What if half the things ever said
Turned out 2 be a lie
How will U know the Truth?The Truth — Prince
To say Prince was enigmatic is an understatement. Despite the intense scrutiny that fame brought him at a relatively young age, he successfully managed to confound expectations, confuse critics, and conceal his motives and machinations throughout his decades-spanning career.
When on stage, Prince was a king. He held court over rapturous audiences night after night with his boundless musicality, cocky attitude, and supreme stagecraft. He exuded the confidence of a man aware he was performing on a whole other plane to that of lesser talented, and crucially, less hard-working superstars. He was peerless and wasn’t shy about letting you know it.
However, away from the spotlight and roar of an appreciative crowd, Prince could be guarded to the point of rudeness. Anecdotes abound of people encountering Prince in social settings and offering up a friendly greeting, only to be met with a curt, dismissive response, and a swift turn of a Cuban heel. This aloof attitude was arguably an unsophisticated defence mechanism of sorts, rather than rudeness for the sake of rudeness, and in later years he appeared to become more open and affable (though still retaining an unfathomable quality). Still, the image persists of Prince the self-contained, sphinx-like enigma, and this is largely due to his reluctance to speak or grant interviews to the media for most of his career. On the few occasions he did, he seldom gave straightforward accounts of his thoughts or events in his life, preferring instead to perplex via cryptic and opaque declarations. Perhaps this was somewhat of a contrivance on his part (he was smart enough to know a good sound-bite can generate publicity, and was not above playing up to his mysterious reputation either), but the overriding sense was of an artist wanting to cocoon himself in his own creative cosmos, building his own ‘big tall wall’ between himself and the world outside.
When Prince announced (in what would become the last year of his life) that he was working on a biography, many fans were equal parts amazed and sceptical. Was this famously reticent icon finally ready to give a detailed and unburnished account of his life without resorting to ambiguous allegories and theatrical misdirection? Tragically, we’ll never know for sure, as he died having only completed a fraction of what was likely intended. The remnants of what he wrote (released in the book The Beautiful Ones) point to the tantalising prospect that he was indeed intending to recount his life in a way he’d never done before. Of course, there was the usual dose of his trademark veiled, text-speak wisdom, but there was also a forthrightness in parts that illuminated and gave detail to the man in a way that even some of his most personal songs have avoided.
Some things R better left unsaid
And some people R better left untrusted
Maybe, maybe, maybe it’ll all make sense when I’m deadOld Friends 4 Sale (1985 version) — Prince
Prince left us having lived his life very much on his terms, even if sometimes it was seemingly to his own detriment. For the most part, he had been successful in keeping prying eyes from peering too closely into his purple kingdom — he’d retained a level of privacy and elusiveness that today’s social-media and camera-phone engulfed stars can only dream of.
Unfortunately, for iconic celebrities like Prince, if you aren’t willing and able to tell your own story, there are going to be plenty of others who will attempt to do so on your behalf, with very mixed results.
Since his untimely death, there’s been an explosion in former associates and bandmates coming forward to tell their stories about their time in the orbit of Prince. In many cases, it’s to help document and fill in some of the blanks around Prince’s recording history, such as in the case of the excellent and judiciously researched Studio Sessions books by Duane Tudahl.
In some cases, though, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that certain people may not be the most reliable of witnesses, whether due to the passing of time fogging their memory (or in the case of a few individuals, the substances they were taking at the time having a similar effect), or personal agendas which may or may not involve a financial or status-boosting incentive.
I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray1999 — Prince
It’s hard to begrudge the likes of Mayte wanting to set the record straight when it comes to the hurtful inaccuracies reported about her and Prince’s child — she certainly has as much right to tell her story as anyone else — but it would be wise for all us to exercise a bit more discernment, and a bit less credulity, when it comes to assessing the claims of various other players in the paisley park.
We’ve already been treated to a host of dubious recollections and tall tales by a variety of fringe characters. Whether they’re hawking books dedicated to convincing us that a certain song was written specifically about the author1 assertions by personal hairdressers that they were on the cusp of a joint business deal to launch a beauty product line2 cobbled together rehashes featuring incorrect song titles3 or fanciful testimonies of long forged friendships by hyperbolic reporters4. The overriding sense with many of these projects is that of opportunistic and cynical exploitation, rather than genuine homage or reportage.
Even some of the more prominent and recognisable names from Prince’s life have been known to make claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
I just can’t believe all the things people sayControversy — Prince
Prince once said “Everything U think is true”, but gazing down from his guitar-shaped cloud, I imagine he might be irked by the way some former confidants have taken that bit of princely pontification, and well and truly run with it.
If you’re releasing an unnecessary cover version of a Prince song, and feel the need to proclaim with authority about how he was inspired to write it by a particular historical event5 it’s probably wise to check the event did indeed happen before, and not after6, the song was written and released!
It could also be said to be slightly brazen to lay claim to having often baked a particular kind of cake for Prince7 when several other people who were in Prince’s entourage at the time remember it being the work of someone else entirely8. Especially if the cake baking anecdote is once again in aid of promoting your new song which you’ve named after said cake. It’s no wonder many fans collectively narrowed their eyes when the same person claimed to have once been secretly engaged to Prince9.
Of course, many of the events being recalled are from over thirty years ago, and perhaps, as mentioned, a more charitable interpretation is that the passing of so much time will inevitably produce muddled stories and contradictory claims. It’s also not hard to believe that the frequently mischievous maestro could have told more than one person they were the inspiration for certain songs. It’s certainly not hard to imagine Prince telling more than one woman “You’ve got a wonderful ass” (and indeed, multiple women have since claimed “Wonderful Ass” is about them).
Every time I watch the other people news
I c a false picture of myself, another one of uThe Work Pt.1 — Prince
By now we’re all aware that Prince had a pain-killer addiction (specifically to highly addictive, and highly dangerous, opioids*). What is not known is exactly when he started taking pain medication, and when it crossed over from being a legitimate way to ease the aches and strains Prince had placed on his body with his gruelling athletic performances, to becoming a hazardous addiction which would ultimately claim his life.
It’s easy for us to make educated guesses as to the timeframe for this, but ultimately, that’s all they are — guesses. We don’t have access to Prince’s medical records, and although there is evidence that points towards him having hip surgery in or around 2010, this doesn’t clarify anything one way or the other.
It’s particularly erroneous, though, for people who’ve had little-to-no contact with Prince for decades, to retroactively link events that happened long ago with the problems Prince faced towards the end of his life.
In a recent book by Touré (Nothing Compares 2 U), claims are made that heavily insinuate a rehearsal accident in 1984 was a significant moment, and the beginning of a life-long battle with pain for Prince:
“We were rehearsing that part in a local arena in Minnesota and the tub fell apart. It broke and fell ten or twelve feet to the stage floor with him in it. I never moved so fast in my life. I was on the sound board with the stage manager and we were just looking at it from a geometric point of view just to get an idea of what the scene was going to look like and, suddenly, we saw that the tub hadn’t been fastened properly. We saw it ever so slowly start to tip, knowing full and well at one point he’s going to slide out and down and hurt himself. We started running and yelling but it was too late. He and the tub crashed to the ground. We all went straight to the hospital with fears that something bad could have happened to him. It looked bad. There was a certain amount of panic. It turned out that he had just gotten some bumps and bruises, but after that, his back hurt day after day. He started the tour with a really sore back and it never really went away.”
— Alan Leeds
However, the same incident was previously described by LeRoy Bennett (Prince’s long-time concert designer) in an oral history of the Purple Rain tour for Rolling Stone magazine back in 2017, in the following manner:
“My heart stopped. He didn’t really fall that far, like four feet. But it shook him up a little bit. He walked off the stage, got in his car – which he always parked next to the stage in the arena – and took off. That was the end of rehearsals for the day. The carpenters changed the lyrics to “this is the sound when tubs fly.”
— LeRoy Bennett
Unsurprisingly, when the Rolling Stone article was published, nothing much was made of the incident other than Prince had suffered a few bruises (mainly to his ego). However, with the addition of a more elaborate and dramatic account (and a more than doubling of the drop height), the same event is spun into a foreboding tale. Naturally, this time around, it gathers more attention, and we’re treated to headlines such as these:
Prince’s pill addiction began with bathtub accident, friends recall
— New York Post (August 23, 2021)
Thus a new narrative is born — Prince the decades-long addict.
The mythos and mystique Prince fostered around himself, while undoubtedly helping to create interest in his music, has also made it easier for some to concoct sketchy, speculative accounts of his life now that he’s gone.
Everybody’s looking 4 the answers
How the story started and how it will endThe Ladder — Prince
Although it’s been heartening to discover the extent of his charity work10, listen to amusing anecdotes from people who encountered him, and hear stories of struggling musicians having their medical bills paid out of the blue11 (or should that be purple? — maybe not), perhaps it would be best if we all took a step back from scrutinising every aspect of his private life in the vain hope we’ll somehow come to know the ‘real’ Prince.
Prince was inscrutable, and that, for many, was part of his appeal. He had no interest in presenting himself as a relatable everyman in the vein of Bruce Springsteen. This was a man who wore extravagant bespoke clothing around the clock, and for who the term ‘casual wear’ might as well have been a profanity (When Alan Leeds suggested to him he wear “jeans and a turtleneck” in order to be taken more seriously as a musician12, Prince is alleged to have replied sarcastically “What, and look like you?”).
From the very beginning of his career, Prince did his utmost to hide any hint of mundanity or malady in his life. Instead, he presented himself as larger than life. He’d take you on a journey through a fantastical musical universe, but wasn’t about to give you a personal tour of his world. Heartbreaks and romantic woes could be channeled into songs, but that’s the only medium he’d consider as a way of letting you know his thoughts and feelings. He’d sing about the most sexually explicit of acts, but had no desire to divulge even the most basic details of his everyday existence.
It’s always in the back of my mind that Prince was a deeply private person, and would certainly not appreciate much of the click-bait gossip and tittle-tattle that seems to get reported as fact. Unfortunately, he’s no longer around to write any rebuttal songs in the vein of “Hello” or “Billy Jack Bitch” to combat such distorted disclosures.
I’ve enjoyed hearing the many recently revealed stories about the creation of some of my favourite songs and albums as much as the next fan, but when we attempt to decipher the life of this otherworldly genius, his quirky eccentricities, the fondness for pseudonyms, symbols, and alternate personas, we should foremost remember he was a human being and not just a remote, unknowable idol for us to fawn over and dissect the life of. Stories about Prince will continue to be written, and his life will continue to be analysed — this is inevitable, and indeed necessary, for someone who had such a huge cultural impact — but, as mentioned, we should be wary of who and what we believe, and doubly-suspicious of those for whom self-interest appears to be the motive behind their revelations.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to call ourselves fans, already know the most important detail about Prince — the thing that defined him and guided him throughout his life — Music.
As for those who will likely continue to try and profit from peddling suspect or outright fake accounts of Prince’s life, well, in the words of a very funky man…
Shut up already, damn!Housequake — Prince
- The Prince Podcast — The woman behind Little Red Corvette Speaks!
- Sheen Magazine — Prince’s Longtime Personal Hairstylist, Kim Berry Shares the Details of Her New Book & Her Experience with the Legend
- Prince in the Studio — The stories behind the hits 1977 – 1994 – Jake Brown
- Rolling Stone — Prince’s Biographer on the Last Time He Talked to the Artist
- Soulbounce — Sheila E. Sings About ‘America’ In Tribute To Prince & Readies The Release Of ‘ICONIC’
- Wikipedia — 1986 United States bombing of Libya
- Billboard — Sheila E. Sweetly Honors Prince With ‘Lemon Cake’: Listen
- Funkatopia — Lemon Cake: Apollonia vs. Sheila E. (The Legend)
- Billboard — Sheila E. Looks Back on Prince: Their Collaborations, Engagement & Lifelong Love
- Rollingstone — Prince, the Secret Philanthropist ‘His Cause Was Humanity’
- Billboard — Prince Paid Off ‘Funky Drummer’ Clyde Stubblefield’s Medical Bills
- Okayplayer — Alan & Gwen Leeds Decode Ten Years w/ Prince & The Revolution
An earlier version of this article stated Prince had an addiction to the drug Fentanyl. While the official coroner report does state that Prince died of an accidental overdose of Fentanyl, there were a number of other strong and addictive pain medications discovered at his home (Paisley Park) in the immediate aftermath of his death. Therefore this article has been updated to use the broader term ‘opioids’.