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On returning to Paisley Park as a tourist

by Andrea Swensson

October 06, 2016

In this trusted place

U can erase

Every tear that ever rolled

down your weary face

These lines from Prince's song "U Make My Sun Shine" are scrawled across a wall just inside the entrance to Paisley Park, enlarged so much that the font is slightly pixelated, cascading down around tourists as they step inside.

From the moment that visitors step inside the Park, newly transformed from Prince's living quarters and workspace to a public museum, the message is clear: Now ain't the time for your tears.

As Prince's awards, clothing, guitars, doves (!), and both his released and unreleased music surrounded visitors in an immersive sensory experience, tour guides said that this would be a celebratory walk through Prince's estate and life, and it was obvious great efforts had been made to get the museum ready for its debut.

"I'm so nervous. I just want you to have a good time," a woman in a purple Paisley Park tunic said as she attached a purple wristband to my arm with trembling hands. I was nervous, too, almost sick to my stomach at the idea of walking through a building where I'd had so many surreal and unforgettable experiences. What would it feel like? Would it bring back memories? Would that feel good, or was it too soon? Would Prince still be present in the building?

What I couldn't possibly have predicted was that we would be confronted with not just the idea of Prince or evidence of his day-to-day behavior at Paisley Park, but with the remains of the late Prince Rogers Nelson himself, cocooned in a tiny purple coffin inside a miniature model of Paisley Park, which was itself encased in a glass box in the very center of a sunlit, two-story high atrium where the tour guide said he often went to collect his thoughts because he found it peaceful. No one knew how to react to the information that was being delivered. A woman pressed her face onto the glass, leaving a cloud of fog. A man tried to crack a joke that fell flat. The staff told us to pay our respects, and let us know that Prince would want us to be joyful. We all went on to the next room.

From there, I floated from room to room in a daze. I stepped into his office and got choked up seeing a Live Current Volume 5 LP (a gift our boss here at the Current, Jim McGuinn, had given to Prince during a visit to Paisley Park) that had been left out on a chair; and a well-worn rollerbag suitcase sitting next to his desk, like he might be back at any moment to pick up his things and hustle out the door on tour. I peered through a window into a small diner where he liked to watch basketball games, and squinted to make out a copy of Divergent on DVD that was sitting next to his TV. I filed dutifully into Studio A and stood reverently in front of the Linn LM-1 drum machine, just as I did on a tour when Prince was alive just over a year ago, and wondered what would happen to the unreleased "jazz" song they played us from an iPod (actually more of an instrumental funk track with slap bass and Maceo Parker-esque saxophone). I traced my finger over the "P" logo that adorns every studio door, something I'd always wanted to do, and stood awkwardly beside his purple guitar and purple grand piano as someone took my picture, because I couldn't not do it even though I wasn't sure I wanted to.


On the one hand, I was so thrilled to finally be able to stop and stare at each award that lines the hallway outside the studios and finally take in all of the musicians — from Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell to the Revolution and Vanity 6 — who he had honored with a mural outside his private recording space. On the other, it was startling to see rooms I had just walked through within the previous year — Studio C, where there was a basketball court and rehearsal space, and the lobby, where his fans entered the sound stage and NPG Music Club — so suddenly and dramatically overhauled. The former is now the "Purple Rain Room," where the original motorcycle, script, and Oscar are on display, and the latter is now a still-in-the-works "Super Bowl Room" where fans can watch his 2007 halftime performance on giant screens. The changes weren't necessarily bad, just jarringly different; and it made it all the more obvious that the memories I had of my time there would have to live on in my mind.

Of all the experiences I had during my two-hour VIP tour, one in particular sticks out. As I was standing in the cavernous sound stage room where I had seen so many magical shows, checking out the purple Yamaha piano that was custom-made for his Piano and A Microphone Tour and its plush purple velvet seat, a video came up on a giant screen on the back wall where the stage once stood. It was his Piano and A Microphone show here at Paisley Park, and the moment that Prince emerged and sat down at his piano. It was gutting to see him again, standing in that place where I last saw him and hearing something that will never happen again. My eyes stung and my heart leapt. Just as I turned to my companions to say "That's the last time I saw —" the video feed cut out, leaving us standing in silence and staring at a giant image of a desktop computer screen.

There's a metaphor to be had there, I suppose, though I'm not sure what it is yet. Paisley Park, the museum, is still very much a work in progress, and Prince's spirit is there, in fleeting moments. But that's always how it's been out there in Chanhassen, isn't it? The more we want to grab onto him, love him, keep him with us, the more elusive he becomes. To watch so many staff scrambling around, doing their darndest to try to live up to the unspeakably large legacy that's looming overhead — well, I can't think of a more fitting homage to a man who will forever rest in his beloved Paisley Park.


Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.