The Beautiful Ones
Prince w/ Dan Piepenbring
Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House
A great many thoughts filled my head as I sat with what I’ve been told is Prince’s memoir but what is actually little more than a cash-grabbing scrapbook. It’s artfully designed, beautiful really, down to the purple ribbon bookmark – as you’d hope – but you realise that the care and attention is all part of the ruse. There was about 30 handwritten pages from Prince. That’s all. His intention was there – but he started late. Oh well, he wasn’t really a late-bloomer in any other way…
Here those hand-written pages have been presented as glossy photos and then transcribed to text. Around that we get plenty of photographs of Prince from a book (another book?) he was working on where he had provided the captions; documenting the creation of his first album and the early years.
Pulling it all together is Paris Review editor Dan Pipenbring who tells the story, in a 50-page introduction, of how he arrived at the project – chosen by Prince after an audition process where the Purple One wanted someone who had not previously published a book. (Of course).
Pipenbring is not the enemy here. And his intro/essay is really quite beautiful, capturing as it does, the lottery-winning spirit of meeting his hero and working with him, albeit briefly. He holds the reader’s hand through it all, offering a reassuring tone, self-aware, this can never be the definitive word, but you’ll get some insight from Prince directly. And you’ll see and feel his connection to his family and the divorce of his parents and how that shaped his energy and approach.
You almost believe it too. It’s compelling.
And then the memoir (“proper”) starts. And then it’s over as you finish your cup of tea.
You flick through the photos, the promised “early treatment” of the Purple Rain movie script (a couple of pages; thin outline) and then more pictures – this time with lazily-grabbed interview-quotes from across the years.
It’s heartbreaking to think that Prince gave us more than enough music but nowhere near enough of a book. There were several books in him and that’s hinted at.
And I don’t need a book by him to continue to truly adore the best of the music.
But this, ultimately, is A Hologram Tour of a memoir.
The first few releases from “The Vault” have been respectful. But what else are we going to get – and as the money becomes the requirement the care and design will fall away. The cash-grab becomes harder to hide.
And how quickly Prince’s legacy is starting to be treated like Tupac’s or Jeff Buckley’s or J. Dilla’s.
And that doesn’t seem right to me.
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