Splendid isolation - Prince interviewed

When you’re a genius, you need to be strong to be happy. Of course i’m not talking about myself; hey – even when, in a couple of years from now, these Stockholm guys finally put me on that Nobel Prize shortlist, i’ll stay completely modest. No, i’m talking about people like Murakami. Or Prince.

Actually, it’s an almost incidental remark in Murakami’s "What I talk about when I talk about running” which reminded me of the difficulty, for geniuses, to be happy: “There may not seem to be much logic to it, but it’s the life I’ve chosen for myself,” he writes, talking about his long-distance running. And then comes the little sentence: “Not that, at this late date, I have other options.” It’s written there, looking like it’s blinking, that sentence. It’s so honest. And it sounds a bit sad, too.

This same feeling i had when finishing “Prince. The last interview and other conversations”, recently published. What a genius the man was. At an age when you and i were still finishing high school, he was able to play at least 10 instruments. Fluently. By ear. Funny is the scene where the completely unknown, barely 17-years old Prince Nelson is sitting in a chair in a local studio. The radio band is trying to lay down a not too difficult track Prince had written. ‘They plugged away for an hour when Prince very politely told the conductor to change the 16th notes to quarter notes. This done, he slumped down in his seat, looking dissatisfied and slightly annoyed. “We won’t be able to use that. I hate wasting time. I want to hear that song on the radio.”’

Then comes the immense popularity. His change of identity (which reminds me of Bowie): he changes even his name: he doesn’t want to be called Prince no longer, but ‘The Artist formerly known as Prince’.

When i’m reading the interviews he gave in the last years of his life, an image of a very lonely man appears. The interviewers often are welcomed in the huge, but almost completely deserted Paisley Park – the property he constructed late Eighties in Minnesota. Big, empty spaces. A purple piano. In some corridors pictures of himself at different stages of his life. “It looks less like a mystical utopia (Prince wanted it to be), more like a brand of Ikea,” an interviewer says. An empty one. Once he confided to a journalist his then-girlfriend had offered to show up “to make it seem like you have friends come by”. Prince declined, btw, because “that would be lying”. Regularly he plays his secret Paisley Park shows, inviting locals, paying 40$ to attend. “The only previous glimpse they got of Prince was spotting him riding a bicycle around the car park.” At the end of these shows he often invites the audience to accompany him to his cinema and watch the new James Bond film with him. “And then he vanishes before anyone can try take him up on the offer: presumably he’s gone home, wherever that is.”

Here again Murakami comes to mind: “I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers.” “I can’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual kind of relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life.”

Murakami and Prince share that ‘splendid isolation’.

In his last interview, for The Guardian in November 2015, he says ‘he sat there alone at night (in Paisley Park), and played and sang for three hours straight. “I just couldn’t stop,” he says. He’d got “in the zone… like an out-of-body experience": it felt like he was sitting in the audience watching himself. “That’s what you want. Transcendence. When that happens” – he shakes his head – “Oh, boy.”’ 

Some prefer to go and have a drink in the local pub, others reach for eternity.

Less than a year later the Artist formerly known as Prince left the temporary.

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