very cool tribute.
6. Pop Life (From "Around the World In a Day")
I was so stoked when "Around the World In a Day" was released. But alas, I found I just couldn't get into it. But again, time and the song Pop Life won me over. Now I can't imagine this album being out of my collection. Only Prince impress a teenager with a line like "show me a boy who stays in school, and I'll show you a boy aware."
The album that made Prince an international superstar was of course Purple Rain. So it was fitting that the next room we entered was a shrine to the film. You'll see the motorcycle and all sorts of memorabilia from the movie. And there is purple rain falling from the ceiling as you see Prince singing the song up on the wall. This put me in full fledged nostalgic mood.
5. The Ladder (From "Around the World In a Day")
This is one of my favorite Prince studio performances. It was going to be tough to follow up a masterpiece like Purple Rain, but to me, Prince adds so much power and passion to this song. A truly great performer and songwriter. Preach on brother!
Once past the Purple Rain room, there are two spaces dedicated to the next two movies in Prince's filmography. First was "Under a Cherry Moon" which was a black and white lighthearted caper film that left a lot of people flat after the serious themes of Purple Rain. Yet the music was great and it is so campy it is fun. Watching it up on the screen, I had completely forgotten that it was Kristin Scott Thomas' first major film. Not a bad choice of actress since she went on to be nominated for 2 Oscars for her role in The English Patient a couple years later.
4. 17 Days (B-Side of "When Doves Cry" Single)
You're on some kind of roll when you can slap a great song like this on the flip-side of your first single. You may notice that many of my favorite Prince songs are deeper tracks. It's not that I don't love songs like "When Doves Cry" or "Raspberry Beret." Sometimes I get a little listener fatigue and the songs that don't get blasted on the radio all the time end up being favorites.
The next film room features "Graffiti Bridge." I remember seeing this film and it was supposed to be loosely a continuation of the Purple Rain story, but the fantasy level of it didn't really wash with the gritty feel of the first film. But it had some quality music in it.
3. Do Me, Baby ("Controversy")
I'm sorry, but when I heard the term "baby making music" I immediately thought of this song. I absolutely love great R&B and this song screams it from the first note to the last. We're not worthy, we're not worthy!
Down another long hallway at Paisley Park, the tour moves past career photos of Prince in chronological order. I marveled at how no matter how the look evolved, it was still always the one and only Prince. Then we walked past a very bizarre looking rounded piano. Apparently this room, featuring plenty of natural light, was a favorite unwinding spot for Prince. But no time to relax. The next room was going to blow my mind.
2. Let's Go Crazy (From "Purple Rain")
Even in those early days before seeing the film (and still being in my "I don't know about this" mode), this song was just a pure rock and roll rollick. It was immediately apparent that Prince's guitar chops were first class. I've never grown tired of this song. It still pumps me up every time I hear it. But I still have never seen that purple banana.
Okay, mind blown. The building doesn't really look that big from the outside. But the sound stage he has is bigger than many standard music venues I've been in. Not only could you see the full stage with video performances from Prince rolling along, but some of his favorite cars were in there, his clothing was featured, and you could see the piano he used in many of his performances. But as if having a full scale sound stage wasn't enough...
The last room you came to was a very cool nightclub. And what was so cool was hearing that Prince would put out the word that he wanted to do a show here and local people could show up and stand just a few feet away from the stage enjoying the legend. As good a reason as I've heard to live in Minneapolis.
The tour of Paisley Park ends with the gift shop and you can watch Prince's Super Bowl Halftime performance. A great way to end up a very cool tour. Tickets are a little pricey. But if you're a fan, it is well worth it. I did the General Admission Tour at $38.50 and they do have some extended tours as well.
And now - #1
1. Purple Rain (From "Purple Rain")
Seriously? What other song could be here? This is my karaoke song. Yes, if someone ever nudges me up on the stage, I try my best to do it just the same as Prince does it in the movie. I even get people to raise their hands over their heads! Ha! Just watching this video has me wanting to go back and watch the movie again.
I really enjoyed my time at Paisley Park and in Minneapolis. It's a great town, easy to get around on the Metro Train (get an all-day pass for $4) and affords a lot of great photo ops. But I was glad I took the time to drift into a little purple nostalgia while I was there. Prince, you will be missed.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
It just seemed fitting to see "His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute To Prince" in the airport as I left. You're gone, but your music will linger on forever.