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A fascinating, authoritative biography of one of the most commercial, controversial, and influential musicians of all time.
In his three decades of recording, Prince has had nearly thirty albums hit the Billboard Top 100. He is the only artist since the Beatles to have a number one song, movie, and single at the same time. Prince's trajectory--from a teenage unknown in Minneapolis to an idol and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer--has won him millions of adoring fans.
Prince is the first book to give full treatment to this thirty-year career of epic proportions. Acclaimed music journalist Ronin Ro traces Prince's rise from anonymity in the late 70s, to his leap to stardom in the 80s, to his reemergence in the twenty-first century as both an artistic icon and a star maker. Ro chronicles the music, showing how Prince and his albums helped define and inspire a generation. Along the way, Prince confronted labels, fostered other young talents, and took ownership of his music, making a profound mark on the entertainment industry and pop culture.
In this authoritative biography, Ro digs deep to reveal the man behind some of the most important music of our time.
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RONIN RO is an award-winning author and music journalist. He has written for Spin, Rolling Stone, USA Today, Playboy, Vanity Fair, and Vibe. He is the author of several other books, including the critically acclaimed Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
PART ONEThe RISE1THIS THING CALLED LIFEON JUNE 7, 1958, AT MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL IN MINNEAPOLIS, A baby was born. John Nelson faced his son in the crib and named him Prince Rogers Nelson--after his own musical stage name. "I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do," John later explained to Liz Jones.They lived at 915 Logan Avenue, a humble home in North Minneapolis. John worked at Honeywell, an industrial supplier, and he and his wife Mattie--a former singer that John met while playing parties with his group, The Prince Rogers Trio--together cared for their first son. They were already trying to raise five kids on what John earned at Honeywell when Prince was born, but within a year Mattie was again pregnant. When their daughter, Tyka Evene, arrived in 1960, John saw his dream of a music career slip even further away.Mattie also gave up her dream--since singing like Billie Holiday wouldn't pay the bills. She remained social, though, with a "wild side," Prince told Rolling Stone, while John was quiet, excited mostly by music.Since John still played shows around town with The Prince Rogers Trio, and still sometimes answered to his stage name, Mattie took to calling their son "Skipper." Prince obviously knew about his father's history leading "his own big band, playing around the Midwest and stuff," and how his mother sang for the group. But he didn't truly understand what his father did until 1963. One day, his mother took him to a local theater. They took their seats, the lights dimmed, and John emerged from behind a curtain with a smile. People applauded as he sat at a piano. While he played, the curtain moved again, and scantily clad dancing girls came out. "People were screaming," Prince recalled, according to Per Nilsen. "From then on I think I wanted to be a musician."The show took a hold of Prince, and for weeks after he tried to playany instrument within reach. He eventually settled, like his father, on the piano, and he would practice in the living room on John's. Then, in department stores, while Mattie shopped, Prince would rush to where the radios and instruments were kept to listen to music or play organs and pianos until his mother would get him. But piano wasn't enough. Prince would put two rocks in his hands, then smash them together to create a melody. He called this noise his first song. Soon, he'd use larger rocks to tap out a rhythm.But while Prince was taking his first musical steps, John was finding the pursuit a rough life. He was, according to local reporter Neal Karlen, "a Jazz musician in the whitest metropolitan area in the country" With a wife and six kids to support, he continued to work at Honeywell, but he couldn't accept that he wouldn't someday be a music star. So he kept creating new melodies. Despite a limited income, John did things like install a TV in the living room wall. Or he'd parade around in new suits and shoes, as if about to take the stage. By 1966, John had bought himself a snazzy new white Thunderbird convertible. His dream seemed by turns impossible and just within reach. When he saw that Prince and his younger sister Tyka were interested in music, he encouraged them to play his piano, realizing he'd have to live his dream vicariously through them. While young Prince tapped out melodies, Tyka told City Pages, she sang, "because that's what my mom and dad did."But just as quickly, moody John would see them bang away on the keys and tell them to get away from the piano. He needed it for his own dream, after all. Though the inner conflict persisted, inevitably he relented, and Prince showed him a melody he had written called "Funk Machine."Monday through Friday, Prince attended elementary school, where other students sometimes insulted his diminutive size. By 1967, the fifth grader was being bussed to a school in an affluent, predominantly white suburb. He wasn't thrilled. One day in class, he turned to a page in a textbook that had a black-and-white photo of a young, dead black man hanging from a rope on a tree.His sister Tyka recalled, according to Per Nilsen, that other students chased them back to the school bus many afternoons. "I didn't know it was because we were black," she said. Some days, other students by the bus protected them. But the next day would always bring another chase and more epithets. Inevitably, Prince tried to withdraw from the experience.One morning he hid his socks, believing this would give his motherno choice but to let him stay home. No dice. She yelled, "You're going to get to that school and find some socks!" He sighed and kept dressing. "She couldn't have them calling me a nigger with no socks on," he told PAPER Magazine, in 1999.Sundays, his mother took him to a wooden, two-story Seventh-day Adventist church where he was enrolled in a Bible study class. On these days, eight-year-old Prince bonded over music with his schoolmate, André Simon Anderson, the son of his dad's former bass player, Fred. "The most I got out of that was the experience of the choir," Prince said of church, according to Nilsen.During this period, Prince's older half brother, Alfred--Mattie's son from her first marriage--was trying to dodge a few rules. In his room, Alfred sang along to his many James Brown records. He styled his hair in a Little Richard--type conk. He always seemed to have money. He also ignored John Nelson's curfews. Late at night, Alfred climbed out of a basement window and hit the street. With him gone, Prince and his cousin Charles tiptoed into his room to try on his clothes and play his James Brown records. Sometimes, Alfred caught them in the act. But he didn't mind.In the end, things didn't end well for Alfred, Charles told author Per Nilsen years later. His recreational drug use led to confinement in a local mental institution.Prince, himself, was born epileptic. As a child, he had seizures. While he trembled and shook, his parents stood nearby, wondering how to help. Still, "they did the best they could with what little they had," he explained.There were other stressors. In 1981, Prince told New York Newsday that his father "felt hurt that he never got his break, because of having the wife and kids and stuff." With Mattie resenting this, "there were constant fights."By 1968, Prince was watching things finally fall apart between his parents. They began having high-volume arguments that sometimes left Mattie in tears. Mattie and John had always been different. She was louder and more vivacious, while John was serious and strict. She had set aside music in the interest of her kids, while John did manage to play some shows in local clubs. "I think music is what broke her and my father up, and I don't think she wanted that for me," Prince later told New York Rocker. Serious musicians, like his father, could be moody. They needed space. Everything in their environment had to be just right. "My father was a great deal like that, and my mother didn't give him a lotta space. She wanted a husband per se."Finally John and Mattie called it quits. After thirteen years of marriage, they decided to separate and filed for divorce. John packed his stuff and moved into a small apartment near Minneapolis's downtown. Prince was shocked when John left. He didn't even take his piano. "Everything was cool I think, until my father left, and then it got kinda hairy," Prince said.At home, it would now be only Prince, his mother, and Tyka. "He left when I was seven, so music left with him," Prince said. "But he did leave his piano." Prince faced the abandoned instrument. In the past, John had often kept the kids away from it. For good reason: they would just bang on it. With his father gone, Prince approached the piano; he was the only one that seemed to notice it was there. And he started to play it in earnest.Meanwhile, Mattie took three jobs.
Prince spent much of his time nearby on his cousin Charles's street. He told people not to call him "Prince." Referred to as "Skipper," he developed an acerbic sense of humor and coined numerous put-downs. But back at home, he'd return to being his father's son, playing melodies on the piano John left behind. At some point, Tyka stopped joining him. Though she never said who, someone, she said, had crushed her dream of singing, saying she was crazy to think she could be on stage. Prince taught her to draw and write stories. But he didn't abandon his own musical dream. Soon, he started practicing drums, playing on a box of old newspapers.Mattie, however, didn't support Prince's musical aspirations. She wanted him in school, and later in college. She sent him to different schools, where he maintained high grades, but Prince viewed his studies as "pretty much my second interest. I didn't really care about that as much as I did about playing." Since music had destroyed his parents' marriage, he explained, "I don't think she wanted that for me."Mattie eventually met Heyward Baker. With her divorce now official, Mattie married Baker and he moved into the house. Baker always brought the family presents. But, Prince told Barbara Graustark, "I disliked him immediately because he dealt with a lot of materialistic things."Prince tried to build a relationship with Baker, as close as the one he had with John. But when Prince tried to engage Baker in conversation, Prince claimed, the man seemed to merely tolerate him. He mostly spoke up, Prince claimed, when Prince did something wrong. "I don't think they wanted me to be a musician," he said of Baker and his mother. They didn't want him to be like John. But the more they pushed, the more defiantPrince became. Before long, he felt rejected, and bitter. He began to rattle off things he disliked about his new stepfather and "it kind of hurt our relationship."Years later, Prince credited Baker for helping to...
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