By Jesse Marx
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Tillotson surmises that she got the green light because she has never written about Prince, and because promoters at the Xcel Center needed some publicity in the Strib. "I guess I'm fresh kill," the columnist jokes.
Before the Q&A commenced, Prince's publicist, Stephanie Elmer, told those in attendance that no advance copies of The Rainbow Children were available, then reminded reporters to limit their inquiries to topics broadly defined in the press release. Tillotson asked if Prince would entertain questions about his religion. No, Elmer replied. No personal questions. What if he brought it up himself? No follow-up questions. Violators would be removed.
Prince entered. Cleanly shaven, feathered hair falling shoulder length, he wore a velvety red shirt with sheer sleeves, red pants, matching red boots, and a thick chain with a diamond-emblazoned "NPG" (New Power Generation) hanging on the end. "The first person to wish me a happy birthday gets dropped in the alligator moat," he deadpanned, then sat down to testify for 90 minutes.
"He said some things that I didn't have time or the space to address in my column," Tillotson reports. "But I was pleasantly surprised by how lucid and relatively frank and congenial he was. I was expecting him to be more aloof or oblique."
Prince lambasted the music industry: "It's like the jazz series that Ken Burns did. It showed people like Miles Davis, and it made $50 million. How much of that do you think went back into the subject of the series?" He riffed on religion: "Psalms is a beautiful book. It's like a piece of music. There are very clear roles [sic] in the Bible about male and female roles in society." He even got political, poking fun at President Bush and charging that property taxes in Chanhassen are out of line.
Every now and then he would reassert that the purpose of this gathering was to "put the focus back on the music." Then he'd go off on another tangent. When he was allowed to speak without interruption, he'd become impassioned. When someone dared to risk a follow-up question or ask something he didn't want to hear, Prince would withdraw, often offering only a barely audible "no comment." When quizzed about the new CD--what it sounded like, what the songs were about, whether his new religious beliefs played a role in the studio--he allowed only that The Rainbow Children would come packaged with self-explanatory lyrics. Then he'd return to his love of God and hatred of the record industry: "Twenty-first-century women do not want to live by a role. They want to say to men, 'Let's switch our roles.' But things don't work that way. You have to know your role and make it work. It's the same thing with the music industry. You have to find the good roles that work and go with them."
"It's funny," City Pages' Maerz says. "We ended up talking about all of the things we were warned he didn't want to talk about."
Erin Anderson, a Prince fan since hearing the CD, was intrigued by Prince's newfound faith and puzzled by his gender-related comments. This was, after all, the man who penned "If I Was Your Girlfriend." So after the press conference, while Prince was shaking hands with reporters as they left, she hung back. Last in line, she asked if they could sit down sometime and discuss religion. They talked for the next 30 minutes.
"Little did I know that the conversation would be a nightmare," she says, allowing only that the exchange, which took place off the record, revolved around gender. "I was still sort of expecting something really different to come out of his mouth. I was thinking, 'I'm going to hear some really great and really unusual things. And it's going to make me feel better about what he was saying in the press conference.' That didn't happen. I felt like I was being interrogated. At times he was listening to me, but for the most part I felt like he wanted to hear himself speak."
Since the press conference, Anderson has seriously considered taking her Prince CDs to the trash bin. "I haven't really been able to listen to his stuff," she laments. "It's like watching a train wreck. He's working himself into eventual obscurity."
Maerz used her disillusionment to fuel a column. "How can someone who so revolutionized gender roles in the early Eighties with his androgynous style and ambiguous sexual orientation suddenly insist that we should all adhere to 'traditional' values?" she wrote in the June 13 issue of City Pages.
The artist was not amused. The day after Maerz's piece was published, Stephanie Elmer called to inform her that Prince had requested an audience. Maerz, who didn't receive the message until evening, wondered if they could schedule something the next day. No way. Tonight it would have to be, 9:00 p.m. sharp. Unable to pass up a rare opportunity for a one-on-one interview, Maerz agreed.
At Paisley Park she was escorted to a small conference room, where she had to wait only a few minutes. Prince arrived, they exchanged niceties, then sat side by side on a couch. When she began to write in her notebook, Maerz says, Prince informed her that their discussion would be off the record. No tape recorder. No notes. She went along with Prince's demand. The 30-minute conversation, she reports, went from friendly to confrontational, then ended abruptly. "It became clear to me that the only reason he invited me out there was so he could have the last word," she observes in retrospect. "It was a total power trip."