Having moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in 1985 for college, I was here right when the Prince “Purple Rain” rocket was going full blast and he was literally the biggest name in music. Rumors abounded at the time that, despite being a very young mid-twenties, he had already written and recorded enough music stashed in his “vault” that he could release albums regularly for the rest of his life and not have to write another song. He played every instrument and created a sound that was a huge influence on popular music.
Everyone who has lived in the Twin Cities long enough probably has a Prince story. He wasn’t exactly a hermit but you probably would not run into him at Wal-Mart, either. Still, if you frequented any clubs with live music you’d have a good chance of spotting him every once and awhile.
Back in the 80’s when I was in college I would draw caricatures at area bars and clubs in the evenings to help make ends meet. One of the places I drew was “William’s Pub” in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Thursdays was “Funk Night” and there was always a good crowd there that night, including Prince on occasion. He usually entered in the back and sat in a VIP area so while I would hear the buzz that he was in the house, I almost never saw him, except for one night.
I was drawing a couple one evening in ’86 or ’87 and they were chattering away about how they’d heard Prince was in the club. I had my back to the club area (they were sitting in chairs against a wall with some of my sample caricatures taped up behind them) so I could not see the crowd behind me. I was telling them that Prince came here a lot on Thursdays but that I’d never actually seen him up close when both of their eyes went really wide and they were looking over my shoulder. I turned around and Prince was standing about 3 feet away watching me draw, with his two bodyguards at his side. He looked at me and sort of did this surprised “nice work” eyebrow expression and nodded a couple of times. He said nothing. I finished my drawing and he was gone by the time I turned around again.
The thing I remember the most about seeing him standing within arms length of me was how small of a guy he was. He was really short, but he also was really, really slim. He looked like he would break in half if anyone bumped into him. It didn’t help that his two bodyguards were way over 6′ and probably went 250lbs each. He looked like a little kid standing between two adults.
The Lovely Anna likes to tell the story of how, when she was managing a beer and pizza place called “The Valley” in Dinkytown at the U of M campus, Prince and Shelia E came in at closing time looking to get milkshakes. The Valley didn’t serve milkshakes and had no ice cream or equipment to fake it, so they just said “thanks anyway” and left. She wasn’t working that night but got a call from her manager at 2:00 am.
Sad loss for the world of music and for Minnesota. He was a true original and never abandoned Minneapolis for more expected rock star cities like LA or NYC.
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