Prince's Purple Rain: A tour of The Artist's Minneapolis
Purple Rain turns 30 this week and to celebrate Christian Koch set off on a tour of Prince's hometown taking in music venues, film locations and even a night at Paisley Park
Wednesday 23 July 2014
As royal invitations go, a scrappy email flyer titled "Paisley Park After Dark – U Never Know What Might Happen" is hardly an embossed card from the Queen summoning you to Buckingham Palace. But it's no less exciting. Since last autumn, these invitations have circulated on Twitter and Facebook, announcing that pop-goblin Prince will open the doors of his palace – Paisley Park studios, 30-minutes' drive from Minneapolis – for an impromptu soirée.
Which is how I find myself in a draughty, hangar-like space deep inside the Paisley Park complex, at 1.50am on a Sunday morning, waiting for His Royal Purpleness to grace me with his presence. Previous Paisley Park After Dark parties have been erratic. Sometimes Prince turns up, sometimes he doesn't. Last October, he performed a 4.15am gig, then a 6.30am encore before serving pancakes to bleary-eyed fans. My day started early, and something tells me this is going to be a long night.
Discounting Post-It notes and Milky Way bars, Prince Rogers Nelson is Minneapolis's most famous export. The artist formerly and currently known as Prince has been rekindling his career via guerrilla gigs with band 3RDEYEGIRL and a new album (reportedly titled Plectrum Electrum) is expected any day to mark the 30th anniversary of landmark album/film project Purple Rain this month.
Meanwhile, the Midwestern city which spawned him is undergoing a similar renaissance, not least with its current cycling boom. Recently voted the US's most bike-friendly city by Bicycling magazine, Minneapolis has 207 miles of trails to explore. Its Nice Ride bike-sharing system has stations of chartreuse-green bicycles dotted all over the city and a cornucopia of self-guided tours (download at niceridemn.org) including "Mmmm, Beer" (microbreweries), "Art Al Fresco" (public art) and "Prince for a Day", taking in the singer's seminal haunts.
Unlike his 1980s superstar peers who largely decamped to LA mansions, Prince has remained defiantly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was born 56 years ago. With the purple one in mind, I take custody of a bike and set off on the concise Prince for a Day tour. I start in Downtown, which by dint of its skyscrapers concatenated by an eerily dated network of "skyways" (enclosed pedestrian bridges built so Minneapolitans could avoid harsh midwinter conditions), looks like HG Wells probably imagined all cities would circa-2014. Seemingly innocuous Downtown sights such as Glam Slam (the 1990s nightclub from Prince's Graffiti Bridge movie) and the singer's former studios, Sound 80, may only stir the interest of super-fans, but with some tweaking, the tour's route can make a perfect Minneapolis primer.
After taking in four key sites, the bike tour finishes at the house in Purple Rain where Prince's character lived, so it's worth making a detour to Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes, which is linked by 13 miles of biking paths. Minnesota bills itself as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" (there are actually 11,842); Minneapolis – separated from twin city St Paul by the Mississippi River – is blessed with 22 bodies of water. I pedal off towards Cedar Lake, which is fringed by unofficially demarcated beach-zones (hipster, gay, "Bare Ass" nudist beach) before heading towards Midtown Greenway, a five-and-a-half mile disused railway-turned-bicycle freeway. I finish at choppy Lake Calhoun, where kayakers struggle with the waves and bald-headed eagles circle above.
Also part of the Prince for a Day tour is First Avenue, the centrepiece of Minneapolis's live scene. An ex-Greyhound depot now daubed with a galaxy of 500-or-so stars bearing names of acts who have played there, it's where concert footage was filmed in Purple Rain. More recently, Prince has been known to sashay in straight from his limo, ghost up alongside the band on-stage, then – much to their bewilderment – start jamming with them.
South-west of Minneapolis in the city of Chanhassen, Paisley Park is the vast recording studio and rehearsal compound where Prince has recorded most of his albums since opening it in 1987. Just before midnight, I find myself zipping down Highway 101 in a taxi for the half-hour journey to the studios. With no guarantee he'll even be there, Prince's After Dark nights are expensive ($60 cab ride, $30 entrance). Social media bragging rights are stymied – phones and cameras must be surrendered at the door. The building itself is hardly the stuff of mythical pop fantasy – 7801 Audobon Road's edifice is half-Leamington Spa call centre, half all-white carbuncle seemingly inspired by smashed-up Rubik's Cubes.
The lobby (purple, naturally) is a Prince-abilia playground, dominated by Purple Rain's Honda motorbike. Drifting around the $10m complex where REM and Barry Manilow have also recorded, I try to find the Knowledge Room, where Prince reportedly studies the Bible.
However, I get no further than the cavernous performance area where a funk band (and later a Prince-spinning DJ) trumpets away. There are no more than 80 of us here. Polished floorboards are pounded by families, Prince fans who've travelled from California and a sweaty, suited businessman trying to impress a woman wearing a bizarre bodysuit festooned with eyes. As roadies set up equipment, the euphoria that we'll soon be watching an intimate gig by one of the 20th century's megastars on his home turf, begins to mount.
Then, around 2am, behind me, a door marked "private" creaks open and The Artist pokes his head out. He looks amazing: shades, stacked-heels, neatly crimped Afro. His name is Prince. But tonight, he isn't funky because 15 minutes later, the music stops and the party's over.
Undeterred, the following evening I explore Minneapolis's live scene: hip-hop joints, electro-clubs and a heavy-metal venue where a multi-pierced girl outside decides to impress me with the 16 languages she can speak, from Hungarian to an extinct Native American vernacular. Just when things couldn't get any stranger, I enter Bunker's Music Bar where the crowd comprises elderly men in top hats-and-tails, Pabst Blue Ribbon-supping hipsters and dungaree-wearing Miley Cyrus lookalikes. As Monday morning lurches into action, everybody parties like it's 1999. If only the capricious fellow last night had had the same spirit.
Christian Koch was a guest of Delta (0871 221 1222; delta.com), which flies daily non-stop from Heathrow to Minneapolis; economy fares from £777 return.
The Radisson Blu Minneapolis (001 612 339 4900; radissonblu.com/hotel-minneapolis) offers doubles from $166 (£104) room only.
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