The Night the Twin Cities Bled Purple

It was a cool and windy Thursday evening at Paisley Park. Normally, the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen is a quiet town on a spring weeknight—but nothing was normal about April 21, 2016. That night, I joined hundreds of mourners who flocked to Paisley Park off Highway 5. We trekked across a trail and through patches of mud, walking through dark tunnels under the highway, avoiding blocked-off areas as police tried to find a balance between allowing a memorial and keeping the surrounding roadways partially open. The only light we could see came from cell phones, camera flashes, and lit candles along the path. We climbed a hill, and on the other side of a fence was Prince’s compound, lit in its familiar purple glow. News vans were lined up along Audubon Road with reporters and cameramen plucking members from the fluid crowd—like bees pollinating, desperate to get the best interview or testimonial. Along the fence, mourners carrying everything from acoustic guitars to purple roses crowded together, swapping Prince stories.

Prince’s star on the exterior of First Avenue, now painted gold. Photo by Madeleine Vasaly

Witnessing and interacting with the diverse range of mourners served as a reminder that Prince transcended barriers and genres with his sonic vocals and elegant guitar riffs. Whether listeners wanted rock ’n’ roll or music with soul, he delivered—and he could do it better than everyone else. His mass appeal and status as an industry icon was evident in Chanhassen that Thursday night.

An elderly couple embraced one other, fighting back tears as they talked all things Purple Rain. Small children, encouraged by their parents, scribbled notes in ink on giant white tarps that served as massive Hallmark cards. I lost count of how many people passed by, walking their dogs as if they were taking their regularly scheduled stroll through the park on a standard work night. There was a stunning painting on canvas that had been made by a local artist that day. I could overhear portions of soft-spoken conversations and generators powering the news vans and whipping wind gusts—but there was no music.

The view of Paisley Park from the trail passing by Highway 5 the night Prince died. Photo by Paul Patane

The view of Paisley Park from the trail passing by Highway 5 the night Prince died. Photo by Paul Patane

Paisley Park is less than four miles from where I was living in Minnetonka on that agonizing day in April. Despite being a gigantic Prince fan and a music journalist, and although I’d driven by frequently, often singing and blasting “Sexy M.F.” or “My Name is Prince” on my car stereo while passing 7801 Audubon Road, it didn’t always register how special what was behind the Purple One’s fences must have been. There were moments, however, when I slowed down just a little, glancing, and imagining his Purple Rain motorcycle inside, or the vault of music filled with songs most of us had never heard. For me on that unforgettable Thursday a year ago, silence represented guilt.

Due to my work and musical interests, I’d been to more than my fair share of shows at First Avenue and 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis. Each visit, I always acknowledged Prince’s star on the club’s exterior when walking by. Sometimes it would provoke a head nod, or even a conversation. Most importantly, the venue compelled me to think about Prince Rogers Nelson and how the music-literate community embraced his influence and followed the musician’s quest to champion Minneapolis sound. What he meant to Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and Minneapolis in particular can never be quantified. True, outside the Twin Cities, his legend is equally powerful—though in a different way. Not everyone could go to a Twins game and listen to “Partyman” blasting from stadium speakers while fireworks crackled overhead when the club would win. Not everyone could go to an impromptu show at Paisley Park or run into Prince at the local movie theater. Everyone could, however, rock the purple as Prince fought for fairness and ownership of his intellectual property against Warner Bros. Records. They could rally behind his music, his songwriting skills, and his ability to mentor other musicians who needed direction or a helping hand. They could witness his compassion and his genuine interest in being a good person.

In January 2016, I had the opportunity to make the quick trek to Paisley Park and finally see what was on the other side of the fence. Prince was hosting a gala weekend featuring Morris Day and the Time with Grammy winner Judith Hill. I was invited to preview and attend the show by Judith Hill’s publicist—but I declined, regretfully. Instead of attending the once-in-a-lifetime show and having the chance to interact with the fading Prince, I was standing in St. Paul at Hamline University’s Blue Garden, freezing with actors and a production crew while filming a short movie I had written and been coerced into directing. Missing the show brought me sadness. I was exhausted, having spent 16 hours a day working on my low-budget production. Skipping the show felt like the only decision at the time—but that doesn’t mean I don’t still regret it. I was cold filming outside in the Minnesota winter, but I felt even colder standing along the fence at Paisley Park in April, clutching a bouquet of flowers—losing myself in the purple of the petals for as long as I could.

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