Rock and Roll Book Club: Jim Walsh follows Prince through the '90s

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Jim Walsh's book 'Gold Experience'
Jim Walsh's book 'Gold Experience: Following Prince in the '90s' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Gold Experience: Following Prince in the '90s begins on Valentine's Day 1994, when Paisley Park hosted a party after the NBA All-Star Game. In attendance were roundball stars including Magic Johnson ("I don't care how late it gets. I'm not leaving until he leaves the stage") and a panoply of pop-culture figures: Will Smith, Downtown Julie Brown, Daisy Fuentes, Tevin Campbell, Kriss Kross.

The book ends in June 2002, as Jim Walsh muses about how much Prince would have enjoyed Rock the Garden (headliners: Medeski Martin & Wood).

Since Prince's death, a lot of recaps of his career have focused on his commercial peak in the '80s and then fast-forwarded to his activity in the past few years. The '90s? There's a mention of the SLAVE period and the introduction of the glyph, and that's about it.

Walsh remembers a lot more about that period: he was here for it, covering Prince's doings as closely as anyone. At the time, Walsh was the main pop music writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Gold Experience consists largely of the features and reviews Walsh published in the newspaper throughout the '90s.

As Andrea Swensson has pointed out to me, that was a period when a lot of music writers had largely written Prince off. Prince's insistence on being referred to exclusively as an unpronounceable symbol made him the butt of a lot of late-night humor, and he fell completely off anything resembling a conventional album cycle.

At the time, Walsh experienced the strange phenomenon that fans would again experience when Prince started throwing unpredictable parties and gigs at Paisley Park 20 years later: intimate club shows that weren't formally announced but were entirely predictable (many of them in the upstairs room at his Glam Slam club) would draw audiences of maybe 150 — but then when he announced a Target Center show, fans camped overnight to buy tickets and the 15,000 seats sold out instantly. People were hungry to see Prince the superstar, but they weren't as eager to see Prince the artist. Can you blame him for being cynical?

Gold Experience is full of fascinating details about life with Prince (or, rather, the Artist Then-Formerly Known as Prince) in the '90s.

There was the Sharon Sayles Belton benefit in 1995 when the then-mayor had to introduce Prince by simply holding up the same gold cardboard glyph that David Letterman used for the same purpose.

There was the NPG merch cart at the Mall of America, and the Prince merch line (1-800-NEW-FUNK).

There was the Prince-Mayte wedding reception that featured a Paisley Park foyer adorned with "two giant, kissing dolphins."

There was the time that both Paul Westerberg and Prince were simultaneously recording at Paisley Park. (Asked by Walsh what the two Minnesota music icons had in common, Westerberg responded, "We're both washed up.")

There was the 1996 Paisley Park show where guests included Sayles Belton; Norm Coleman (then mayor of St. Paul); members of Naughty By Nature and Boyz II Men; and then-recent Minnesota Twins retiree Kent Hrbek, who showed up in a gray suit and mock turtleneck but had to leave early because he wanted to be fresh for his weekly bowling outing the next day.

There was the fax interview, where Prince responded to questions partially in rebus. ("Where are you doing this interview?" "[Eye]'m in my skin.")

There was the Paisley Park garage sale (cash only, no cameras) where a representative of the Minnesota Historical Society drove out to buy material for their collections.

There was the 1999 Paisley Park interview with Scary Spice. Yes, you read that right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5YL9PNWIfI

That just scratches the surface. Gold Experience isn't just a collection of random observations, though: it follows the arc of Walsh's relationship with Prince. Walsh landed a few one-on-one interviews with Prince during this period, and was asked to contribute liner notes to the album that gives the book its title.

The climax of that arc came in 2000, when Walsh published an open letter chiding Prince for releasing subpar music — and was summoned to Paisley Park for a meeting at which Prince read the letter back to Walsh line by line and said, "You can write what you want, but the kids read it and then they repeat it and believe it."

With Paisley Park now open for tours, Gold Experience is also a reminder of just how central the Chanhassen venue was to Prince's personal and professional life. Reading Walsh's stories, it's like Prince and his associates are coming alive again at the studio built to be a perfect playground for a star like none other.

The Current's Jim Walsh Book Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Jim Walsh book giveaway between 8 a.m. CT on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

One (1) winner will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes and one (1) softcover copy of Gold Experience: Following Prince in ths '90s by Jim Walsh. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $40

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.

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