“It’s not what Prince would have wanted” – a statement we often see in Housequake’s Facebook comments and Twitter replies whenever there’s a new announcement or development coming from the trustees of his estate.
While it’s comforting to think we, as longtime fans, knew the real Prince, the reality is he was a deeply complex and contradictory character. Perhaps the most obvious indicator of this was the contrast between the exuberance, flamboyance, and power of his stage persona, and his reticent, guarded and private nature off stage.
So what is it that fans mean when they claim to know what Prince would have wanted? Most of us are likely making educated guesses based on his past actions and statements. The problem with this is Prince was prone to changing his mind a lot, and not just on trivial matters, but on life and career changing decisions.
After all, this is the man who, with great fanfare and umbrage, discarded his iconic name (at the time declaring “Prince is dead”) and replaced it with an unpronounceable symbol. He shunned his longtime record label and recorded an album that he declared would never be released by them. Needless to say, The Gold Experience eventually came out on Warner Brothers records, and a few years later he reverted his name back to Prince.
It’s relatively easy to cherry-pick events or statements from Prince’s past to create our own personal, hagiography of him. His fondness for speaking cryptically certainly meant his words were often open to numerous interpretations, but there are many more examples throughout his career of confounding behavior and radical changes in his personal philosophy.
We can claim he would never have sanctioned some of the things the trustees are doing, but as well as being an artist, Prince was a businessman, and comfortable with striking deals that would see him financially well rewarded.
The truth is there is no definitive answer to the question of what Prince wanted to happen to his music and his possessions after his death. In the absence of a Will (not altogether surprising given his past aversion for written contracts), it seems Prince has left us with one last mystery, and proved himself to be as enigmatic in death as he was in life.
So while we all want to see Prince’s legacy treated with the respect and reverence it deserves, perhaps we should be less quick to judge and bemoan every effort of the trustees to monetize his music, and certainly less inclined to state with surety that we know what Prince would have wanted.
A version of this article first appeared on the Housequake Facebook page in December 2016.