Every artist needs a studio – someplace to inspire and motivate, concentrate and create – and it can be as simple as a nook, spare room or loft. Occasionally it’s more. Much, much more.
For the man who would be Prince, musical masterpieces were conceived and mounted at huge and multifaceted Paisley Park, the superstar musician’s personal playground and private sanctuary in Minnesota.
The first floor of the 65,000-square-foot campus for music, film and video production opened for tours last October – something Prince Rogers Nelson wanted, but he likely didn’t think it would happen so soon.
Prince, who would have turned 59 on June 7, died of an accidental opiod overdose in April 2016. It’s hard to not make comparisons with Graceland in Memphis: For Elvis, the official cause of death was a heart attack, but prescription drugs were a contributing factor.
Elvis died at Graceland – 40 years ago, in August – and Prince died at Paisley Park. Elvis is buried outside of the Tennessee mansion, and Prince’s cremains are inside of a mini Paisley Park, encased in the real Paisley Park’s atrium.
Both superstar shrines preserve original furnishings and décor, freezing enough time to keep its original owner forever young in spirit.
But that’s where similarities seem to end. Unlike Graceland, tourists get nary a glimpse of Prince’s private living space. Mitch Maguire, manager of tour operations, says the second-floor quarters aren’t even accessible to staff.
A Paisley Park tour is about the products of Prince’s life instead of his personal habits, shortcomings or quirks. “He felt comfortable and at peace in this space,” Mitch offers.
The Purple One’s doves remain, in cages visible from the atrium. They sit below a quartet of pyramid-shaped skylights and above a marble floor containing the mixed-gender symbol that Prince used as his name for seven years.
When Paisley Park was constructed 30 years ago, it was relatively rural, 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Now strip malls and chain businesses pave the way.
Prince’s desire to turn his compound into a self-made memorial is why much of the tour space was ready to share shortly after his death. What wasn’t already in place was easily transformed.
Examples: A former game arcade shows off a $100,000 piano, bought in the 1990s.
A dance rehearsal studio is the “Purple Rain” room, outfitted with the movie’s script, attire, motorcycle, Academy and Grammy awards.
“It’s about preservation rather than re-creation,” Mitch says.
So you’ll see Prince’s last touring piano, which has an electric keyboard inside, and the drum machine from “When Doves Cry.” Still parked outside is the tour bus. Parked inside is a 2006 powder blue Bentley and 1999 Plymouth Prowler in purple.
You’ll hear a snippet of an untitled track to an untitled album, left unfinished with the singer-songwriter’s death. “Look at U. How can U not know …” begin the lyrics, propped in Studio A, which has an isolation room for each musician and spacious control room that Prince commandeered.
One hallway mural is devoted to mentors – musicians who influenced Prince and those he influenced. Another is a timeline of his major hits and professional challenges. Both were in place before the artist died.
A video clip at Paisley Park’s exit is Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, “Purple Rain” performed during a downpour, on his electric guitar. It goes down in history as awesome timing, not a foolish move.
Prince shows up everywhere at Paisley Park – in photos, artwork, a video interview with Oprah, on music videos in his 200-person capacity music club and a 12,500-square-foot sound stage.
When I visit, the clip is from his last tour, a one-man show with just a piano and microphone. More naked, pure and challenging is how Prince described it. “On top of his game” is how Mitch frames it, but what I see is a tired guy with steady but strained enthusiam, working hard and alone.
Tours of Paisley Park, 7801 Audubon Rd., Chanhassen, Minn., average 70 minutes (100 for a small-group VIP tour, which adds access to a film editing room and second recording studio). Tickets are $38.50 to $100. Ages under 5 are not admitted. A $60 tour ticket on Saturday includes access to Paisley Park After Dark, a 7-11 p.m. DJ dance party in the NPG Music Club Room. Fans wear purple. officialpaisleypark.com
Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit is about as opposite but relevant as you can get to Paisley Park. Open for tours are two tidy but ordinary and connected houses where record producer Berry Gordy Jr. lived and established Motown Records in 1959.
Guided tours of about one hour include Studio A, where Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and myriad others recorded hits that crossed racial barriers and remain beloved pop classics.
Instruments, recording equipment and makeshift sound effects are dazzling because they are original and humbling, especially when compared to modern-day standards. Add artifacts from Motown’s heyday, including a Michael Jackson hat and sequined glove.
Upcoming is a $50 million expansion that would preserve the landmark houses but surround them with 50,000 square feet of new exhibit space, to show off more Motown memorabilia and traveling museum shows.
The nonprofit Motown Museum, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, is in the New Center neighborhood in uptown Detroit. Admission is $15 ($10 for seniors, students; free for ages under 5). Closed on Monday. motownmuseum.org, 313-875-2264
The Rolling Stones are going on tour again, but only in Europe and not until September. You can relive the iconic rock band’s glory years much sooner and closer to home.
“Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones” is a visual and auditory immersion that takes up around 18,000 square feet of Festival Hall, near the tip of Navy Pier in Chicago. Rooms of guitars, album covers, concert costumes, photographs and posters are a big part of it.
So are a re-created recording studio with original equipment and handwritten lyrics, plus a replica of the first apartment – every mom’s nightmare – where the hungry English musicians lived in Chelsea, one-half century ago.
“Exhibitionism” immerses fans into the complex world of rock ’n’ roll, be it a peek backstage or story of what led to lip-tongue logo. In one gallery are Andy Warhol pencil drawings and lithographs of the band. In another are sketches and models of Bridges to Babylon or Voodoo Lounge stage sets.
Music and video clips? Sure, and the best comes at the end, when you put on a pair of 3-D glasses for a total, four-minute concert immersion.
Access to the self-guided show with hundreds of artifacts at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, is by timed admission. Allow 90 minutes to see everything. Admission is $36 to $39, depending on the date (less for seniors and students; free for ages under 12). The show ends July 30. stonesexhibitionism.com