By: Chris Heath (GQ Magazine)
Date: December 8, 2016
Pagnotta: As I recall, the goal was not to have very much contact with Prince. Because if you had to have contact with Prince, there was probably something wrong. One of the strangest things I remember: We were in Australia and the show was over, and I’m walking down the hallway and behind me I hear this voice saying, “Get your pen and paper!” I was, “Okay.” “Meet me in the dressing room.” And I’m [thinking], I’m fired. I’m in his dressing room, and he’s got all of his Prince stuff—his gold statues, the incense, the candles, the caftans, and interestingly enough, a couch with a kind of broken seat so that you would be much shorter than you would ordinarily be on a couch. That’s where I was told to sit. And Prince comes in and he doesn’t really say anything, but he’s kinda walking around in a circle and doing his Prince shit—like, going from one leg to the next, almost like a shuffle. Like a pendulum. And he would spin. I don’t know what he was doing. Almost like a bird might do some kind of intimidation dance. But maybe he was just thinking of what he was going to say. I’m just like, “Holy shit, what the fuck is going on here?” And he said to me, “How many T-shirts did we sell tonight?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “How many programs did we sell tonight?” I said, “Prince, I don’t know—you know, I’m not sure if you know this, but I don’t do merchandising for you, I do publicity for you.” He said, “You trying to tell me that’s not your job?” And I’m like, “Holy shit, is Prince scolding me? Is Prince yelling at me?” Like, how fucking cool is this? But it was cool and scary at the same time. I’m thinking: “Why is this guy chewing me out? Doesn’t he know what a great job I’ve done for him? Doesn’t he know where he was two years ago, and look where he fucking is now? He’s on the cover of every magazine and doesn’t have to talk to a fucking soul!” [Also] I couldn’t really get at what the issue was. But once I left the dressing room and I stopped kind of shaking, I thought, “Okay, what he’s trying to tell me is that everything is my job—whoever’s working with him and around him has to understand that everything’s their job.” What Prince was trying to say was “Look, if you’re here, you’re capable, right? If you’re capable, you’re responsible. And if you’re responsible, you better fucking do the job, whatever that job is, and it may change.”
Karlen: I was on tour with him for weeks where smoking a cigarette was a firing offense—I had to take a shower before I talked to him.
In 1993, Prince announced that he was changing his name to a graphic symbol.
Davison: He comes to the office, where I’m in a morning meeting, and he says, “Guess what I’m going to do?” I’m like, “What?” But I’m half paying attention and half not. And he says, “I’m gonna change my name.” I’m like, “Okay.” He goes, “Guess what I’m going to change my name to?” I’m like, “I don’t know,” but I’m really focused on my notes. And then he held the symbol, which he had on a necklace, said, “I’m gonna change my name to this.” And my reaction was, “Oh yeah, that’s cool.” I really didn’t think he was serious.
Pagnotta: I put together a press release that was a “phoenix rising from the ashes” kind of thing. I sent it back to Paisley, and it was one of the few things that came back to me with very few notes on it, because I’m not sure anybody really knew what he was up to. So I just said it was some sort of rebirth, knowing what I knew about Prince at that time. However much anybody knows Prince at any given time is up for grabs. And it went out, and I swear I got condolence calls from MTV, and people just laughing hysterically: “Oh, you poor bastard, how could you have to do this?” I had to send out not just the press release but the image itself [of the symbol that was now Prince’s “name”]. In those days, it had to go out on floppies. We had a Mac floppy and a DOS floppy. The oddest thing I’ve ever done professionally—I sort of thought it was the end of my career.
Davison: I think that for him, it was another form of expressing where he was at that point in time. I mean, as big as Prince was, even Prince wasn’t big enough for Prince at that time.
Pagnotta: Internally, no one ever referred to him really as “Prince,” anyway. People sort of referred to him as “he” or “him.” The way you do God.
Davison: What was going on outside of that circle was not always what it was for me. So I always called him Prince. It’s just the relationship that we had. I never did not call him Prince.
Prince to Mel B. “I go by an unpronounceable symbol…but you can call me Spud“.
Walsh: I wrote 99 percent glowing things, loving things about Prince. [Then] I wrote something critical about him that he didn’t like. He was having a birthday for himself out in Paisley Park called “Prince: A Celebration,” and I said, “What are we celebrating? The fact that you haven’t put out a good record in two years?” [The article, published on June 2, 2000, was presented as an open letter to Prince headlined “Best gift you can give is a great new record,” and was heartfelt and confrontational: “Do you have anything left to say? If not, get out of the way. Don’t tease us, because it hurts too much.”] I was always rooting for him when I was writing. I asked him to make a great record that was emblematic of the times we were living through. Within two hours [of publication], and this was pre-Internet, too: “Prince wants to talk to you about what you wrote.” I go out to Paisley and the band is rehearsing “When You Were Mine” and he goes, “Hey, can you hang a sec?” They keep doing the song, we go to his studio, we’re talking and laughing, Larry Graham comes in and hangs. He sat down in front of his computer and he read my column to me, word for word, looking at me with those big doe eyes. I think he wanted to explain himself.
Karlen: We’d really communicate over the phone. Over 31 years. From often to regular to irregular to nothing at all. Several times a year, on average. A few years, I’d say from four to ten times a year. And some years none, some years 20. I always teased him that we weren’t really friends. That he knew I’d be up, because I stay up late. In the beginning, he’d call between three and ﬁve. On my phone, it would either be a friend or it would say “Unknown”—if it was “Unknown,” I knew it was him. I mean, no one else called me at four in the morning. He’d say, “Did I wake you up?” I truly am an incompetent person—the only thing I can do is have a 4:48-in-the-morning conversation with friends about life, death, and loneliness, because I have enough Jewish angst to discuss that at 4:48 in the morning. It wasn’t just sexist, macho bullshit—he wanted kids and a wife and a family, you know. And we talked about death a lot. From the age of 25, he was always talking about heaven and what it would look like. And would he get there?
Walsh: I said to him, “Come on, man—don’t you want to make another Sign o’ the Times, another Purple Rain?” I don’t know if I framed it exactly like that, but he said, “No, no—Jim, I’ve been to the mountaintop. There’s nothing there.”