A Final Visit With Prince: Rolling Stone’s Lost Cover Story

Credit: Patrick Kovarik/Getty
Credit: Patrick Kovarik/Getty

It is, in theory, a mundane sight, nothing 2 get excited about: just a 55-year-old man in his suburban Minneapolis workplace, scrolling through a Windows Media Player library on a clunky Dell computer. An equally ordinary multi-line phone sits beside it, near a lit candle, bottled water and some expensive-looking lotion. A huge old Xerox machine looms over the desk; a window at the far end of the room looks out onto barren trees and an empty, snow-lined highway. It’s early evening on Saturday, January 25th, 2014, in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

The office is on the second floor of the 65,000-square-foot Paisley Park compound. The little guy sitting at the keyboard owns it all, had it all built back in the Eighties. And Prince being Prince, it’s fascinating to watch him do just about anything. The more ordinary the activity – clicking a mouse, say – the weirder it feels. Prince has a large Afro, and he’s dressed in dark, diaphanous layers, with a vest over a flowing long-sleeved shirt, form-fitting grayish-black slacks, and sneakers with high Lucite heels that light up with every step. He’s wearing obvious makeup – foundation, eyeliner, probably more. His thin, precision-trimmed mustache extends just past his lips in a semicircle.

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On characteristically short notice, Prince invited me here to report what we intend to be his seventh Rolling Stone cover story. I spend seven hours at Paisley Park, and he sits for two lengthy, thoughtful, amiable interviews. I was told not to curse or to ask about the past; though I eventually violate both rules, he invites me to join him on the road later. In the end, however, he won’t sit for a photo shoot, instead offering us pre-prepared, heavily retouched pictures. The whole thing falls through. I hold on to my reporting, assuming, all too correctly, that we will save the material for our next Prince cover.

That night, Prince doesn’t look his age – doesn’t look any particular age, really. He’s very thin, but not fragile – a strict vegan who, by his own account, sometimes doesn’t eat at all (“I have gone long periods with no food, and also water – people have to remind me to drink water because I always forget to do that”). He doesn’t sleep enough, either, and he avoids sex: One of the most deliriously sensual performers who ever lived – the one who sang “Jack U Off” and “Gett Off” and “Do Me, Baby” – insists he’s celibate. His reasons are both religious and “energy”-related (“The hunger turns into something else,” he says), though he maintains close relationships with several young female singer-songwriters. He is, at this stage in his life, a kind of cheerful musical monk. “I am music,” he says. Playing it is his greatest and perhaps only pleasure. But he’s been an ascetic even on that front as of late, recording less than ever, waiting four years between albums. It’ll stand as the longest break of his career.

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