A look at the new memoir ‘My Life In The Purple Kingdom’ by former bassist for Prince and Revolution Mark Brown (aka BrownMark), who worked with the band from 1981-1986.
As with any book of this type—the celebrity memoir—the reader has to temper their expectations for the experience. Writing quality is not often a concern and reflections of the past have to be evaluated with the notion that what one is reading is an individual’s particular perspective of events, and therefore subject to bias and misinterpretation. I say this because, first of all, the book itself features some sloppy editing and poor structure in terms of how it is organized. But that is not why people read these types of books anyways.
Opening for the Rolling Stones
BrownMark begins the book with a teaser about the infamous Rolling Stones concert where Prince and his band were invited to open, only to be met with jeers, hatred, and bigotry by a largely white male audience. The book then backtracks to BrownMark’s childhood with “Momma Vader,” his high school experiences, introduction to music, and formation of his first band Private Stock, before catching up again to the Rolling Stones incident at the Los Angeles Coliseum. When discussing the incident BrownMark notes that the crowd’s angry response was a response to both Prince’s appearance and the song “Jack U Off.” which the audience viewed through a homophobic lens. This does contribute to the most interesting section of the book, but I feel as if more could have been added to the discussion. As it is, BrownMark just plops it in the middle of the book without any follow-up discussion on how rock music tends to be largely dominated by a white male audience that is unreceptive to gender-bending and racial diversity. This seems like a lost opportunity for a discussion on race that would connect the 1980s with the contemporary sociological climate in the United States.
The incident with opening for the Rolling Stones is all-too-brief and then BrownMark lapses into an airing of grievances about Prince not paying him and mistreating him. Legitimate concerns, to be sure, but a bit of a tonal shift. BrownMark certainly does address incidents of racism in the book, mentioning a racist car salesman who assume he has no money, Neo-Nazis at First Avenue (known for its punk rock crowd at the time), and hillbillies in a pick-up truck threatening him and his friend before the friend pulls out a gun, and they are interesting reading, but they only occasionally punctuate the book. A more fleshed-out discussion of the Rolling Stones concert and an epilogue reflecting BrownMark’s views on where the music industry and rock music has changed, if indeed it has changed at all, would have contributed to a more interesting and potent memoir, especially in these troubled times.
Early childhood, teen years, and Prince
As for BrownMark himself, he does have an affable and self-deprecating charm that is apparent at the beginning of the book, which is mostly humorous anecdotes about growing up weird and different. When he describes Minnesota as a “Scandinavian mecca” I laughed, as my maternal grandfather, a Norwegian, originally hails from Aitken, Minnesota, thereby fulfilling that particular cliché. BrownMarks’ discussions about his early Jheri Curl hairstyle that he adorned in high school also merits a giggle when he says “Talk about Soul Glo!” Got to love a Coming to America reference. These anecdotes make for a light, breezy, and fun read in the initial stages of the book.
BrownMarks’ view of Prince, however, does seem to be ambivalent at best. He notes that “Prince and I remained friends and I have always regarded him as family,” but still seems hurt by the experience. To a degree, I can understand that, and there are multiple artists who have expressed a similar disappointment with Prince not paying his employees their due. Other artists have also mentioned that Prince did mould the stage personas of his band, which BrownMark also discusses in this book. Indeed, Prince’s most famous protégé, Morris Day, discusses this at length in his book about his experiences as the leader of The Time. BrownMark acknowledges that he was okay with this because this was, in fact, Prince’s musical vision.
Overall the book is enjoyable enough of a read, at least for Prince fans. Considering the cost of the book—it is still in hardcover—I would dissuade from purchasing the book right away, even for Prince fans/family. The library, loan from a friend, or an Audible account are all preferable options. It is a short and breezy read, especially for those who do read a lot, so I cannot justify the purchasing price. For casual fans of Prince who just want to pick up a memoir in hopes of some juicy tidbits about Prince I would warn against buying the book. For one thing, Prince does not appear until about the later half of the book, so they might be disappointed. The portrayal of Prince is also ambivalent, even if some of these incidents have been reported by multiple artists working with Prince and as such can be considered plausible. If you are able to obtain a free, or cheap, copy, then it is still worth a read, but maybe not a purchase. Especially in these belt-tightening times.
My Life In The Purple Kingdom by BrownMark
From the young Black teenager who built a bass guitar in woodshop to the musician building a solo career with Motown Records—Prince’s bassist BrownMark on growing up in Minneapolis, joining Prince and The Revolution, and his life in the purple kingdom.
An inspiring memoir of making it against stacked odds, experiencing extreme highs and lows of success and pain, and breaking racial barriers, My Life in the Purple Kingdom is also the story of a young man learning his craft and honing his skill like any musician, but in a world like no other and in a way that only BrownMark could tell it.