Dig if you will a picture…. of me outside Paisley Park…
Dearly beloved; we are gathered here today to this thing called Paisley Park…
Yeah, I know- just get to the story…
In short, for Prince fans like me, Paisley Park is awesome! The legendary, almost mystical complex was Prince’s recording studio, creative palace, and sometimes home. Located in Chanhassen, Minnesota, a few miles from Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, it has been open for tours since his unexpected passing in 2016.
I fulfilled a bucket list item by visiting this past October.
At first I was a little worried the GPS had sent me to the wrong spot. I was in somewhat of an industrial park as I approached the address. But sure enough, the GPS was correct and I soon pulled up at the fairly ordinary looking complex across the street from a daycare center. I had seen Paisley once before from the highway and thought it looked like a semi-normal building that you might find in a semi-normal industrial center. One rather large building, accompanied by a small, oddly-shaped building which looked like a shed of some sort.
I was early for my tour, so I pulled into the day care parking lot and started getting pumped up for the experience by listening to Prince on my phone. Not that I needed any extra motivation it- I was totally psyched!
About 20 minutes before my tour time, I drove across the street, checked in with the gate attendant, and took a parking spot in front of the main building. Getting out of the car, I imagined I was there to record some horn arrangements with Prince, and took my place in line with the other early birds. As we waited in the windy, cold morning for the doors to open, one of the staff brought out a portable speaker which pumped out kick-ass Prince jams, some of which were either unreleased or I had forgotten. Either way, it took our minds off the cold.
A few minutes before tour time, an attendant explained to us in detail, the strict rules regarding cell phones. They must remain away until the last two rooms of the tour. No more warnings. Any infraction meant immediate removal from the property. They gave us each a little foam bag to put our phones in. The bags were fitted with some sort of locking, magnetic button at the top and they used a machine to make sure they were locked. They definitely meant business with cell phones!
My group had about seven people in it, hailing from all over the country. All of us had come to Minnesota to tour Paisley Park. Some had built additional things around the Prince tour but for most, this was the reason they had left home. It’s amazing to think about the impact one human life can have on so many others. Who would leave home and travel across the country to visit the workplace of another person? People like us I guess.
Finally, we step inside the front door and I’ll admit- it was exciting. Once inside, you can see right down the hallway into the atrium. As we stand in a small lobby by the front desk getting our tour instructions, I can’t help tuning out the speaker and spinning my head all around, trying to notice everything.
The tour starts with a walk down the short, main hallway, under a mural of Prince’s eyes, which look down on us as we enter the sunlit, center area. The walls are painted cerulean blue with clouds, as if the whole place exists in the free, open sky.
The atrium is the main hub of the complex, with several hallways leading off in different directions from the center square. The second floor is not part of the tour (even the 3 hour “Ultimate Experience” tour I was on), but we can look up at it as if we’re standing in a courtyard outside. Prince’s famous symbol is imprinted on the carpeted floor, and vibrant colors are all around. Along one side of the courtyard is “the little kitchen”, where Prince is said to have enjoyed making snacks (pancakes maybe?) and watching basketball. We’re told he was a big fan of the WNBA.
Several of Paisley’s rooms have been altered for museum and tour purposes, including the room we enter next. In there, we see the typical, museum-tribute style film about Prince, his philosophy and his career. I don’t mean “typical” as a disparaging word at all, the tour is filled with killer Prince audio and video highlights as is this short, opening film.
Another atrium door leads to Prince’s video editing room- one of my favorite spots on the tour. The somewhat long, skinny, multileveled room has a great vibe with it’s warm colors and comfortable furniture. The guide tells us that Prince spent a lot of time critiquing his performances, band included, and did so here in this room. Soon, the lights went out and (no-Nikki didn’t start to grind) we watch several minutes of private, unreleased video from some of Prince’s concerts, including some very cool, alternate arrangements. If I had a man-cave in my house, I think I might set it up like this room.
Next door is Prince’s office. I’m not sure what I thought his office might look like, but I’m surprised to see it look like – an office. Of course it’s well decorated, but it’s also staged with various projects on the desk and tables, along with several books Prince kept on hand.
At this point, fortunately, somebody in our tour group has to go to the bathroom. I say fortunately, because I’m not sure that we would have otherwise had the chance to take a break and check out the cool designs on the bathroom walls, and to hear the story of how they were partially destroyed by Prince more than once. Here’s the story:
On the other side of the bathroom wall is one of the main recording studios, Studio A. As we would soon find out, the sound in that control room is insane! Our tour guide tells us that Prince is said to have enjoyed hanging out in that control room, pumping up the volume, and playing along to tracks- especially on bass. The problem was that some of the high-volume bass frequencies cracked the tiles in the bathroom next door and made quite a mess. Apparently the wall was repaired, re-cracked by the same means, and repaired again several times. Eventually, somebody had the unenviable job of telling Prince to turn it down!
Studio A is our next stop. To enter, we first pass through a small but intriguing room, bathed in blueish-purple light. It’s a meditation room. A place to connect and get centered before heading in to record. In Prince’s famous interview with Oprah, I believe he told her that this was one of his favorite places at Paisley, and it’s easy to see why. The room has a great vibe and I wish we could do more than just briefly pass through it.
On the other side of the meditation room is Studio A, a true tour highlight. It’s no wonder Prince liked to hang out and work in there. You can almost feel his presence, as if he were an unseen ghost, still at work in the studio. In the control room, our guide shows us how skilled Prince was at the old-school technique of cutting and splicing audio tape. We also get a walkthrough of his creative and recording processes by listening to several session tapes, which he recorded by himself, by single-handedly tracking all of the vocal and instrumental parts. Amazing. The music we hear in that room, on that sound system, is phenomenal! Especially Prince’s powerful vocal arrangements.
Walking through the door into the actual recording room brings an odd mix of emotions. The room is beautiful, with its high ceiling and pristine hardwood floors. It’s exciting, warm and fun; as if the room itself wants to be a player in the music being made. On the wall is a giant photo of Prince, and other photos of his newest bandmates, Third Eye Girl; a reminder of what was yet to come had Prince not died near the beginning of their collaboration.
On the far side of the room are a few pianos, one with a hat resting on its lid. Prince had been in the room alone, playing that piano just a few days before his death. As he left the room, he put the hat there, never to return. The staff at Paisley Park has left the scene unchanged since Prince’s death (2016).
Just being in Studio A would have made for a satisfying tour, but with more ahead, we cross the hall into Studio B. This is the largest of the 4 studios at Paisley Park and is the studio where most of Prince’s music was recorded. Although we can’t enter the control room area, we do look through the glass and see the now vintage Yamaha DX7 synthesizer Prince used to get those cutting edge sounds in “When Doves Cry” back in 1983.
It’s fun just to stand in that room, listening in my head to some of the great music that was created there, and imagining what those sessions must have been like.
Across another hallway from Studio B is Studio C. I believe our guide said that this was originally a dance/choreography studio, but now it houses a mini museum for Purple Rain. It’s a fun room to see! The walls are white with flowers, like the album cover. The famous, purple motorcycle is there (there are actually 2 of them, the other is in another room). There are handwritten portions of the movie script on display, as well as a Purple Rain candy machine Prince received as a gift from his crew while on tour. They stocked it with Minnesota candies to give him a taste of home while traveling. If cameras were allowed, this room would probably be among the most photographed on the property.
High up on one of the walls, above the hardwood floors of Studio C, is a retractable basketball hoop. Although the room seems a shade narrow for full-out basketball games, I get excited wondering whether or not I am standing on the court where Charlie Murphy’s famous Prince story took place. I ask our tour guide, but she either doesn’t know or won’t say.
Next, the tour enters one last work space- Studio D. This is much smaller than the other spaces and appears to have been another dance room at one time. Now, it’s a museum room highlighting the post-Purple Rain cinematic adventures of Prince, showcasing several outfits, props and other items related to movies like Under The Cherry Moon, Graffiti Bridge and Sign O’ The Times.
Paisley Park is essentially 2 large square buildings which intersect at one corner. We had just finished touring the biggest building, but had one more square to go. We walk through several hallways, past walls covered in awards, accolades, gold records, portraits and murals; eventually arriving in a lobby area. Looking out the window, we can see Prince’s tour bus in the long driveway. It looks old-school but well kept. It’s at this point that our phones are unlocked and we’re told by our guide to take as many pictures as we want in the last few rooms of the tour. There’s an excitement in this small waiting-room, an anticipation of good things about to happen.
The lobby empties through 2 doors and into a large room with a stage at the far end. It’s set for a live performance, which sadly of course, there would not be. But there had been many! This was Prince’s soundstage and live rehearsal hall, on which he also did live shows including the legendary Rave Unto The Year 2000 party in 1999.
The stage looks as if Prince and his band could come out at any moment, but instead, a large video screen provides the show. Along the other walls of the room are several of Prince’s cars and bicycles (he would often ride from the studio into the nearby town of Chanhassen via the bike paths), a few pianos and several displays of his iconic fashions. Every few steps provide a look at something recognizable or noteworthy.
We’re allowed to hang out in this spot for a generous amount of time; listening, looking, and imagining that we’re at one of Prince’s famous parties, with him on stage right in front of us.
This space bleeds into the smaller performance space next door. There’s another stage, more of lounge-type seating arrangement, and a small snack bar. This is said to be the place where Prince would often throw more intimate, last minute parties, inviting the public to attend for free or with a can of food for the local shelter. The invitations were sent by word-of-mouth by whoever Prince happened to tell. Sometimes Prince would attend, sometimes not. Other times, guests like Madonna were on-hand performing, other times it was just a chill time in Prince’s cool mini-club.
The Paisley Park staff is pretty strict about adhering to Covid regulations, but at this point, we are permitted to remove our masks, get some snacks, and chat with each other a bit. It’s easy to keep proper distance with such a small tour group, and the conversation amongst us die-hard fans is easy and fun.
I hang around quite awhile in this room, knowing that the next stop the last one. But at some point, I get out my credit card, and head next door to the gift shop.
The store is nice, with several recordings available that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Let’s just say that my bank account was in worse shape when I left than when I entered, but I don’t care.
Before heading back to my car, I heed the advice of the gate attendant and take the short walk down the bike path to the underpass. As I mentioned, Prince was known to frequently ride his bike into town on these paths, plus they’re the closest public spaces to the Paisley Park entrance. As such, these tunnels and underpasses are where fans come to pay tribute to Prince. The walk is best described in pictures.
Feeling inspired, grateful, both happy for what was and a little sad from what more could have been, I head back to the car and drive off the lot. It was an excellent experience and I strongly recommend it to all Prince fans.
On my way out of town, I make a few more quick stops related to Prince. First, is to one of the properties where Prince once had a home. I got the approximate address from our tour guide and googled the rest. I say “once had a home” because the building he lived in has been destroyed at Prince’s insistence. He had been married twice, and each time the marriage broke up, he had the home they lived in wrecked and the property sold. Another house now sits on the property, and the only remaining sign of Prince is his symbol on the iron gates, which have somehow escaped destruction.
Lastly, I drive into downtown Minneapolis to catch a glimpse of the famous First Avenue nightclub, regionally well-known for its music and also the setting for large parts of the movie, Purple Rain. I promise myself I’ll go to show there once we get Covid under control.
Had I thought of it at the time, I would have driven around town some more and found the house they used as Prince’s home in Purple Rain. It’s on the list for next visit.
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