By Peter Skiera
Inspired by a 60 Minutes segment about Prince, his new posthumous CD, and the fifth Anniversary of Paisley Park opening to the public, I took a purple pilgrimage to Minneapolis and to Paisley Park.
I arrived in Minneapolis a day before my Paisley Park tour in order to independently explore several places from Prince’s past. An abundance of bright sunshine, a healthy breeze, and comfortable temperatures would be my welcomed companions for my day-long excursion. I narrowed my list to six purple places. There were more, but my time was limited, so I excluded landmarks that were renamed or no longer existed, like Prince’s childhood home (a house built in 1995 stands there now), and Sound 80 where Prince made his first recordings, which is now home to a research lab, the building of which is almost entirely obscured by ivy.
1. The Purple Rain House, Minneapolis
The top spot on my list was the house featured in Prince’s film, Purple Rain. The house was used for the exterior shots only. The interior scenes were filmed inside a warehouse. Prince quietly bought the house in 2015, eight months before he died. It is not known what his intentions were for the house which was quite run down inside at the time. I read Prince paid about $117,000 for the single- family property.
Surprisingly, there were no signs or markers identifying the house, and as my confused Uber driver discovered, it was not the easiest house to find. I read conflicting reports about whether the house was occupied or not. Some stories claimed no one had lived there since Prince bought it, while other reports said a family resided there and fans should be respectful when visiting the property. When I was there, I noticed a red plastic bag hanging from a door knob holding what appeared to be a newspaper. The front entrance wood railing looked like it had been recently constructed. One thing was clear to me…whether anyone lived there or not, somebody was keeping up the property’s exterior and grounds.
At some point the house was modified since the 1984 film. The front door was now on the left side (though the front concrete steps are still there), and the large front bay window was replaced with 4 single hung windows. Regardless, it will forever be “The Kid’s” house.
During my visit I noticed a plain metal mailbox anchored to the wooden stair railing. With nothing to lose except two 0.58 cent first class stamps, I snail-mailed a letter to the “Current Resident” asking the recipient to please confirm someone indeed resided at the property. I included a self-addressed stamp envelope in hopes of encouraging a response. I have yet to hear back.
Trivia: The film Purple Rain won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and has grossed over $72 million in sales worldwide. In 2019, the film was preserved after being added to the Library of Congress’ National Film registry.
2. First Avenue Dance Club, Minneapolis
The next stop on my list was First Avenue, the iconic dance club that opened in 1970. Prince performed live at First Avenue at least nine times during his career and the club was featured prominently in Purple Rain. Most of the movie’s music scenes were shot here using the actual staff as extras.
This former Greyhound Bus depot did not need Purple Rain’s help to become famous. The exterior is adorned with the names of musicians and groups that played at First Avenue over the decades, each framed in their own individual silver star. You will no doubt recognize some of the names: U2, R.E.M., Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Nirvana, John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa, Pearl Jam, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, 10,000 Maniacs, Duran Duran, King Crimson, and Gil Scott Heron. I could go on but we would be here all day.
Trivia: According to Wikipedia, First Avenue was paid $100,00 for the use of its facility during filming and had to close for 25 days.
3. Schmitt Music Mural (“The Music Wall”), Minneapolis
Though I knew this mural still existed, I was not sure if the parking lot in front of it did and whether I would be able to get a decent picture of the mural. I had read reports that the parking lot had been sold and a building was to be constructed there which would effectively obscure the mural. When I arrived, I do not think I had ever been happier to see a parking lot.
The five-story mural was painted in the 1970s when the building was the headquarters for the Schmitt Music Company. In preparation, they had to brick up 32 windows in the wall. Though the building has changed hands over the years, none of the owner’s dared paint over the landmark.
What is depicted is not just random notes on a wall. Maurice Ravel’s 1908 Gaspard de la Nuit was selected as the subject because of its dramatic visual impact. The section used was taken from the third movement called “Scarbo”. Apparently, this is also a notoriously difficult work for a pianist to perform.
Prince’s first professional black and white photography session happened in front of this mural in 1977. Thus, my selfie is in black and white.
Trivia: The music mural project originally cost about $17,000. According to dollartimes.com, that translates to $76,083 in today’s money. That’s a lot of money for a mural.
4. The Electric Fetus, Minneapolis
This has to be the craziest name for a business I have heard of. Perhaps you can tell by the name that this record store opened back in 1968. Prince was a long-time customer, buying records and CDs here. With a reported 50,000 titles in stock, he certainly had a lot to choose from. I believe this is the largest independently-owned record store I have been in, and I have been in a lot of record stores.
I reached out to the store to ask if an employee would be willing to share any memories of a Prince visit but was told Prince had requested privacy during his visits and the staff continue to respect his wishes. In short, no comment.
The Electric Fetus sells new and used records, CDs, DVDs, and even cassette tapes, along with a plethora of items to help you settle into the music vibe…incense, candles, t-shirts, posters, desk top amplified speakers, record accessories, and a lot more. I was tempted to spend more time there but I still had a couple of other places to get to before I lost the daylight.
Trivia: According to Wikipedia, five days before he died, Prince purchased music at The Electric Fetus.
5. The Capri Theater, North Minneapolis
In early 1979, Prince performed his first-ever live solo shows here to promote his first record, For You, released the previous year. Prince was just 20 years old. The tickets cost $4 each ($4.75 at the door) and all the proceeds benefited the Theater. Not long after Prince’s gigs, the Plymouth Christian Youth Center took over ownership and they remain the owners to this day.
The Capri originally opened in 1927 as a movie theater. In 2018 the Theater embarked on a $12.5 million renovation. The project included a 20,000 square foot addition seating up to 125 people. The Capri’s Grand Opening was the week of October 3rd. Architecturally speaking, the new addition, which has a basket weave-like design, looks like it would be much more at home in Prince’s Paisley Park then tacked on to the side of the brick Capri building.
Trivia: According to Princevault.com, the setlist for Prince’s Capri performances included For You, Soft and Wet, So Blue, and Just as Long as We’re Together.
6. Chanhassen Movie Theater Mural, Chanhassen
Shading things often happen behind movie theaters, but not this one. The Chanhassen Movie Theater, which is only a few minutes from Paisley Park, does not have any direct connection with Prince. Yet it was well worth a visit to view the stunning 20-foot mural painted on the Theater’s backside, complete with rain and white doves. New Zealand’s self-taught, world-renowned muralist, “Mr. G.” (Graham Hoete), painted it in 2016 using only spray paint.
I connected with Mr. G. via email and asked him what inspired him to create this Prince mural. “I was living in Sydney, Australia at the time when I heard of Prince’s passing. I then painted a tribute portrait of him in Sydney. I was then flooded with requests to go to his home town in Chanhassen and paint a mural of him. Nobody commissioned me. I went because I am a huge lover of his music. Was given permission to paint on the cinema’s [wall] and that’s how it came about. I used about 50 cans of paint to paint this.”
Trivia: Prince’s family was so moved by this mural they personally invited Mr. G. to Prince’s private memorial service in 2016.
In Part 2 of Visiting A Prince, I will take you inside Prince’s home, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minnesota. However, Part 2 will only be available to my Patreon supporters in early November. If you have yet to sign up as a supporter, please consider doing so. The cost is just $1/month (not $1/day or $1/week). This is the least expensive tier Patreon allows. In addition to gaining access to occasional exclusive blog posts like next month’s Visiting A Prince: Part 2, you will also have access to my monthly Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations. All money raised helps offset expenses such as my trip to Paisley Park and operating my website.