Rock and Roll Book Club: 'My Name is Prince' showcases '25 Inspired Years' of Randee St. Nicholas photography

'My Name is Prince' by Randee St. Nicholas.
'My Name is Prince' by Randee St. Nicholas. (HarperCollins)
Jay Gabler and Jill Riley on 'My Name is Prince'
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The title of the lavish new book of Randee St. Nicholas photographs is My Name Is Prince (buy now), but when St. Nicholas first began working with the artist in 1991, he wasn't going to be "Prince" much longer. In the book's cover photo, Prince's cheek reads SLAVE — his statement of protest against a record label he was tied to but increasingly at odds with. Tied to that dispute, he'd change his name to an unpronounceable "love symbol" for several years.

That SLAVE inscription is visible during moments both fierce and tender, including a portrait of Prince with his first wife Mayte Garcia. "In 25 years I've seen all the women in his life, but I've never seen him like this with anyone," St. Nicholas told Rolling Stone. "The way he looks at her, he transcends the icon Prince and becomes just a guy in love."

This stunning volume, as it happens, finds us at an unprecedented moment in the Rock and Roll Book Club. Given the book's generous size and not-insignificant price, we received only a single review copy at The Current — and when the coronavirus pandemic hit and I needed to step away from the studio for safe social distancing, the book stayed there. On Wednesday morning, Jill Riley and I will talk about the book as usual, but only Jill will actually be able to page through the book. (Update: Listen to our conversation, above.)

I'll rely on Jill to describe the book, but I can establish some background. Randee St. Nicholas is a veteran photographer and film director known for working with some of music's biggest, most iconic stars. When Britney Spears needed a visual for her "Private Show" fragrance, she turned to St. Nicholas. Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" video? St. Nicholas. Her previous photo book is Whitney: Tribute to an Icon.

Of all the stars she's worked with, though, St. Nicholas tells Interview, "the person who inspired me most" is Prince. Her professional relationship with Prince began in 1991, when Prince saw the cover St. Nicholas had shot for an album by his backup singer Elisa Fiorillo. He invited St. Nicholas to shoot images for Diamonds and Pearls.

St. Nicholas would continue to work with Prince, on and off, for the rest of his life. Perhaps most notably, she shot the photo book resulting from his epochal "21 Nights" stand at the O2 in London. In one of the most striking images from that 2007 run, Prince stood stock-still outside the venue for five minutes so St. Nicholas could capture his yellow-clad body — sunglasses at night, guitar slung over his shoulder — perfectly poised in front of the O2's sweeping lines with stormy red clouds gathering in the distance.

Shooting with Prince was truly shooting with Prince, says St. Nicholas. "He loved to have his picture taken," she told Interview, "which was so interesting, because most people don't." The two collaborators pushed each other creatively. Once, St. Nicholas talked Prince into meeting her at a building that had recently been aflame and was still smoking; she hired a model "because it's always nice to have some girls there to distract him," and the model's derriere takes up much of one frame that finds Prince leaning against a piano looking very focused.

(Not that anyone, of any gender, could hold a candle to Prince himself in that regard. "He had the best bottom, out of both male and female," St. Nicholas told GQ. "It was this perfectly shaped, androgynous bottom.")

Prince, for his part, encouraged St. Nicholas to venture from still photography into film directing — including his infamously randy "Gett Off" video. He also convinced her to shoot his live performances in London, although she didn't typically do live music photography. Their aesthetics matched so well, the photographer told Interview, that Prince complained the photos didn't look "live" enough: between his perfection and hers, the live images were absolutely pristine.

Like many people who've spent a lot of time with Prince, St. Nicholas praises his intelligence and humor, but also testifies to his high standards for himself and everyone around him. He also had a highly developed aesthetic. As St. Nicholas told Interview:

First of all, I've never seen him without the most perfect eyeliner ever. I don't care what time of day or night it was. I did a whole series of those pictures with his shadows, because I thought his hair was so amazing. You never knew what hair was going to show up. He inspired and repelled fashion at the same time. The whole lace and lace eye patch thing. Bringing back the Amadeus shirt with cuffs. It was somewhere between Vogue and Frederick's of Hollywood. He was impeccably clean, but then there would be this element of sexual fantasy and a little bit of trashiness mixed in.

The book was inspired, St. Nicholas says, by a panel she did at a Paisley Park Celebration in 2017. Andrea Swensson, who moderated that panel, wrote about how St. Nicholas remembered Prince holding hands to reassure her on their first shoot together. Fans "came up afterward and said, 'We feel like we got to know him better,' " St. Nicholas told Billboard. "I thought, 'I need to do this book.'"

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Upcoming Rock and Roll Book Club picks

Tune in to The Current at 8:30 a.m. (Central) every Wednesday morning to hear Jay Gabler and Jill Riley talk about a new book. Also, find Jay's reviews online.

April 22: All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir by Kathy Valentine (buy now)

April 29: Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir by Mark Lanegan (buy now)

May 6: Resistance: A Songwriter's Story by Tori Amos (buy now)

May 13: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder by Mark Ribowsky (buy now)

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