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Remembering Prince: Purple One pranks jr. high piano instructor

As originally printed in the August 22, 1984 issue of City Pages. Read "Remembering Prince" here.

Everyone and his brother is hyping Prince these days — we thought we’d dig up something banal about him.

Did Prince ever help an old lady across a street, or catch an eight-pound walleye? Something ordinary. Prince’s junior high school piano teacher told us about the tack.

This was about 13 years ago. Class Piano, Bryant Junior High. At the time, says Mary Ann Stark, who now works for the city of Minneapolis, the prodigy was self-absorbed, unhappy, and not very articulate, but tremendously gifted. “I couldn't teach him a thing,” she confesses.

For a month, anyway, Stark found a tack on her chair every morning. She was convinced Prince Nelson put it there — “I think I might have seen him do it.” And every day she waited till no one was looking, then brushed it off and sat down.

Meanwhile, the diminutive artist noodled away brilliantly on the keyboards. Occasionally he might call the instructor over and ask what a B flat minor 7th chord was — “he could play it, but he didn't know the name for anything.”

So Stark tried to teach Prince about musical notation. Often she reminded him that John Lennon had had to learn how to read music and that writing it down was a protection against someone stealing it, but the sullen composer would just glare at her.

Stark became intrigued by him: “I would have given my left arm to crawl inside that kid’s head.”

So one day she decided to sit on the tack. She walked to the chair briskly, lowered herself on the tack in such a way that it wouldn’t pierce her, and let out a fake howl. Then she shot a glance at the budding genius.

“He smiled,” she reports. “It was one of the only times he did.” 

Read "Remembering Prince" here.