The first thing you notice when you walk into Paisley Park is that you are being watched — by purple-shirted tour guides, by black-suited security people, and finally by a large pair of eyes planted on a wall facing the lobby entrance. The eyes, like the facility, once belonged to Prince, the pop genius who passed away on April 21. Exactly six months and one week after his death, I left my home in Minnesota and drove 30 minutes to the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, where Prince’s iconic recording studio and occasional residence is situated. For those willing to pay $38.50 (for a standard tour) or $100 (for the VIP experience), a physical manifestation of Prince’s imagination is available for a few hours. The man might be gone, but you can stare at the vast infrastructure he left behind.
“Prince sees everything,” says Niccole, my tour guide, who will be guiding me and eight other VIP Prince fans from Los Angeles, Seattle, and Fargo through various sections of the 65,000-square foot complex. Prince opened Paisley Park in 1988 as a business headquarters, a home base, a creative playground, and, now, a shrine to all things Prince. During our tour, we will see Prince’s private study; his pet doves, Divinity and Majesty; the kitchen where Prince ate pancakes and watched Timberwolves games; the ping-pong table on which Prince may or may not have embarrassed Michael Jackson during his Under a Cherry Moon period; and the remains of Prince himself, now resting inside a small purple box encased in a model of the Paisley Park building.
What we won’t see are any of the rooms on the second floor, the private areas where Prince presumably lived, slept, and made love. And we definitely won’t gain entrance to the elevator in which Prince was found slumped over without a pulse that fateful April morning. A display for 2004’s Musicology tour now covers the elevator door.
It’s not known exactly how often Prince actually lived here — he owned more than a dozen different properties near Paisley Park, and also was known to have places in Los Angeles and Toronto. What’s clear is that Prince worked here, hosted concerts, threw parties, and then died in this place. Weirdly, you can still feel Prince’s presence. Inside Paisley Park, Prince remains in charge, a benevolent ghost haunting the Grammy-lined corridors.
I signed up to visit Paisley Park last Friday — you have to make an appointment in advance via Paisley Park’s website — the first day it resumed tours after community concerns over traffic and safety issues put a temporary hold on the building’s business permit. Chanhassen is one of the area’s tony suburbs, the kind of place where even the neighborhood Goodwill store is housed inside “classy” red brick, in the manner of all well-off midwestern communities.
When I arrived, pulling into the parking lot right off of Highway 5, I felt a twinge of cynicism. I had read about Paisley Park’s drab, all-white, oppressively rigid exterior — Forbes aptly described it having the charm of “an Amazon warehouse” — but it was still strange to ponder that Prince conjured wondrous musical universes imbued with the magical power of sex and God just down the road from a mundane swath of Target and OfficeMax stores. Prince was an extraordinary figure, and yet he chose, like Superman, to live in the most ordinary of environs.
Inside Paisley Park, of course, it’s much funkier. While the outside walls are strictly Chanhassen-friendly norm-core, the inside walls resemble the sky-blue cover of Around the World In A Day, covered with symbols, gold and platinum records, and dozens of photos of Prince’s different guises.