By: Chris Heath (GQ Magazine)
Date: December 8, 2016
“I ran away from home when I was 12. I’ve changed address in Minneapolis 32 times, and there was a great deal of loneliness. But when I think about it, I know I’m here for a purpose, and I don’t worry about it so much.” — Prince, 1981
André Cymone (teenage friend and early musical collaborator): He ran away, asked if he could stay with me. He was very frustrated. I don’t remember verbatim what the conversation was, other than “I can’t deal with that shit anymore.” He just turned up. I don’t think he turned up with his stuff—at the time we were basically the same height, so he just wore a lot of my clothes. [At first] we lived in the same room on the ground floor. Disastrous. He’s fairly neat, I’m completely a mess. [Then] he moved into the basement, I moved into the attic.
Jill Jones: When he decided to live with André, he said he was living in the basement and there were lots of centipedes, and he’d said, right then and there, he would never be poor.
Cymone: His sense of humor was really thought out. He wasn’t somebody who did a lot of stuff just off-the-cuff. When we became friends, he would tell me about the kids in the neighborhood. He’d say, “This kid Jerry, he’s going to try to do this…. If he ever comes up to you and says anything, his mom’s name is this….” His mom had some funny name, and Prince literally had a spiral notebook with jokes that he was ready to tell in case the kid said anything to him. He had them written down. Literally. He had all this stuff. And I finally just said, “Well, why can’t I just punch him in the nose?” And he said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that—he’s got, like, 16 brothers.” I was like, “Okay, what’s that joke again?”
Gene Andersen: (teacher and basketball coach, Bryant Junior High): I guess I knew him when he was 12, 13, 14 years old, okay? Just kind of coming into his own. Really nice kid. Very smart, okay? A quick learner. You know, maybe a little headstrong—he felt he was doing the right thing all the time. I had him in social studies, and I think I had him in geography and U.S. history. And I coached the little basketball team he was on. He was a smaller kid, but very athletic. And he could dribble the basketball probably better than anybody on that little team. You couldn’t get your hands on him. I mean, it was like chasing a water bug.
Jim Walsh (Minneapolis journalist who would later cover Prince for many years): I played basketball with him once when we were both in high school, down at Martin Luther King Park, where a lot of pickup games happened. Central High School’s basketball team were the rock stars of the neighborhood, the toasts of Minneapolis basketball. His brother Duane always wore those cool blue Puma Clydes. [Prince] was really quick. He had an Afro. He looked like all those dudes on that Central team—they were just smooth and quick and cool as hell. That basketball team was so cool and funky, a very mythic kind of boyhood basketball team. I just think that petri dish of ’70s, funk, and hoops—you drop a child prodigy in with a vision all his own into that petri dish, and I think that is why we’re talking about him today.
Cymone: He knew all the basketball players at the time. Whenever he’d shoot, he’d say some player’s name. Like “Nate Archibald!”
Andersen: At that point in time, I don’t think he could read music, but he could play any instrument that there was. The band director, Jim Hamilton, would spend lunch hour with Prince a lot of times—Prince came up to him and asked him to teach him about musical theory. That’s the kind of kid he was. I said to him one time, you’ll probably become a doctor or something like that, more than a musician: “Prince, stick to your brain, man—it’s gonna be better than music.” Shows how much I know.
Cymone: Neither one of us really knew how to approach girls in a proper fashion, in any shape or form. But like I said, he was writing everything down, so he’d have lines. Sometimes his lines would crash and burn, and sometimes they’d work. Obviously, you know, he was short, and a lot of girls were having their growth spurt at the time. They thought he was cute. I know, from his perspective, he hated that. I would try and get him to talk to girls. I’d go and say, “My brother likes you”—back then I would just call him my brother—and she’d say, “Sure, fine” or whatever, and then he’d work on one of his lines. Sometimes it’d work, sometimes she’d storm off and he’d come and say, “That didn’t work!”
Owen Husney (manager who got Prince his first record deal): The first thing I noticed on those demos: Here was this young, angelic, vulnerable falsetto, and Prince’s natural speaking voice was pretty low. And I thought, what did this kid look like? All I kept thinking was, God, I hope he’s not ugly.
Bobby Z (drummer with the Revolution who, earlier, was employed as Prince’s driver and helper; first met Prince at a local demo studio): I saw the Afro first. Just poked my head in and said “Hey.” And I got the cold stare we know now—the famous cold stare. It was new to me that anyone would kind of look at you without really looking at you. Barely an acknowledgment. Prince, of course, being Prince, was very reluctant, but I somehow, with a joke or a smile, started our 42-year relationship.
Husney: He didn’t look at all like he looked later on. The clothing he was wearing was not the clothing of a wealthy man, trust me. But he had put it together as deft as one could. He’d got some jeans—the jeans were ironed, he had ironed a nice little crease down the center of his jeans—and maybe a jean jacket kind of thing, and a brown turtleneck sweater. Obviously, like most 18-year-olds, he had acne and stuff like that. He had a rather large Afro, which I dubbed a J7, because the Jackson 5 were popular and they had these sort of shorter Afros and those were J5s. So I dubbed it a J7. Possibly a J8. It was huge.