Andrea Swensson and Mary Lucia: real talk about Jesse Johnson and Prince

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Andrea Swensson talks to Mary Lucia about Celebration 2019 and her conversations with artist and Prince collaborator Jesse Johnson. (Luke Taylor | MPR)

Following Celebration 2019 at Paisley Park, Andrea Swensson talks to Mary Lucia about the experience of interviewing Jesse Johnson about Prince. "It was one of the most unique interview experiences I've ever had," Andrea says. " Jesse was ready to speak, and he had something very specific that he wanted to share with this audience. And it was really powerful for me because he was so vulnerable, so open and so candid, and it really doesn't come across in a soundbite or two."

Watch Andrea and Mary's full conversation above, and read a transcript below.


MARY LUCIA: I'm talking to Andrea Swensson today, like I do every day, but last weekend, you had a crazy cool opportunity to sit down at Paisley Park with Jesse Johnson.

ANDREA SWENSSON: Yes!

MARY: And I knew that I wanted to talk to you. On Monday morning, I thought I'd heard a couple of things that were said that I kind of had this sense that maybe they were taken out of context. I'm just going to the source! Tell me how it went.

ANDREA: Yes! OK, so this was a kickoff to Celebration 2019, so it happened on Thursday of last week. And the way Celebration is set up is they want people to kind of move through the entire space at Paisley Park, so not everyone is all together. So I ended up interviewing Jesse Johnson four times; each time was about 45 minutes. Over the course of the day, I heard him speak for three-and-a-half hours, something like that.

It was one of the most unique interview experiences I've ever had. The first session, I think I maybe asked three questions. The second session, two. The last session, I only took one question!

Jesse was ready to speak, and he had something very specific that he wanted to share with this audience. And it was really powerful for me because he was so vulnerable, so open and so candid, and it really doesn't come across in a soundbite or two. Because, yes, he was addressing issues that he had; he and Prince did not have a good relationship for most of their lives. They had a really close relationship at the beginning, and then they fractured apart. And I think something that Jesse really wanted to express was that he was heartbroken by this. He loved Prince; every time that we spoke, he got to a place where he was weeping about his love for Prince. He said that he loved him like a brother, he and Morris Day. And I think he just was really looking to both forgive Prince and forgive himself.

MARY: You know, we've talked about this before, where, I mean, for the next 50 years, there could be another 50 panels on the anniversary of Prince's passing, and you're going to get the majority of people saying, "He was a musical genius, he had a work ethic like no other, he could play any instrument," but this is the kind of story that I think is really compelling. And it's not because it's gossipy; it's because it's very vulnerable and very real.

There are people that worked with Prince, and some have come forward, some have not, but have maybe felt a little bit less than satisfied with maybe the credit they got or didn't get, and I think it's just really vulnerable and honest for him to have said and to have come to terms now with, "He's gone, and we can't really repair that."

ANDREA: Right.

MARY: But, you did tell me about the [mimes a phone call]

ANDREA: Yes! So there were a couple of times when Jesse had the opportunity to try to repair this relationship, and he obviously regrets not taking these opportunities.

One was when they came face to face at the Grammys in 2008. The Time were playing and Prince was playing, and they saw each other backstage, but Jesse kind of gave Prince the cold shoulder, and he's very regretful about that.

MARY: Yeah.

ANDREA: The other time came just two weeks before Prince passed away. Jesse has a voicemail from Prince.

MARY: Oh, man!

ANDREA: Prince called him, and he had this very kind of heartfelt message to give him about how much he still respected Jesse, how great of an artist he felt Jesse was. And then said some things about the people Jesse was working with now that, I'm not sure if that's true or not, but—

MARY: Right.

ANDREA: Basically what Jesse said is that he got this voicemail that really hit him hard. And then he tried to call back and got like a "Doo-doo-doo! The number you have dialed cannot be connected." Because, as he put it, Prince must have just traveled with, like, 50 burner phones…

MARY: Yes! (laughter)

ANDREA: …made a call and threw it! (laughter)

So there was no way to return the call, but he's very, he's just very regretful that he wasn't able to speak to Prince in that moment.

He also shared a really sweet story of, you know, if you only look at what the press reported, you'd think he was just talking trash the whole time—

MARY: Yeah! I know!

ANDREA: But he shared some really sweet stories about his connection with Prince, and one of them was returning to Paisley Park — or, actually visiting Paisley Park for the first time in 1989 — but returning into Prince's orbit for the first time, really, since Purple Rain.

MARY: Wow.

ANDREA: He was going to appear in the movie, Graffiti Bridge, and he was really nervous about seeing Prince after, you know, five years. And Prince came running at him from across the room and came up and hugged him and said, "It's about time someone who knows how to dress showed up." (laughter)

MARY: Coming from Prince!

ANDREA: I know!

MARY: Oh my god. Well, and I think, too, that anybody who was there and actually heard this discussion would have then probably also seen, like you described, after he was done, how people kind of swarmed him with support.

ANDREA: Hugging and — oh my gosh — getting his autograph, hugging him and saying they loved him and that it was just so powerful. Pretty much everyone in every session was crying at some point, you know. It was a really beautiful experience.

At the end of the day, Jesse came up to me and kissed me on each cheek and said, "You're my Barbara Walters."

MARY: Ohhhh!

So this is all just to go and show you don't believe everything you read, because, you know, Andrea was there, and I knew there was more to that story, and I think it's pretty illuminating and pretty interesting, and like I said, if you do this again for the next 20 years, hopefully you'll get some really personal stories like Jesse shared.

ANDREA: Yeah, it's like you get the sense of the whole person. That Prince isn't just this idea of, like, a magical unicorn. He's like a real person and had real issues, like all of us have.

MARY: Absolutely.

External Links

Paisley Park

Jesse Johnson

Related Stories

2 Photos

  • paisley park celebration jesse johnson andrea swensson
    Jesse Johnson performing in the Soundstage at Paisley Park on Day 1 of Celebration 2019. (The Prince Estate/Steve Parke)
  • Jesse Johnson and Andrea Swensson at Paisley Park
    Jesse Johnson and The Current's Andrea Swensson at Paisley Park on April 25, 2019. (courtesy Andrea Swensson)

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