Skinny motherfucker with the high voice Prince has crawled out of the bathtub to give an interview to Billboard. Per his usual press policy and determination to be as big of a pain in the ass as humanly possible, he would not allow veteran music journalist Gail Mitchell to record their interview or take notes:
He remains adamant about not allowing reporters to record their conversations with him. ("Some in the past have taken my voice and sold it," he says. "I can't remember the incident that triggered it and it's probably best that I don't.") And he still frowns at the idea of a reporter taking notes. ("That would be just like texting.")
The result is a nonetheless entertaining romp through Prince's mansion/recording studio Paisley Park. The artist is Mitchell's Cheshire Cat, leading her via riddles and nonsense as she takes in the wonders: a cage of doves, a rough cut of a documentary he's producing about bassist Larry Graham, a drum kit with the Twitter avi of 3rd Eye Girl, the supposed bootlegger who recently leaked unreleased Prince stuff, but who really might be Prince himself (though he denies it).
Despite Mitchell's limitations, we learn plenty about the man who once changed his name to a symbol just to be difficult. Here are highlights:
- He employs a team of female black lawyers.
"I have a team of female black lawyers who keep an eye on such transgressions," Prince says. "And you know they're sharp," he adds with a laugh.
(Please tell me there are five of them and he refers to them as the Executory 10, based on the number of nipples on this team.)
- He is a shameless self-promoter.
...He makes a few comments about media ownership and control, then shoots out a question. How would I get the word out about, and then monetize a lyric video for, one of his new songs, "Screw Driver," that I'd been shown a few minutes earlier? I tell him an online post will generate enough interest to get us to monetization-given the fan clamor for new Prince music, there's a community ready to pay a nominal price to get their hands on said track. Nothing revolutionary, but Prince pauses and thinks it over. I think I may have passed the audition.
- He's bitter about his lack of success and seemingly unaware that he's peaked when it comes to crafting a pop song.
"I'm selling out multiple nights, but how come I can't get music on the radio? You have the indie promoters and you ask, ‘Who are you and where do you come from? What are your references? And can you guarantee your work [getting airplay]?' No. But I have to make sure and guarantee mine, right?"
- He's a hypocrite about covers.
Prince says he doesn't understand why people want to cover someone else's songs. In the moment, I don't think to mention the 1996 Emancipation album features his covers of "Betcha By Golly Wow!" and "I Can't Make You Love Me," but I do point out that he sometimes plays covers during his performances.
"I do pay performance royalties on others' songs I perform live, but I'm not recording these songs and putting them up for sale," he says. "Why do we need to hear another cover of a song that someone else did? Art is about building a new foundation, not just laying something on top of what's already there." At this point he references Maroon 5's cover of his "Kiss," letting it be known that he wasn't thrilled by it.
(Note: Not only was "Betcha By Golly Wow!" on Emancipation, it was its lead single. The three-disc set also included his take on the Delfonics' "La-La (Means I Love You)" and Joan Osborne's "One of Us." His 1999 album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic includes a remake of Sheryl Crow's "Everyday Is a Winding Road.")
- His famous battle with Warner Brothers that found him scrawling "SLAVE" on his face in response to his contract was about Madonna...except it wasn't.
Flashback to Prince's storied fight against Warner Brothers. "It was also about Madonna," he says. "She was getting paid, but at the time we were selling more records and selling out concerts on multiple nights. It wasn't about her. This was about business."
- He doesn't talk to old people.
"I don't talk to old people…they try to find ways to stay static. Young folks are the ones with the ideas and constantly moving forward."
- He hooks up journalists with chain-restaurant fish.
...Ramadan [his manager] is ready to take me to the hotel. He asks her to order me dinner to be delivered to my room. I must say Houlihan's cooks a mean salmon steak.
Granted, if this story weren't absolutely bonkers, it wouldn't be worth reading. And it certainly wouldn't be Prince.