By: Chris Heath (GQ Magazine)
Date: December 8, 2016
“It is my real name. It’s not a publicity gimmick. I hated it when I was coming up. But…it’s better than Leroy.” — Prince, 1981
Martin Keller (Minneapolis journalist): I met Prince when he’d just signed to Warner’s. He was 17 or 18. We were in the apartment of Bobby Z, the drummer. He was so shy that he sat on the kitchen floor. I thought, How am I gonna connect with this kid? So I just went in there and sat on the floor with him and proceeded to interview him. He was just very hard to talk to—very sparse, inarticulate answers. Extremely shy and vulnerable-looking. He was from a classic…what we used to call “broken home,” so he had lots of issues about abandonment and trust, and I’m not sure that he really reconciled those.
Dez Dickerson (guitarist and former member of The Revolution): Early on, there were some experiences with interviews that were very unpleasant for him. He was very disappointed that people weren’t faithfully reproducing what he was saying. So he just didn’t want to talk anymore.
Cymone: In private, you couldn’t shut him up. But in public… You know, it became a thing about mystique, and not that I’m trying to debunk, but I think it was really an honest reality. You know, let the music do the talking. Let the performance do the talking. And so it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m gonna create this mystique,” like it was that calculated. I think it was a natural metamorphosis, a natural sort of evolutionary thing.
Still, an early indication of how things would evolve: In Prince’s 1979 appearance on American Bandstand, by far his biggest media exposure to that point, he fielded Dick Clark’s questions with obstructively brief and uninformative—and sometimes even non-verbal—responses.
Dickerson: Totally calculated. We knew when one of those cornerstone moments was coming—it was a look he would get on his face. He called us to order in that band meeting when Dick Clark had just left the greenroom, and he had that look on his face, and he said, “I got it—here’s what we’re gonna do: When he talks to you, don’t say a word.” It was uncomfortable, watching Dick and Prince kinda go back and forth, watching him handle something that was obviously a pitch he’d never been thrown before. The answer that was given was so pared down that there’s nothing to piggyback on. Excruciatingly uncomfortable.
In 1982, as his fame began to grow, Prince stopped giving interviews. His only extended interview for the remainder of the decade was with Rolling Stone in 1985.
Karlen: Wendy and Lisa talked to him and said he should talk to me because I was a Minneapolis guy. My parents went to the same junior high as he did. He [told] Rolling Stone, “I’ll only talk to him.” I remember my mother saying, “Some guy named The Prince called, and I hung up because I was talking to your aunt Cheryl.” He thought it was hilarious: “Your mother hung up on me!” It was just us driving around for three days. At his house, he said, “You know how easy it would’ve been to just change ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ a note and make a new song and it would be a hit?” I said, “Oh really? Show me.” So he sat me down at the piano, took “Let’s Go Crazy” and came up with this great song. After, I got a letter: “Thanks for telling the truth.”
A few years later, Prince resumed giving occasional press interviews, though until the end of his life he insisted that these not be recorded and for many years forbade even the taking of notes.
Pagnotta: He didn’t really care if you misquoted him—he just didn’t want you writing anything down. For whatever reason, it was his thing. That was a situation that he wanted complete control over. I think he realized that he could get a lot more mileage out of the mystery play than you could out of saying anything—I don’t necessarily think he thought he had anything to say that could match his music.
Karlen: [Asked to write a second Rolling Stone cover story in 1990, Karlen was the first to run into these new statutes] I was gonna cut a hole in my pants, hide a tape recorder in the crotch. First of all, it didn’t work very well—because I tried—but also it was just too sleazy. So I lied—I feigned a bladder infection. We were in a hotel room. All he had was tea, Doritos, and Diet Coke, and I swilled Diet Cokes and I would run to the bathroom literally after three minutes and write on toilet paper. My hair was really long and I had really curly hair and I always kept a pen behind my ear back then. I knew I could do two and a half to three minutes of conversation verbatim. I did this, like, 15 times in six hours. You can get a lot of toilet paper in four pockets. He must have known, because no one has to pee every three minutes.