DISCLAIMER: This is my review of my experience at Paisley Park. I speak to the forward-facing piece of the organization only. I do not speak to the performance or qualifications of Graceland Holdings. I do not offer an opinion on behalf of anyone else.
For thirty years I have dreamed of visiting Paisley Park. My greatest regret is that I was unable to make it when Prince was still hosting and performing there. However, I believe that everything happens for a reason and so I must assume that my time simply hadn’t yet come. Now as I reflect on these few hours spent at Paisley Park, I can see that, for me at least, being there with him still physically present would have been like flying too close to the sun. I would have simply burned up.
When we arrived in Minnesota, we had tickets for a VIP tour on Thursday and a General Admission tour/Paisley Park After Dark on Saturday. Our hotel was very close to Paisley Park, and that was both a blessing and a curse: that place must have a homing beacon or some such – I could feel it like a pulse and it called to me in such a way that I couldn’t have denied it even if I wanted to. My first glimpse of its exterior was at night. As I turned to look, my breath caught in my throat. Nothing could have prepared me for what would wash over my spirit upon seeing it in person that first time. Seeing that purple glow and what it signifies somehow managed to catch me off guard and tears began to flow. I cannot overemphasize the beauty of the structure: stark white without being sterile; glass without being revealing. Warm. Serene. Welcoming. Home.
It had rained earlier and the sky was still overcast and grey when we arrived for our first VIP tour. Emotions were running very high: an anxiety-inducing mixture of excitement and apprehension. Openly weeping by the time we got to the front desk, the kind ladies there told us that they still cry too. The smells, the colors, the muted voices of the staff, and his music playing in the background put me on a bit of sensory overload at first. With few exceptions, the rooms are much smaller than I expected and I was pleasantly surprised at the intimacy of the space.
Thursday is the only day that VIP tours offer patrons the opportunity to record their voice to a Prince track. I had been opposed to this since its inception but it is a pretty hard sell. If you purchase a flash drive on this tour, it includes your photographs AND the recording. While you’re waffling back and forth over whether to do it, they’re telling you that it’s Prince’s microphone. Then you realize that it’s the only way you’re going to get to see the inside of that control room. Hook, line, and sinker, folks. I suspect Prince wouldn’t be especially thrilled but, for me, it did add a little cheerfulness to an overwhelming experience.
This was also the day we tried some of the food (eat the macaroni and cheese – you won’t regret it.) However, none of the fare appealed to the kids so Tracy told them she had something for them. She then reached into her bag and produced a chicken sandwich. I don’t know what’s going on in Tracy’s purse but it seems to be pretty magical…
The Paisley Park After Dark event, which includes a General Admission tour, was a great event. The music included tracks from every phase of his career. Prince, with a few proteges thrown in for good measure, and more Prince. The NPG Music Club was full of diverse crowd with almost all on the dance floor all evening, fam coming together to celebrate The Maestro and reveling in the sheer joy that comes with his work at high volume being appreciated by people who love him. PPAD affords a more relaxed atmosphere and allows more freedom of movement and better social interaction with the staff and security. Although restricted to a certain area, you are still allowed to go out and come back in as often as you wish. This was a wonderful experience.
I couldn’t leave Minnesota without going once more; so on this bright, sunny Monday, our last full day there, we did another VIP tour. Upon entering Paisley Park for this tour, one of the rugs was wrinkled so I re-positioned and straightened it. The security guard said, “Wow. Thank you for doing that.” I replied, “Man, this is PRINCE’s house. Ya know?” He chuckled and said, “Yeah. You’re right.” That’s when the waterworks started again.
The tour guide on this visit was extraordinary. She pointed out little nuances and provided anecdotes. This group was small and we were somewhat relaxed. We just kind of flowed through the space. I was better able to really study the items and areas that had piqued my interest and I felt like I wasn’t going to miss anything this time.
I have a few concerns about the facility itself. Although the staff take great pains to keep it free from dust and the like, the carpet is in desperate need of stretching (it doesn’t look great and it poses a trip hazard in a few places) and some of the installations are peeling from the walls. The plexiglass nest which holds the urn needs to be completely re-done. The seams are not smooth and it looks as though the adhesive used was just “globbed” on in places. Additionally, the plexiglass is supposedly “frosted” but it looks more like it just needs a thorough cleaning (but I can assure you that it is indeed cleaned regularly – and well).
Sign O’ the Times is not only a great album but a brilliant film and deserves the same attention afforded Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge. I was disappointed that Sign O’ the Times isn’t included in the movie exhibit. Although it has its own room, there are only a handful of artifacts in it and it could easily be incorporated into this exhibit.
There is no display featuring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One would think this would be considered worthy of attention, considering that he was inducted in his first year of eligibility, he delivered one of the most magnificent guitar solos ever – on a GEORGE HARRISON song, no less – and he performed a stellar set of his own. I find this to be a glaring omission and am hopeful that they will find a way to feature this important moment in his career.
The General Admission tour is much shorter and more crowded than the VIP tour – but it is also significantly less expensive. A pleasant experience but I feel that the VIP tour is worth the extra cost. My only criticism of the VIP tour is that there is not enough time to really look at the awards situated in the timeline hallway. This area contains several of his merit-based awards and I would have liked to give them more than a cursory examination. The tour emphasizes the timeline Prince created but the awards seem to be an afterthought. Optimally, Paisley Park should extend the VIP tour by five minutes which would allow patrons a little additional time to really examine the pieces that interest them.
The tour guides do a great job and they are sensitive to the emotional impact of being in this place. They seem to know when to be silent to let you digest the surroundings and when to offer words of comfort and reassurance. They encourage questions and observations. This openness made it very easy to engage with other members of our tour group(s). We met some amazing people and, by the end of the tour, we were all able to smile and laugh.
The breathtaking spaces include the atrium and the galaxy room. The atrium is smaller than I expected but those skylights are stunning. No artificial light needed and the sense of freedom here is remarkable. The galaxy room is quite extraordinary – I just wanted to sit on the sofa and spend the rest of the afternoon searching for the symbol among the stars…
The most emotionally-charged places for me were the video editing room and his office. These spaces are especially intimate. He feels so CLOSE in these two rooms…I don’t know how else to describe it, really. The video editing room is small and dark, and I would be perfectly content to exist there for the rest of my days. His office is a fairly open space and it was the mundane things that hit me hardest: the small footstool under the conference table and his laptop bag leaning against his desk…
The little touches are what get me the most. Dust is almost non-existent. They have taken steps to ensure that Paisley Park smells the same way it did when he was still in residence. The instruments in Studio A are still powered on – just as he left them.
All in all, visiting Paisley Park has been a positive experience for me. It has far exceeded my expectations and I have been changed by it. I am left wondering how it is possible to feel a little more healed and a little more fractured at the same time. I am again awed and humbled by Prince’s remarkable talents and tremendous foresight. The sheer volume of artifacts he amassed is a bit overwhelming. He somehow knew we would need these tangible things to help us through and, as with anything Prince has ever done, he went over the top and did not disappoint. What a tremendous gift he left for us. I can hardly wait to visit again, to be in the space where his genius flourished.
…Paisley Park, this glorious place where Prince’s presence and absence are simultaneously felt in almost equal measure.
© 2017 Kim Rodman