A team is preparing for a series of events marking the anniversary of Prince’s death on Friday.
CHANHASSEN, Minn. — In August, when Angie Marchese became director of archives at Paisley Park, the rock star Prince’s studio and residence, one of the first things she did was to get rid of all the candles. Festooning nearly every room of the compound, they came in all sizes, shapes, colors and scents (including a few of Prince’s own aromatic blends).
“We replaced all the real candles with artificial candles,” Marchese said in an interview this week in an anteroom at the compound, as her team prepared for a series of events marking the anniversary of Prince’s death on Friday. (Her crew cataloged and archived the originals.) “We still wanted the essence of the candles, and how they made the rooms feel, without the fire hazard,” she explained. “Prince can burn Paisley Park down, but I can’t.”
Marchese and her team — the same group that oversees Elvis Presley’s Memphis mansion-turned-tourist-stop Graceland — have been tasked with maintaining the grounds of Paisley Park, which Prince built in Chanhassen, a suburb of Minneapolis, in 1987. Once a commercial recording studio, with a soundstage also available for hire, Paisley Park became Prince’s residence during his final years, and throughout its history he hosted hundreds of private concerts and dance parties for fans.
In October, the complex opened as a museum that showcases instruments, clothes, awards and other ephemera. But, like Prince himself, the process of telling his story was mysterious. How did the team go about discovering, cataloging, selecting and displaying Prince’s life via his massive collection of objects?
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“The best part about the exhibition at Paisley, like Paisley itself, it’s a living, breathing exhibition,” Marchese said. The goal of the museum isn’t to tell Prince’s story from birth to death, but to capture what it was about his home base that reflected his creativity and vision. To that end, “It’s constantly being updated,” she said, noting that Prince’s family has been involved from the beginning. “They’re very aware of our process.”
So far, Paisley’s archival team has cataloged more than 7,000 items, a number Marchese considers “less than 5 percent” of the building’s holdings. One key difference between Graceland and Paisley Park, she said, is that where Vernon Presley, Elvis’ Depression-weathered father, kept tight to every receipt, most of the Paisley paper trail has been creative: “We’ve got the sketches for the wardrobe, handwritten notes, lyrics on backs of envelopes or notepads, things like that.”
In fact, most of the earliest materials discovered are direct remnants of Prince’s private working processes. Marchese mentioned some 20 spiral-bound notebooks from throughout his career, including one containing the lyrics of his first album, “For You,” and the famous purple-covered notebook titled “Dreams,” the working title of the 1984 movie “Purple Rain.”
“We have on display here his Walkman, with cassette tapes that are dated 1977,” she said. “From what we’re told, he was never far from his Walkman. He was constantly recording himself. He would write lyrics on anything. It’s like he couldn’t turn his brain off. He was constantly just purging all of his creative energy onto paper.
“He had beautiful penmanship. Gorgeous handwriting.”
A large portion of the archiving time has been devoted to clothing. An entire garage, with a 20-foot ceiling, was found packed with stage outfits, along with clothes in closets, in wardrobe containers, in boxes and in suitcases. Prince, who was 57 when he died last April 21 of a drug overdose, never stopped dressing the part of pop’s royal peacock. (He didn’t require much fabric; he stood 5-foot-2 and had a 22½-inch waist.) One of the items Marchese displayed at the behind-the-scenes look at the archiving process was a thick sketchbook for Prince’s one-of-a-kind designs, complete with fabric swatches. His seamstresses made the clothes on-site at Paisley Park in a dedicated upstairs room; one, costume designer Debbie McGuan, who began working for him in the mid-’90s, has come on board to help identify outfits.
The number of pieces of clothing may be rivaled only by Prince’s formidable collection of shoes. “Every outfit had a matching pair of shoes,” Marchese said, citing a pair that went with the red-and-black suit Prince wore to his 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where he paid tribute to George Harrison with a scorching guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and the teal shoes he sported at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, designed to match an outfit the color of the Miami Dolphins’ uniforms. “Most of them are ankle boots and have 3-inch heels on them.”
Marchese described discovering a closet packed with footwear (“You’d think it would have been a coat closet, but we opened it up, and it was full of shoes”), none flats. “Even his flip-flops were wedges,” Marchese said. “Even his tennis shoes are wedges.”
Prince did not rewear his flashy outfits. In fact, he seldom wore the same thing twice. “On the ‘Purple Rain’ tour, we have 35 jackets and 35 pairs of pants,” Marchese said. “And actually, sometimes, we’d have double the pairs of pants. They’re identical pants, but they’re just doubles.”
One thing you won’t find in the archives: leisure wear. “Prince didn’t seem to have any at-home wear,” Marchese said. “Prince was always Prince.” But the clothing tells a story all the same: “You can also see as he matured, how his style became more elegant and more of a legend look — not necessarily trying to make a dramatic statement. He was already who he was.”
Once each piece of clothing — or whatever else — has been photographed, identified and entered into a computer database, with each detail painstakingly recorded, it is wrapped in acid-free tissue and given its own acid-free box.
The team is cataloging a selection of Prince’s jewelry, from cuff links to necklaces and rings, much of which is costume jewelry, Marchese noted. Ear cuffs have been found in jewelry boxes, desk drawers and a closet; there are “boxes and boxes of sunglasses,” most of which weren’t name-brand.
Her crew also uncovered a sizable collection of makeup: “suitcases of it.” The brand Prince favored was Mac. “There’s a lot of Mac: eyeliner, foundation, cover-up-type stuff,” she said. “He was always ready to be filmed whenever he was out in public.”
The process of preserving Prince’s large collection of instruments has involved reaching out to his original guitar techs over the years. Each guitar is cleaned, restrung and, perhaps most surprisingly, played, “because that’s what the instruments were made to do,” Marchese said. “We went back to the people who knew the guitars, the people who actually worked with him and worked with the guitars.”
Indicating a Vox guitar with a psychedelic painting on the front, Marchese described finding it in a basement room with more than 120 guitars hanging on the walls and in cases. And she said her team discovered something unusual when it was cleaning and preparing the pale blue Fender Stratocaster that Prince played at the Super Bowl: water damage.
“It was, like, of course,” she said. “He played it in the middle of a basic hurricane during the Super Bowl.”
Prince, it turns out, was a bit of a gear pack rat. Marchese described, in addition to guitars, drum kits and keyboards, road cases full of stage equipment, lighting trusses. “Pieces like that, you’d think, ‘Why does he still have them?’ That’s a really unique part of the collection,” she said.
Though the archivists have no purview over Paisley Park’s “massive audio-video collection,” Marchese said, there’s more than enough to keep them busy. She even found an old tour bus parked around the building’s side. “It looks like it’s from the early ’90s from the color palette inside,” she said. “We’re nowhere near even started, really.”