By: Chris Heath (GQ Magazine)
Date: December 8, 2016
“What we did was take a microphone and place it on Mayte’s stomach and move it around with the gel till we get the right spot. And then [imitates heartbeat], you know, you start to hear that and then we put the drums around that.” — Prince, in 1996, explaining how he used the heartbeat of his as-yet-unborn baby on a new song, “Sex in the Summer”
Hayes: Prince is one of them kinda dudes—he’s an all-in kinda cat. So even before the baby was born, Prince had built basically a shrine to the baby, this big giant playground with swings. All this infrastructure was put in place. Like he had a back room that got converted into this pink-and-blue baby lair. He just shifted into that mode. He basically was gonna take a few months off.
In October 1996, Mayte, Prince’s ﬁrst wife, gave birth to a son. The boy, reportedly born with severe skeletal abnormalities, died a week later, a death that Prince declined to acknowledge publicly. A second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, and he and Mayte later divorced.
Hayes: Oh man, that was devastating. He was devastated. It’s like he never had any foresight that anything could ever be a problem. And I think that not being able to do anything and to be helpless was a real thing for him to come to terms with. Everything he did, he already saw it done—that kid was already out and playing with kids and everything. He already saw it. And for it not to turn out that way was a very difﬁcult thing—I think it really humbled him.
Boxill: I think a lot of times we’d have recording or rehearsals just because he had nothing else to do. He seemed a little bit more intense after the divorce [a second marriage, to Manuela Testolini, ended in 2006], like he had nothing else to do.
Jennings: I’ve never been around someone whose whole focus was really centered around his creativity, his creation, his art. You know, this wasn’t somebody who put out a record every few years and just spent his money in a big mansion. He was always trying to come up with ideas. He just felt he needed to create, and his life was in service to that. I guess with the expected consequences being that he wasn’t able to maintain a marriage, or his friends are kind of kept at a distance. He put music first, and everything else came second.
Pagnotta: There was a willful mysteriousness about him. I guess the word would be “inscrutable.” I found it was an almost adolescent thing, where he would give different people within his world partial information so that nobody ever knew exactly what he was thinking or what he was going to do or could communicate about it.
Karlen: He so compartmentalized his life, no one knew what was going on.
Khan: A lot of people, I’m sure, didn’t get to see how sweet and generous he could be. How much he really did love company, he loved people. He was a very different thinker, another kind of thinker—I just wish people to know that he was a really sweet, loving person. But he denied himself a lot of what people had to offer. I don’t know why. Who knows?
With his first wife, Mayte, at home in Spain in 1999. Steven Parke
“‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was about God and Satan. I had to change those words up—the de-elevator was Satan in that song.… And ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was God to me…stay happy, stay focused, and you can beat the de-elevator.” — Prince, 1997
Jill Jones: I think it became a battle of: Will it be good Prince or will it be bad Prince? An experiment—bad Prince would get, in his mind, all this action, and then good Prince would have to serve penance somewhere. If there really are two forces in this world—good and evil—I think they really existed within him. I think there was a struggle, a battle, and I think he was the ultimate person who created the battle. And somewhere there may have been this thing of: I’m wrong for wanting to conquer the world. I have to suffer for that.
Dickerson: [At the end of 1980, Dickerson rediscovered his religious faith and subsequently became increasingly conflicted by the content of Prince’s music.] He had us join hands and pray in the dressing room before each show. I began to have moments of: “Huh?… Based on what we’re doing onstage, I’m not sure who we’re praying to.”
Tollefson: In the mid-’90s there was a lot of “Pussy Control” and “Billy Jack Bitch” and all these songs, and suddenly it turned into “Everyday People” and, you know, basically Larry Graham [the ex–Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station bass player who later became Prince’s bass player and spiritual guide]. They were handing out New Testament Bibles onstage sometimes, back in the ’98, ’99 era.
Hayes: Oh yeah, I saw a really big change. It’s funny, man. We did this record, The Gold Experience, and for the most part we had really good reviews, but we got this one scathing review. Usually it didn’t bother him, but for whatever reason, this particular one kinda bothered him. He showed it to me and—I was the funny guy—I said, “You know what, Prince—they can kiss my ass. As a matter of fact, when we die they can bury us facedown and they can kiss our ass on the way out.” I said all of this stuff, I went on a cussing tirade, and he just died laughing. And two days later he plays me this song, “Face Down,” and it’s everything I said to him about that review. It was a crazy song. There was some pretty rough language in it. Larry Graham was on tour with us, and every time we played the song, Larry and his wife and his daughter would leave the stage. And finally Prince asked him [about it], and Larry asked, “Do you ever consider doing a show without the profanity in it?” And Prince told me he said, “Well, I could do—I mean, it’s just artistic expression.” But he said it embarrassed him. The fact that Larry would go backstage and then wait until the song was over—he said it really called into question how he was delivering his show. I think that’s when him and Larry started studying, and I noticed at that point a change kicking in. Then everything changed, and a lot of the songs we used to do, any of the stuff that was super racy, it got killed. There was a seismic shift.
Graham: I never had to leave the stage. Because he wouldn’t, you know, put me in that position.
Hayes: Larry was very apparent about his thing. I mean, he gave me and everybody else tracts. Larry did what Jehovah’s Witnesses do: He witnessed. He gave us all the reading material. He started studying with Prince—you could see the evolution happening.
Graham: He knew from following my career that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1975. And so he figured I would be a good person to talk to about the Bible. After the show, sometimes we’d stay up until bringing the sun up. My wife and I and our daughter had been living in Montego Bay, Jamaica, for about seven years, over there helping teach the Bible, and he knew that we were about to move back to California, so he asked, would we move to Minnesota to continue teaching him the Bible? So that’s how we ended up here in Minnesota. We were neighbors; so many times he’d just ride his bike over or walk over—we brought the sun up many, many mornings! The biggest part of our relationship was spiritual. I never suggested to him: You ought to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Again, that was his decision.
Boxill: I believe he did door-to-door stuff. As a matter of fact, there was one particular couple that, I think, he had knocked on their door and they ended up coming and being Jehovah’s. He actually recruited them.
Graham: We’d go out in the ministry, he’d walk around like anybody else. We’re witnessing about God. That’s what you do.
Prince (2008): “Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they’re really cool about it.
In keeping with his new faith, Prince culled his most explicit songs from his repertoire, and he began to require that those around him refrain from profanity”.
Prince (2004): “There’s certain songs I don’t play anymore, just like there’s certain words I don’t say anymore. It’s not me anymore. There’s no more envelope to push. I pushed it off the table. It’s on the ﬂoor. Let’s move forward now”.
Boxill: He didn’t want people cursing around him. His music went from X to PG—he wouldn’t put out something that was truly risqué or too sexual in nature. He had a swear bucket. It looked like one of those big plastic five-gallon buckets. If someone messed up, he’d give them side-eye and pretty much chide them.
Hayes: A cuss jar. It was a gigantic jar in Studio A, and it was getting pretty full. It had loot in it, brother. I wish I could find it now—I’d be set for a few months.
Khan: By the time we were recording [to make Khan’s 1998 album, Come 2 My House], he had a big plastic water bottle, and every time someone cursed they had to put a dollar in the bottle. And I said, “I’ll be fucked if I’m gonna put any money in your bottle in your studio ’cause I’m cussing.” I didn’t say a cuss word while I said it. What could he say? Nothing. He used to like it when I’d go off on one.
Hayes: Even he had to put money in from time to time. ’Cause, you know, you just slipped.
Prince (2011): “If I can stop swearing, everybody can stop swearing”.
Springs (Discussing her first invitation to Paisley Park to sing, in 2014): I wanted to look cute, so I just put a little crop top on, my lower stomach out, some tight little jeans. And he’s like, “You’re not wearing that.” He’s super conservative—he went from when he was the one wearing underwear and fishnets and stuff to now, where he’s like the most conservative ever. I guess becoming a Jehovah’s Witness and stuff. I would occasionally pick on him, go on Google and paste a picture of him in his underwear. He would crack up. Like, “Hey, I was there—I don’t do that anymore.… I was there at one point. That’s who I was. But I’m not that anymore. I’ve changed.”
Van Jones: Prince is always duality. You know, the sacred and the sexual, black and white, male and female, all those kind of things. But later in his life, the biggest dynamic was worldly versus otherworldly. His religious faith versus his growing political and humanitarian concerns. The Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t much approve of him weighing in on this stuff, and that was important to him, so it was a constant kind of balancing act.
Khan: He seemed to get a little more paranoid on one hand, and on the other hand he became more of a human being. He became more humane. You get older and wiser, and you see the commonology of man, how we are all intertwined, we are all the same. It seemed like he’d come to that sort of recognition in life. I was happy to see that.