“Here we are in the beautiful atrium at Paisley Park. Does anyone hear that sound? That’s the sound of Prince’s doves, who have sang in Paisley Park for many years,” the tour guide said, in the same tone as a tour guide leading a pack of third graders on a tour of a colonial village, while observing someone churning butter. “Does anyone know their names?”
A man in a New Power Generation hockey jerseyraised his hand.
“Divinity and Majesty,” he answered.
“That’s right!,” the tour guide said, damn near clapping her hands with glee, ready to hand out a tootsie roll for a right answer. “And follow me to go see Prince’s office!”
I know that well before Prince died in April, he talked about wanting to turn Paisley Park, his home/performance facility/personal vault/recording studio in the southwest Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, into a museum. But I don’t imagine the tour I experienced this weekend was what he had in mind. Instead of being a tribute to one of the most transcendent and Important artists of the 21st century, a recluse who threw away more classic albums than your fave even released, the Paisley Park tour was at times crass, depressing and a reminder that Prince was so special, he could apparently confer meaning to a motorcycle in a museum display.
Before you ask, yeah, I saw Prince’s urn, which is in the shape of Paisley Park itself. I can say that a tour group of about 50 people walked up to the glass case it was in, peered at it for a second, raised their eyebrows, and kept moving onto the room set up to honor Sign 'O' the Times.There has been a lot of eyebrow wiggling over the fact that Prince is forever interred in an urn 3D printed to look like his nondescript facility, and then placed in a glass case in the atrium of said facility, and a lot of questions about it, due to a no-picture clause at Paisley Park (more on that in a minute). But I don’t think Prince’s final resting place is even that weird. Human death rituals are fucking insane; a coffin, in the abstract, is just as weird as being put in an urn shaped like a building. And let’s be honest. even if Prince’s family did the urn thing without directions from Prince, it’s not like people are buried in a certain way for them; every funeral and gravestone is made for the living, not the dead.
A lot of Prince fans got a lot out of the experience; or at least convinced themselves they did. When Prince’s family announced that they were selling tickets to tour Paisley Park, thousands of people bought tickets, which cost, after fees, a minimum of $57.50 (VIP guided tours cost more). So many people bought tickets, that the city of Chanhassen flipped out, and removed all the permits needed to have a museum, citing parking concerns. An emergency permit was granted, since so many people bought tickets already, so that tours could happen on three days before the museum’s handlers—Prince’s family—can get their permits in order. All ticket holders were pushed to those three days, or refunded their money, and all future tour dates were cancelled. The last tour for the foreseeable future happens this weekend (Update: the city of Chanhassen has allowed the museumto open its doors for 12 additional days).
To get to Paisley Park for the tour, we had to park in the parking ramp for the Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, which it turns out, is fucking jumping on the weekend. We then boarded a charter bus to Paisley Park itself, which was five minutes away. I sat behind two women who chatted about the upcoming tour; one of them had travelled from L.A. for a funeral and bought a tour ticket when she realized she was going to be in town. Later, I would see this woman buying two $30 T-shirts at the gift store.
The first thing that should greet you when you enter Paisley Park is a spooky mural of Prince’s eyes, cloaked behind his old logo, which was painted there on Prince’s orders to remind partygoers and visitors to Paisley Park that while they might not see the Purple One, he’s watching them. Instead, you’re greeted by a security force that makes you take your phone out of your pocket, and place it into a Yondr Pouch, a cloth pouch that is magnetically locked and prevents you from using your phone—and most importantly for Paisley Park—from taking photos. Prince was notoriously anti-recording devices and phones—no journalist who talked to him since the late ‘80s got a recorder in front of him with his knowledge. But the please, no pictures policy at Paisley Park feels constructed to do two things: 1. Prevent people from chronicling their nearly dollar-a-minute tour experience and 2. To funnel people to the expensive personal photo experience, where you could get your picture taken and be handed a Prince-branded jump drive with your photo on it. I don’t know how much this experience cost because the line was huge. Outside, with my phone unlocked, I was able to take a quick selfie, before security came and told me and the other people doing this that wasn’t allowed either:
Apart from the stop in the atrium with his remains, and the recording studio where he recorded basically every album since and including Batman, the tour is comprised of “themed rooms” where Prince’s albums are represented by the ephemera the organizers of the museum could find related to said albums. You can see his outfit from the 1999tour in the 1999room! You can see his guitar from the Diamonds and Pearls-era tours! You can look at the motorcycle from Purple Rain as the video for “When Doves Cry” plays in a smoke-machine filled room! The poster he took from Graffiti Bridge is here, framed! The experience very quickly goes from “Wow, Prince used to watch the Timberwolves in this room!” to “He recorded “Batdance" right over here!” to “Look at this shirt he wore one time!” If you like looking at a dead guy’s clothes less than six months after he died, the Paisley Park tour is your Birthright trip.
Prince is presented as an abstract throughout Paisley Park, which is perhaps a necessarily evil, since he literally died in the building back in April. Near as I could tell, the tour never made its way to a part of the facility Prince had actual living quarters in, and we probably never got near where he died of that drug overdose. But the fact that we were touring rooms adjacent to where Prince tragically succumbed to a drug addiction that kept him mostly confined to his tour dates and Paisley Park these last couple years left me feeling super gross. The only analog to the experience is Graceland, which is managed by the same company helping turn Paisley Park into a museum. However, Graceland didn’t open as a museum until nearly five years after Elvis died. Paisley Park opened less than six months after Prince did. Why so fast, and why so crass?
Well, because Prince didn’t have kids and wasn’t married at the time of his death, and he never wrote a will, so his estate is in a crazy flux right now. His one full sibling, his five living half siblings, and the two kids of his deceased half-sibling—who, all things considered, was maybe the closest to Prince, at least until Prince fired him as his head of security—are all duking it out in court. There are also people from around the world claiming to be his love child, or claiming to have been secretly married to him. There will be long court battles over who gets to reap the rewards from the treasure trove of unreleased Prince music in Prince’s vault, from the windfall that will follow the inevitable adding of the Prince catalog to Spotify, and the merchandising money that will come in from the merch deals Prince avoided making when he was alive. But in the meantime, his siblings can finance their legal battle against each other and against people claiming to be Prince’s offspring by having Paisley Park open as a museum, where they can charge a dollar a minute, charge for photos, and charge $12 for Prince-branded ping pong balls. It’s a sad reality that when a famous person dies that this always happens, but it especially hurt to see in real time at Paisley Park.
The only moment I’d describe as transcendent—apart from going to the bathroom at Paisley Park, which made me laugh at the idea of Prince using that bathroom too—was the last exhibit, which was being able to stand in front of a giant TV that was playing Prince’s Super Bowl halftime show—the best ever in the history of the game—on a loop. For the first time in my hour tour, you got to see Prince as a breathing person, making moments you’ll remember forever. But of course, anyone with Google can tell you you can experience that anytime you want, via YouTube. And you don’t have to feel gross and spend $57.50 for that.