Prince’s Paisley Park: there’s money to be made from griefMay 11, 2019
Minneapolis: On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park, his studio complex and occasional home. The beloved musician – a seven Grammy Awards and Oscar winner – died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Six months later, Paisley Park opened as a museum – which was far quicker than the five-year turnaround between Elvis Presley’s death and the opening of Graceland. The site has since become the must-see attraction for visitors to Minneapolis, the mid-western city where Prince was born and lived for most of his life.
There’s money to be made from grief, as the controllers of Prince’s estate are well aware. Paisley Park is many things: a museum, a shrine of remembrance and a money-making machine.
The atrium of Prince’s Paisley Park on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota.Credit:AP
Visitors choose from three options: a general admission tour ($US40, roughly $57), a VIP tour ($US100) or the ultimate experience tour ($US160).
The VIP tour lasts for an hour and 40 minutes, half an hour longer than the general admission, and you get to view more rooms and artefacts. On Thursdays, VIP ticketholders are given an ''unprecedented opportunity'' to record live vocals over a short segment of a Prince song and take a copy home with them.
The three-hour ultimate experience tour allows you to hold one of Prince’s guitars, play a game on his table tennis table and eat a vegetarian meal (Prince was a passionate animal rights activist).
The entrance to a vault inside Prince’s Paisley Park estate.Credit:AP
While Little Red Corvette is a fixture on my party playlists, I’m more of a casual fan than a Prince devotee. So I opt for general admission.
A half-hour drive from Minneapolis, Paisley Park feels like it's in the middle of nowhere – which it pretty much is. From the outside, it looks like a storage facility: an unremarkable compound covered in white tiles.
Guests are instructed not to arrive more than 20 minutes early and it's good advice: if you do, you'll have to wait around in a parking lot beside the highway.
Prince banned mobile phones at Paisley Park and the rule holds true today. As soon as you enter, your phone is placed in a pouch and secured with a magnetic lock. It stays locked until you leave. If you want to take a photo inside, you have to take a VIP tour and pay an extra $US10 for a flash drive.
Prince performs during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Miami in 2007.Credit:AP/File
Our tour guide, Corri, is a blonde-haired woman with purple streaks in her hair. She has a perky demeanour and a penchant for cliches (''If only these walls could talk, right?'' she says).
Thankfully, while Paisley Park's exterior may be banal, inside it is a sensory smorgasbord.
The first thing you see upon entry is a mural of Prince's eyes. The walls in the main lobby are painted sky blue and covered in clouds, signifying his vision of heaven. The sofas are covered in decadent purple velvet and the floor is emblazoned with a giant love symbol (Prince's fusion of the male and female icons).
On the second floor, two pet doves are cooing in a cage, just as they did when Prince was alive. (They don’t cry, Corri informs us.)
Paisley Park, the former home and studio of Prince, is open for tours.
At the start of the tour, she asks us to observe a moment’s silence. Visitors, apparently, can have an intense emotional reaction when they enter Paisley Park, but on our tour everyone keeps it together.
We begin by exploring rooms devoted to Prince's hit albums. They're filled with his flamboyant costumes, awards and notebooks containing his hand-written lyrics.
We then move to the studios where he recorded some of his best-selling albums. Other famous artists such as Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Madonna and Aretha Franklin also recorded here.
Next comes what Corri calls the ''wow room''. It's a massive sound stage – with an audience capacity of 1000 people. Here, Prince held live concerts and recorded many of his videos. It's a surprise, and a hugely impressive one.
Next door is the more intimate ''club room'', with a 200-person capacity, where Prince would host legendary surprise late-night performances. Often they were only advertised through word of mouth.
The tour ends, naturally, in a gift shop, where you can buy Prince-themed umbrellas, shirts, tote bags and ping-pong balls.
While there's clearly a huge demand for Prince-themed tourism, some Minneapolis locals believe the commercialisation of his memory has gone too far.
''It’s time to let the man rest in peace,'' John Shipley, a local newspaper columnist, wrote recently.
''There’s a fine line between heartfelt tribute and brazen cash grab, and the Rubicon has been crossed.''
It would be unfair to accuse Paisley Park's operators of exploitation: it was Prince's wish for the facility to become a Graceland-style museum. But I found the experience too sanitised and superficial to be truly satisfying. You see a lot of cool stuff, but I wanted to learn more – about Prince's upbringing, his musical development and how he created his signature androgynous style.
In life, Prince was famously private and controlling. In death he remains aloof and enigmatic.
My Paisley Park visit, however, has inspired me to delve into Prince's back catalogue, to watch Purple Rain and his legendary 2006 Super Bowl performance.
I suspect it's there – in his music, in his artistry – that he lives on. Not at Paisley Park.
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