Three years after his death, the singer-songwriter Prince is telling his story, by way of an unfinished memoir he was working on at the time of his passing. “The Beautiful Ones” (Spiegel & Grau), to be published Tuesday, was the artist’s first autobiography.
Edited by Dan Piepenbring, the book spans Prince Rogers Nelson’s life and musical evolution, and features photographs from Prince’s collections, including the original handwritten lyrics for “Purple Rain.”
In his introduction, Piepenbring writes of how he became involved in a collaboration with the musical legend. Read an excerpt below.
On January 29, 2016, Prince summoned me to his home at Paisley Park to tell me about a book he wanted to write. He was looking for a collaborator. Paisley Park is in Chanhassen, Minnesota, about forty minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Prince treasured the privacy it afforded him. He once said, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that Minnesota is “so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Sure enough, when I landed, there was an entrenched layer of snow on the ground, and hardly anyone in sight.
Prince’s driver, Kim Pratt, picked me up at the airport in a black Cadillac Escalade. She was wearing a plastic diamond the size of a Ring Pop. “Sometimes you gotta femme it up,” she said. She dropped me off at the Country Inn & Suites, an unremarkable chain hotel in Chanhassen that served as a de-facto Paisley substation, where I was “on call” until further notice. A member of Prince’s team later told me that, over the years, Prince had paid for enough rooms there to have bought the place four times over.
I was twenty-nine and had yet to write a book. My agent had suggested me for the job but hadn’t refrained from telling me the obvious truth: I was extremely unlikely to get it. In my hotel room, I turned the television on. I turned the television off. I had a mint tea. I felt that I was joining a long and august line of people who’d been made to wait by Prince, people who had sat in rooms in this same hotel, maybe in this very room, quietly freaking out just as I was quietly freaking out.
A few weeks earlier, Prince had hosted editors from three publishing houses at Paisley Park, and declared his intention to write a memoir called “The Beautiful Ones,” after one of the most naked, aching songs in his catalogue. For as long as he remembered, he told the group, he’d written music to imagine – and reimagine – himself. Being an artist was a constant evolution. Early on, he’d recognized the inherent mystery of this process. “‘Mystery’ is a word for a reason,” he told the editors. “It has a purpose.” The right book would add new layers to his mystery even as it stripped others away. He offered only one formal guideline: it had to be the biggest music book of all time.
On January 19, Prince chose an editor – Chris Jackson, of Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House – and started the search for a co-writer. A few days later, he put on “Piano & a Microphone,” his first-ever solo show, at Paisley Park, paring down his songs to their essential components and re-inventing them on the fly. He’d been practicing into the night, playing alone for hours on end, his piano filling the vast darkness of his soundstage until he found something that he described, to Alexis Petridis, of the Guardian, as “transcendence.”
Read more from Dan Piepenbring on the genesis of “The Beautiful Ones” at The New Yorker.
Excerpt from “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince, published by Spiegel & Grau, a division of Penguin Random House. © 2019. Reprinted by permission, courtesy of The New Yorker.
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