The fasting regimen I chose was Alternate Day Fasting, a technique popularized by a University of Illinois-Chicago nutrition researcher named Krista Varady. Varady’s studies showed that alternating a fasting day where you eat only 500 calories, followed by an anything-goes eating day led to the same weight loss as a daily calorie-restricted diet. And for many people, having one very restrictive fasting day followed by a nonrestrictive day is easier to comply with than the continual calorie counting required by most diets. In fact, instead of being a diet, once you get into the rhythm, Alternate Day Fasting begins to feel like a lifestyle – one day on, one day off. My sister-in-law had followed Alternate Day Fasting for a year and a half to great effect and in fact has turned it into a permanent lifestyle. I myself had dabbled in it but had gotten derailed multiple times (summer vacation and Christmas, I’m looking at you). With the purple force propelling me forward, this seemed like the perfect time to dive in wholeheartedly.
I am someone with at least an average amount of willpower. As evidence, I present to you the fact that I write books, and while that always sounds like a good idea in theory, in practice, you find that you’re halfway in and you’re standing in quicksand with your hair on fire and you realize this was a horrible, awful idea. It takes an act of tremendous willpower to push through to the finish line while slogging through the aforementioned quicksand and feeling the flames nipping at your head. I quickly recognized that feeling of pushing through during my first days of fasting. Every day in the mid-afternoon, a time when I often find myself rummaging through the pantry in search of a crunchy and salty snack, I literally would have to slap my own hand and say, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and launch myself out of the kitchen. Fasting not only required willpower, but also necessitated continual presence. And by that, I mean, you cannot allow yourself to mentally disassociate from your body while your hand reaches for the bag of tortilla chips. Dammit, Eckart Tolle. You were right about the “the power of now” thing.
Here’s my plan on fasting days. I normally crave variety, but in the interest of not finding myself rummaging around the kitchen trying to figure out what to eat, I usually eat the same thing every fasting day. Sometimes I change up the dinner, swapping a salmon patty for a chicken patty, or brussels sprouts for green beans, but otherwise, I stick to this menu:
Breakfast: Coffee with almond milk creamer (35 cals) and 5 gluten-free chicken nuggets (165 cals). Total: 200 cals
Snack: 2 cups Skinny Pop (80 cals)
Dinner (I often eat this around 4pm): salmon patty (170 cals); brussels sprouts (1 cup = 40 cals). Total: 210 cals
Daily Total: 490 cals
Spartan? Yes. Kinda monotonous? Also, yes. But the rewards are rich for those who want to go. Tune in tomorrow for more on that!
TOMORROW: The Best Part of Alternate Day Fasting? The Night Before an Eating Day
I began my year of “living like a prince” with a daunting decision. If I could do one thing to launch me successfully into what felt like a hugely intimidating (while also incredibly fun) project, what would it be? What is the one thing, that if I could do it successfully, would make each of the next challenges easier?
What came to mind was generating more energy. I was going to need energy, and buckets of it. If there’s one thing that former Prince associates agree on, it’s Prince’s seemingly boundless energy. He was able to maintain a schedule that could (and did) push many otherwise fit and energetic musicians, engineers and managers to the brink of exhaustion. For example, during tours, Prince would do an hours-long soundcheck, play a two-and-a-half-hour show, then go to a local club and play and hours-long aftershow. Later, he might watch the recording of his show, making mental notes on his performance. Other times, he would go to a studio and record, or use a mobile studio brought along for that purpose. Sometimes, between concert dates, he would fly back to Paisley Park and record nonstop for a couple of days, then fly out to the next tour date, much to the relief of his exhausted recording engineers.
Bassist Rhonda Smith, who toured with Prince in the early 2000s, spoke at a PRN Alumni Association (a nonprofit organized by former associates of Prince to continue his legacy of giving) event in Minneapolis in October, laid out the rigors of working at Paisley Park: There was no eating lunch. There was certainly no sleeping. Smith would finish a full day of rehearsing and then would be asked to launch into choreography rehearsals.
For those of us with office jobs, Smith translated it this way: “It was like you finished a heavy report at 4:55 p.m. and breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then your boss walks by and puts another huge stack of paper on your desk and says, `I want that by tomorrow.'”
One of the techniques that Prince used for maintaining his energy, particularly during recording sessions, was fasting. In the final Rolling Stone article about Prince based on an interview done at Paisley Park on Jan. 24, 2014, reporter Brian Hiatt wrote, “He’s very thin, but not fragile – a strict vegan who, by his own account, sometimes doesn’t eat at all (`I have gone long periods with no food, and also water – people have to remind me to drink water because I always forget to do that’).”
It did seem that there were specific situations that would cause Prince to decide to go without eating. For example, Steve Parke recalled that Prince told him he hadn’t eaten for two days before they began filming a video. While Prince’s stretches of fasting are documented, we don’t know if he performed fasting in a regimented way, or if it was more a case of forgetting to eat while immersed in work, or a case of wanting to look fit on stage or in a video, or simply nerves. Any and all of these are possible.
I launched into January knowing that I was going to need my own endless font of energy to accomplish the goals I had set out for myself in 2019. Focusing on my eating habits as foundational to creating energy seemed to make a lot of sense as a starting point, so I decided to dedicate myself to a regular fasting regimen and generating more energy through food — or lack thereof.
Fortunately, fasting is all the rage these days and there is plentiful information on how to launch into a regimen. After considering various forms of intermittent fasting, each with a mysterious numerical name (everything from “16:8,” which calls for fasting for 16 hours and then eating during an eight-hour window to “5:2,” which calls for five eating days with two fasting days mixed in), I decided to try Alternate Day Fasting. I had a leg up here, in that I dabbled in Alternate Day Fasting during 2018, and had observed my sister-in-law use it to great success. Knowing I had someone to call when things got tough tipped the scales in the direction of Alternate Day Fasting, and I decided to dedicate myself to it in January, to see if that regimen could stoke my creative fires and boost my energy.
TOMORROW: What is alternate day fasting and what is my actual daily regimen?
I’m kicking off the new year out here in the land of 10,000 shades of purple by announcing a new project — Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like a Prince. Yes, I will be living like Prince for a year. Yes, I do realize that I am a suburban mom and no, I will not be replicating EVERY aspect of Prince’s life.
While researching The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988 alongside my intrepid writing partner Alex Hahn, I couldn’t help but notice patterns in Prince’s behavior in his yearslong upward trajectory to overnight success (despite what many might think, Prince did not emerge out of nowhere in 1984 from a poof! of purple smoke, fully formed, wearing a studded jacket and singing “Purple Rain.”).
The habits I noticed were sometimes quirky and sometimes practical (quirky: see the Charlie Murphy skit about basketball and pancakes … practical: see Susan Rogers’ stories about working in the studio until a song was basically complete, however long that took). Sometimes the behaviors I noted were obvious no-brainers, and other times, they provided me with “aha” moments that would have thrilled even Oprah.
Knowing about Prince in far too much detail to be considered in the range of normal, combined with feeling an on-the-ground connection with “Prince the Real Guy” here in Minnesota, led me to wonder about the nature of success.
Here’s my operating theory: By definition, anyone who becomes a global superstar is doing something different from most. If you accept that, then it follows logically to ask: What does it take to achieve not just success, but EXTRAORDINARY success?
If any one of us were to replicate Prince’s habits, could we also be more successful in our chosen fields and endeavors? It’s a question that intrigued me. That’s why, on January 1, I began to volunteer myself in the interests of science. Call me a purple guinea pig. In 2019, I am going to live like Prince or die 4 U while trying. Each month, I will attempt to undertake one thing that I believe led to his extraordinary success. I will be doing brief daily posts to keep you up to date on my progress, or lack thereof.
January’s theme is “Life in the Fasting Lane.” Particularly when recording, Prince would go for long stretches without eating. I am experimenting with fasting, in an effort to see if it will boost my energy and stoke my creative fires the way it stoked his. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s entry for more on how my month is going!
Negative space, the space that surrounds a primary object or objects in an image, is a term gleaned from the art world. But it turns out to have a whole lot to do with funk music, too. During the first Piano & A Microphone concert at Paisley Park on Jan. 21, 2016, Prince said, “The space between the notes — that’s the good part. How long the space is — that’s how funky it is or how funky it ain’t.”
Funk would not be funky without the well-timed pause created by negative space. Yet, that all-important negative space gets no fanfare. Although a particularly moving high note or one of Prince’s patented screams would garner delighted cheers from an audience, you’ll never hear anyone exclaim with joy over “what a particularly well-placed pause between notes!” Negative space doesn’t get noticed on its own merits: It has to be brought to your attention.
Poor negative space! It gets no praise when it shows up and does its job. Instead, negative space is only noticed if it’s missing. And when it’s missing, the reaction might be one of criticism: “That band had no ability to lay down a funk groove.”
As an introvert, I can’t help but note the parallels between negative space and the introvert’s role in the world (yep, always advocating for the introverts). Introverts hold space for the extroverts. Imagine a bunch of talkative extroverts without a listener! Imagine music without a well-timed pause! Personally, I think it’s good to be an introvert. It’s good to have the role of providing that negative space.
In life, what’s not there is as important as what is there. And that’s what I keep working on: I try to remember to be as grateful for the things in life that could have happened and didn’t, as for the things that did. The cyst that turned out to be benign. The accident I avoided by leaving the house two minutes late. The book proposal that got rejected and that would have taken my career in the wrong direction if accepted.
Over to you. Have you ever tried noticing negative space? And is there anything in your life that didn’t happen, and turned out to be the best thing for you?
Dolphins in the zeitgeist … Photo I took last week at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, California.
If ever there were two people unlikely to be linked in the public’s mind, it might be Prince and Betty Eadie, the author of the number-one New York Times bestselling book Embraced by the Light, Eadie’s account of a near-death experience. But linked they were, and the contact lasted for some 25 years.
The link between Eadie and Prince, which I’d learned about only recently as I delved into research on Prince’s spiritual and religious journey, became more concrete yesterday when the official music video for “Dolphin” was released on the Prince YouTube channel. As with most Prince videos, it raises many important questions for the Purple Family to debate, including why keyboardist Morris Hayes is wearing a top hat, why Morris and keyboardist Tommy Barbarella are playing air piano on a bedspread, and how Tommy manages to execute yet another perfect hair toss. Mayte Garcia, dressed in an angel costume, does a ribbon dance and caresses Prince’s face as he appears to either go to sleep or perhaps go to final rest, depending on your interpretation. Mayte’s presence is a visual (and highly literal) reference to the concepts of reincarnation and the afterlife referred to in the song.
On her site, Eadie says Prince dedicated “Dolphin” to her, after reading her book about her near-death experience, which became a worldwide publishing phenomenon. She says she met Prince shortly after Embraced by the Light was published in November 1992, when Prince attended a speaking engagement Eadie had in Minneapolis. (For a moment, let’s imagine looking out at the audience as you’re on a book tour and seeing … Prince (!)).
Eadie recounts that after her Minneapolis speaking engagement, Prince approached her and invited her to Paisley Park. She says she saw his personal rooms and describes sitting on a “decorative love seat” with Prince as he spoke openly to her about his childhood, his music, and the torment he felt with his record contract. She says he sought her advice on how to deal with the trauma which made him feel he was a slave to the music industry.
For her part, Eadie says she told him he had a mission to fulfill, and encouraged him to return to the name “Prince” and “the man everyone loved and admired.” (It’s here where the chronology of Eadie’s story seems confused, as Prince would not officially change his name until June 7, 1993).
However, the timing of the creation of “Dolphin” does indeed sync up with the publication of Eadie’s book. PrinceVault states that Prince did the basic tracking for “Dolphin” in January 1993, which was about two months after he met Eadie. The video, however, was not filmed until mid-1994, and it opens with a shot of Prince’s jawline and the word “slave” penned on his cheek.
Eadie’s site provides links to two articles that corroborate her story. One is written by Minneapolis-based journalist Jim Walsh and published on the day Prince died. Walsh talks about writing the liner notes for The Gold Experience. He writes that “During the making of it (The Gold Experience), he (Prince) was enamored with Betty Eadie’s book Embraced by the Light, a first-person narrative on near-death experience, and that theme also peppers the record, most explicitly on the reincarnation dream `Dolphin.’ It is also implicit on several other tracks that ponder birth, death, life, and rebirth, and one man’s own expectations and perceptions of himself.”
According to Eadie, for the better part of 25 years, she and Prince maintained contact. Prince wanted to help with promoting Embraced by the Light and at the end of his life, was in contact with Eadie again.
“We have recently been in contact with the possibility of him being a part of our current film project,” Eadie wrote around the time when Prince died. “His abilities to write incredibly beautiful music would have been a perfect fit for what I wanted for the film. Yet, now, Prince is on a different journey . . . ”
(You can read the full text of Eadie’s description of their encounter here).
The “Her-Story” panel at the Capri Theater in Minneapolis, October 13, 2018. From left: KaNisa Williams; Gayle Chapman; Ingrid Chavez; Karen Lee; Rhonda Smith; and Ruth Arzate.
During the PRN Alumni Foundation’s recent “Funk N Roll” weekend in Minneapolis, there were more than enough memorable moments, but moderator KaNisa Williams’ all-female panel, dubbed “Her-Story,” provided one of the most poignant.
On stage at the Capri Theater for the “Stories from the Park” alumni shares event was Gayle Chapman, Prince’s first female band member, who nearly 40 years earlier had played keyboards on that very stage during Prince’s solo debut on a cold night in January 1979. Later, Chapman told me that “It was the first concert my mother attended and the first concert where he allowed one of us to play something we had written, and I was that person.”
Chapman played her piece on the keyboard, and it served as a prelude to another song. She confirmed that Dez Dickerson’s new wireless guitar equipment picked up trucker radio frequencies and that Prince had to stop the show to fix that problem.
“Prince learned a lot that day and stuff like that never happened again,” she told me.
Chapman was joined on the panel by Graffiti Bridge star and musician Ingrid Chavez, public relations consultant Karen Lee, bassist Rhonda Smith, and manager Ruth Arzate. Collectively, their experience spanned Prince’s career from 1978 to 2010.
Williams, host of the podcast “Muse 2 the Pharoah,” kicked off the discussion by asking each member when they first heard of Prince. Chapman related blasting For You in her Minneapolis apartment in 1978, when she was an aspiring young musician. She recalled hearing a voice say, “In order for Prince to tour, he’s going to need a band.”
Chapman pursued that message, only to find out that all along, one of the guys she’d been casually playing with was Prince’s cousin, Charles Smith. Smith got her hooked up with an audition, and Chapman showed up at Prince’s rented home at 5125 France Avenue in Edina in a mumu dress and Birkenstocks. Noticing the line-up of provocatively dressed females waiting to audition, she figured she didn’t stand a chance. Although she didn’t like jamming, she gamely jammed with Bobby Z., Andre Anderson and Prince, and then launched into a song of her own creation, forcing the guys to follow her.
Three months went by with no news, and then the phone rang. It was Prince. He invited her to attend rehearsal — in an hour. Chapman said that first rehearsal took place at a tire store located in Seven Corners (a location that would go on to become the inspiration for the setting of Graffiti Bridge), which was owned by Bonnie Raitt’s brother, Steve Raitt. Once Chapman mentioned the “Raitt” name, it struck me: Chapman herself reminded me ever so slightly of Bonnie Raitt, both in her voice, her mannerisms and of course, that long flowing red hair. About her decision to depart in 1980, Chapman choked back tears as she said, “I didn’t realize when I left how much I was leaving behind.”
Later, an audience member asked the panelists to name their favorite Prince song. Chapman said hers was “If I Love U 2Nite,” which Prince wrote and wanted her to sing. If you have any question about Chapman’s talent, this video clip will erase that.
Karen Lee was Prince’s public relations consultant during the time that he changed his name to the Love Symbol. As a former public relations person myself, I was salivating at the prospect of hearing her side of the story. Whatever you might think of Prince’s decision to change his name, there is no denying that it was a debacle in public relations terms, much as the launch of Chevy’s “Nova” car in Latin America was in product launch terms. The ramifications for his career were devastating.
Lee described receiving a phone call from Prince on June 6, 1993, the day before he intended to send out a press release announcing the name change. She made it clear that Prince wasn’t asking for counsel and he sure as hell wouldn’t have taken it had it been offered. He was changing his name to a symbol, and that was that.
“Well, let me get a pen and paper,” Lee told him as she mentally canceled her plans for the evening.
“Do you remember the symbol on my last album?” Prince began.
Lee was prescient enough to tell Prince that journalists wouldn’t know how to refer to him if his name was a symbol that didn’t appear on a keyboard.
“What if they took middle C off the piano keyboard?” she asked him. Left to their own devices, journalists would make up something, she told Prince.
Prince dismissed her warnings, declaring that he would change every keyboard in America (and I guess, by extension, the world). In the end, Lee was proven correct. The LA Times was the first to give him a nickname, and other journalists followed suit. Prince’s public image fell off a cliff as he became the brunt of countless jokes and nicknames, with “Symbolina” from long-time Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist C.J. being only one of many.
Sidenote: Here’s the piece from Shauna Snow of the LA Times on June 9, 1993, two days after Prince’s announcement of the name change:
“His Royal Symbol: Prince celebrated his 35th birthday on Monday by announcing that he’s changed his name to (symbol). The unpronounceable symbol, a combination of male and female indicators, also served as the title of the Minneapolis pop star’s most recent album. The name change, along with word that he is splitting from his band, the New Power Generation, comes on the heels of his declaration that he was “retiring” from the recording studio, though vaults full of unreleased songs are expected to provide material for future albums.”
Bassist Rhonda Smith is so cool and funky that it felt like she beamed down to the Capri Theater from some other plane of existence. Smith reinforced the by-now-loud-and-clear message that the one thing you did not tell Prince was, “No.”
“You would grin and bear it and find a way to get it done,” she said, and her voice trailed off as she recalled, “the one time I tried to have a personal life and go out to dinner …” In those pre-cell phone days, she missed playing an impromptu party at Paisley Park. The next day, she was issued a pager.
Smith laid out the rigors of working at Paisley Park: There was no eating lunch. There was certainly no sleeping. Smith would finish a full day of rehearsing and then would launch into choreography rehearsals.
For those of us with office jobs, Smith translated it this way: “It was like you finished a heavy report at 4:55 p.m. and breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then your boss walks by and puts another huge stack of paper on your desk and says, `I want that by tomorrow.'”
As earthy and funky as Smith was, Ingrid Chavez was ethereal, gentle and sensitive — and admittedly, a little hard to grasp. Williams had a challenging time getting concrete answers from Chavez, who was the only woman on the panel who’d had a romantic relationship with Prince, so there was also that unspoken layer of complication.
Chavez said she spent what sounded like a surreal-sounding winter with Prince, holed up in Paisley Park and sending poetry back and forth to each other in written notes. Prince’s side of the poetry exchange would become Lovesexy.
“Lovesexy is our conversations,” she said.
(Chavez’s new album is beautiful, by the way. You can buy it here: https://ingridchavez.bandcamp.com/merch).
When asked when she first became aware of Prince, Ruth Arzate, Prince’s right-hand woman from 2003-2010, deadpanned, “He was on our prayer list at church.”
Arzate had cut her teeth working for Allison Shearmur, the late Hollywood producer, and she credited her time with tough-minded Shearmur as the preparation she needed to become Prince’s assistant, a gig that was meant to be temporary but which lasted seven years. When Arzate joined the Prince camp, he was down to a skeleton crew. Arzate was required to morph into a manager, publicist, stylist, event planner, business manager, creative consultant, and gatekeeper. Arzate came off as an open-hearted person who had gone through some hard times because of Prince. She is certainly not the first to allude to the fact that he could be a “son of a gun.”
What Arzate was asked to manage on a daily basis was flabbergasting. She said that Prince would end his day at 7 a.m., and the emails and calls would start coming in at 9 a.m., which left Arzate with two hours of personal time a day. When Prince would get up at noon, he would come by and ask what was happening, and Arzate had better know. And even though she might have an agenda for the day, Prince reveled in throwing a wrench into things.
“We’re flying to London today,” he would say, out of the blue, and Arzate was expected to make it happen.
“You can’t say `no,'” she recalled, adding, “He would steamroll you if you weren’t a grounded person.”
Prince was not a perfect person, something that was made clear by these straight-talking female panelists. But despite the challenges, Lee put it best: “You had to respect the God-given talent.”
“I saw his heart once,” Lee offered near the end of the discussion.
She then told a story of being on tour in Sweden, and Prince was getting ready to do his sound check. Lee was walking out the back of the venue when she came upon two young women, each carrying a couple dozen little pink tea roses. Attached to each tea rose was a tiny little piece of paper with a message on it from the members of his Swedish fan club.
“Security was shooing them off, but I said, `Wait a minute, what is this you have?’” Lee recalled. “The girls showed me and I was blown away. I told them, `Stay right here,’ and I went back in and took the flowers. I showed them to Prince and told him that the girls were outside.”
He said, “Bring them in.”
“Prince put two chairs in front of the stage and he did his whole sound check for those two girls,” Lee recalled. “I thought of them on the day he passed.”
As our conversation was winding down, the elephant in the room was looming large. I gathered my courage and asked the obvious: How did two priests reconcile being fans of a musician known for his explicit lyrics and provocative stage persona?
The answer, I realized, had everything to do with opening my own mind, because I was operating under the weight of pre-conceived notions of the pristine and unsullied life of a man of the cloth.
Far from living in an ivory tower, being a man of the cloth entails navigating the most challenging aspects of being human, the priests said. Helping parishioners cope with the heart-wrenching loss of a child, or the transgression of an extramarital affair, or even the crabbiness and negativity that can creep up on the best-intentioned person, is all part of a priest’s job description. You could say that a day’s work for a priest is as much helping people cope with “you have accessed the hate experience” as “welcome to the dawn.”
There’s no line of demarcation between the sacred and the profane, and the artist that embodied that dichotomy best is the one they hold close to their hearts.
“What drew me to like Prince’s music as a teenager is that you’re dealing with sexuality, and on the other hand, I was drawn to the church and wanted to be a priest,” Father Tom acknowledges. “People would say to me, `Oh, you listen to Prince and all those dirty songs, all those bad songs.’ And I would tell them that there’s a message behind that too. The message was part of what drew me to him, and to see him mature was vindication.”
Father Fred remembers feeling conflicted. “As a young person, I’d think, `Should I pick up this album? Should I throw it down and run the other way?’” he says. Father Fred tends to agree with author Toure, who wrote that Prince was a preacher of the gospel and used sex to lure listeners. “Once he got them, he gave them the gospel,” he says. “His music is message-oriented. He was conscious about portraying himself. He wanted to teach, he wanted to enlighten. I tolerated his whole sexual persona and hypersexual lyrics, as if, `Okay, this is done and now we can get to some music.’”
Father Fred at First Avenue in 2016
Father Thomas adds that Prince’s music put a lot of feelings you have growing up into some perspective. “You can love God and still be able to deal with the feelings of growing up as a teenager and then as you mature you can control those things,” he says. “As people grow closer to God they realize being in communion with him is more important than a lot of the relationships we have or the material things we seek. Prince proved that by giving to charity and doing it quietly, even in his suffering. He had a lot of lavish things but they were more for the persona than his personal use. In the end, if you look at the investigation photos, he had a bedroom and a bathroom and he had shed a lot of the materialistic stuff. The cars were in the garage but he didn’t drive them. In the end, he lived in a one-bed, one-bath section of a building where he created music.”
“The interesting thing about his career was he matured as I matured, and it was great to be able to bring my kids to a Prince concert without worrying about what might happen on stage,” says Father Tom. And in fact, in 2004, Father Tom brought his then seven-year-old daughter to the Musicology tour at Madison Square Garden. He was stunned when Prince lifted her out of his arms and danced with her for a couple of minutes before lowering her back down.
Prince dances with Father Tom’s daughter during the Musicology tour in 2004
Prince interacts with Father Tom’s daughter in 2004
Father Fred notes, “Listening to him and going beyond the surface has taught me that everybody has a value and a voice and to appreciate differences and to go beyond prejudging.”
“I saw a Welcome2Chicago show, and there were 22,000 people there,” says Father Fred. “Going into that concert, I felt out of my element. I’m not 20, I’m not with a girlfriend, I haven’t been out drinking. I felt disconnected. But when the songs were playing, I was jumping up and down and screaming totally in harmony and in sync. He brought us together and I felt, I’m just the same as everyone else.”
Father Tom agrees. “At his concerts, the whole spectrum of people were there. His most amazing feat was to bring together people from all backgrounds, races, creeds. For those couple of hours, it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. I don’t know that any other artist did that.”
Father Fred says, “You felt like he knew he was doing it too.”
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a late 12th-century icon at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. The icon depicts the steps for monks in the spiritual life as they ascend the ladder of salvation. Demons try to pull the monks off as they ascend.
The church introduced them, but a shared love of Prince’s music cemented a 30-year friendship between Eastern Orthodox priests Father Thomas Zain and Father Fred Shaheen.
“We knew each other through church, but our friendship developed over Prince,” says Father Fred, a priest at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It’s hard to tell where one aspect of the friendship starts and the other begins.”
Present-day priests and friends. From left: Father Thomas Zain; well-known jazz trumpet player Atlanta Bliss, who worked with Prince from 1985-1991; Father Fred Shaheen; and a third priest friend, Father Joseph Bittle.
Father Tom, for his part, is the Vicar General of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and Dean at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral of Brooklyn, New York. All you need to know about Father Tom is this: While a teenager attending a church youth conference in Ohio in the early 1980s, Father Tom discovered that Prince was in town on the 1999 tour. He did the only logical thing and bought tickets with a few church friends.
“It was one of the last shows on the tour,” Father Tom says as if by way of explanation, adding that back then, as a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he was as much a fan of The Time as of the headliner. And, he recalls, The Time put on a great show. Then, Prince came on stage, and a surge of electricity shot through the crowd. The show was heady stuff, and Father Tom became a believer.
“It was like getting on a train and never looking back,” Father Tom says.
As a young teenager in Worcester, Massachusetts, Father Fred says Prince first caught his attention during the Controversy era.
Father Fred at age 17, representing as a Prince fan (note the button).
“The album cover, the magazine ad in Billboard and what critics were saying about him all made me take notice,” Father Fred recalls, adding that 1999 was the album that blew his teenage mind. “I think for a year and a half it was all I listened to, and it challenged me,” he says of his 16-year-old self. “I’d never heard music like that before. It created an `I want more’ feeling.”
By 1984, Father Fred and Father Tom considered themselves super fans. The statistics bear out this claim: To date, collectively, they have seen 55 Prince shows (official tally: 40 for Tom; 15 for Fred).
“He’s not a bigger Prince fan, he just lives in a bigger city,” Father Fred asserts.
“Living in New York for the past 21 years was the next best thing to living in Minneapolis,” Father Tom concedes.
The friendship took off in 1988 when Fred and Tom ran into each other at a regional church youth meeting in Toledo, Ohio. Fred was sporting a custom Purple Rain jean jacket. The jacket was like a secret handshake: Tom spotted it and knew they had to be friends.
Father Fred, during Spring Break 1987, at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York
Later that year, the teens attended the Chicago Lovesexy show together.
“And I saw it again another time,” Father Tom adds, displaying a healthy sense of fan one-ups-manship that marks Prince fan friendships.
After Lovesexy, the two fell out of touch for 11 years. Tom went on to seminary, got married and became a priest while Fred moved to Montreal to teach English as a Second Language. And that might have been the end of the story if it wasn’t for a major life decision on Fred’s part.
Father Fred looking forward to the Rave tour in 1999, the year he decided to become a priest.
In 1999, Father Fred decided to become a priest, a decision that brought him back to another church conference, this one in Chicago.
“I hadn’t seen Father Tom in so many years and wondered if he was still as big a fan,” Father Fred recalls. “His wife Claudia told me about him taking her to Prince concerts while pregnant. So I knew: Yeah, he’s still a fan!” Father Fred says, adding, “By the way, I took my wife Michelle to see Prince two days after my ordination in 2004 and she was four months pregnant. Is it any wonder he and I are friends?”
Over the years, there have been spontaneous road trips (Father Fred, who drove through the night from Toledo to Minneapolis in 1995, when concert tickets were announced for the low, low price of $19.99) and intimate, once-in-a-lifetime shows (Father Tom, who in 2006 raced home from Prince’s Good Morning America outdoor summer performance to buy one of only 100 tickets offered through the NPG Music Club for a show at Butter, a Manhattan restaurant. This show, which took place in the early morning hours, was the lifetime Prince highlight for Father Tom. He was only a couple of feet from Prince, who performed with no stage or elevated platform. In fact, Father Tom had to kneel the whole time to ensure that others could see, since Father Tom is 6’2” and, well, Prince wasn’t quite that tall!). There were times when being a Prince fan paid off handsomely (Father Fred, who was able to sell his Purple Rain jean jacket to help pay for his 2003 wedding), and times when it was expensive (also Father Fred, who spent major money on the Purple Wear line designed for Merry Go Round, the trendy mall retailer of the 1980s).
Through marriage, fatherhood, and growing careers, the men remained friends and fans. In October 2015, Father Fred was in St. Paul for a deanery meeting.
“I’m such a superfan that if I’m in the Twin Cities I’m not going to NOT drive by Paisley Park,” he says. “Whether it was by divine providence or dumb luck, there was a show that night.” Despite the fact that he was suffering from the double indignity of a sinus infection and laryngitis, Father Fred scored a ticket and went.
“I couldn’t believe I was in Paisley,” he says. “I think I was three feet away from Prince. Everyone was right in the front – there were only 30 people in the Love4OneAnother room. That was a dream come true.” Madonna provided the icing on the cake when she and her entourage showed up. Father Fred recalls that Madonna’s crew left in the middle of a song, and
Prince gestured to the crowd, saying, “All you singers up front, come up on stage.”
Father Fred hesitated since he had no voice.
“The next thing I realize, I’m on stage,” Father Fred says. “And I’m shaking my booty and if I kicked my foot out I would have hit Prince,” he marvels. The next morning, Father Fred was able to tell incredulous colleagues that he’d spent the previous evening at a club with Prince and Madonna.
For his part, Father Tom decided to make the pilgrimage to Minneapolis for the Piano & Microphone shows on January 21, 2016.
“I had never been to Paisley Park,” Father Tom explains, “because most of his shows were last minute, so I didn’t kill myself to go out there. But this was planned.” He remembers leaving with a bad feeling. “He looked very thin and drawn. It left a weird feeling inside me. I thought a lot about something not being right.”
In the aftermath of Prince’s death, the men received a flood of texts and calls. It was then that they realized how much parishioners, friends and church colleagues connected them with Prince.
“I had parishioners calling me and saying, `What happened?’” Father Fred says. “People I hadn’t spoken to in 30 years reached out and said, `You’re the first person I thought of.’”
“All those years you thought people forgot about him,” Father Tom adds. “His live shows sold out but his albums didn’t sell as in the past. There were a lot of people who didn’t get it. For us, his death was like `aha.’ I was justified all these years when people thought I was crazy for listening to Prince.”
A framed picture of Father Tom’s concert tickets, gifted to him by his wife
Father Fred received a call from a colleague who said, “In case you were wondering, you were always right to listen to him.”
Reflecting back on their favorite musician’s life, Fathers Fred and Thomas believe Prince had a plan from day one.
Father Tom says, “He had a dream to do certain things and make music and not let anything interfere with that and stay focused most of the time. What 17-year-old insists on certain things in his contract when he’s never sold a record?”
Father Tom and his family in 2016
Father Fred agrees. “Prince wasn’t driven by things people are in that business – money, fame, success. He made what we’d say aren’t good business decisions. Why not tour? Why not put out a single? He lived to create. His whole life was about constantly moving and leaving behind the past. This last tour, he was in a place where he had to reflect. After the death of Vanity and following the deaths of his mother and father – there was no way to escape. Where is he going to go from here? When there was nowhere to go, I think it killed him.”
Father Thomas adds, “With the Piano & Microphone tour, I think he couldn’t do a live show with a band at that point. He was so frail. I think it was the only way he could continue and probably he needed to deal with the pain problem but if he did that he couldn’t make music for a while, and that was the only thing he knew and desired to do. He got stuck in a box.”
Tomorrow: Prince, Sex and God: Father Tom and Father Fred Speak
The early 90s saw Paisley Park running at full speed. Wardrobe design, hair and makeup, studio engineers — all were available at a moment’s notice to bring Prince’s creative visions to life. At night, Prince might play a set for an exclusive guest list who learned about the parties by word of mouth. Or, Prince might visit his nightclub, Glam Slam, which opened in Minneapolis in 1990.
As part of Prince’s circle of friends, Leisl AuVante was a regular fixture on the guest list and although she never had a membership at Glam Slam, when she arrived, she would be waved past the velvet ropes and into the VIP area.
“Sometimes Prince would play a set in a private room at Glam Slam. Or, he would sit and play guitar in the [Paisley Park] soundstage,” she says. “There were small groups of people hanging out, drinks were flowing, and it was all free.”
She was occasionally called upon by Prince to play a role in his professional life as well. In addition to her lead role in “Gangster Glam,” AuVante acted in “Gett Off (Houstyle)” and “Gett Off (Main Video)” as a featured extra.
“It was all such a crazy whirlwind, with a lot of late-night shoots,” recalls AuVante of the “Gett Off” videos. She recalls shooting for the “Gett Off (Houstyle)” video for ten straight hours on the soundstage at Paisley Park, and at 2:30 a.m., being told to stop and stay in place. Prince had ripped a hole in the seat of his pants and everyone had to stay on set and wait while the wardrobe department repaired it — no matter that it was the middle of the night.
“That was classic Prince,” AuVante says.
Leisl (far right) and Ingrid Chavez (center) shown at a nightclub in Mpls-St. Paul Magazine.
AuVante’s profile in Prince’s inner circle rose when she was given a role in an all-female band produced by Mark Brown. Thanks to her childhood piano lessons, AuVante became the keyboardist for a fledgling band called the Mercedes Girls, and she found herself spending hours rehearsing in the same warehouse space as Mazarati, the R&B band formed by Mark Brown and Prince. According to AuVante, the Mercedes Girls had promise but never managed to get off the ground, partly due to the emergence of a rival Minneapolis all-girl band also called — you guessed it — the Mercedes Girls.
Socially, these were happy years for AuVante. She became close friends with Ingrid Chavez, and the two have remained lifelong friends. She also got to know Carmen Electra.
AuVante (right) with a friend, in the early 90s
“Carmen was a sweet, talented girl and she was a real person – she wasn’t contrived or thought she was `all that’,” AuVante recalls. Carmen was an exception to some of the other women in Prince’s circle, AuVante says.
“Physically, I fit the profile of the type of woman that Prince liked to date,” she says. “A lot of his potential or current girlfriends back then saw me as possible competition for his attention.”
AuVante also developed friendships with Tommy Barbarella, Morris Hayes, Tony Moseley, Damon Dickson, Hucky Austin and others. These were purely friendships and not dating relationships, she says, and years later, AuVante found out why.
“Someone told me that Prince had put the word out, saying: `I’m not dating Leisl, but I don’t want anyone in our circle dating her, either,'” she says.
Over the years, Prince and AuVante fell into a friendship characterized by witty banter and a very occasional spat that was quickly mended. Once, at the nightclub “Pacific Club” for a wrap party for Graffiti Bridge (AuVante had played a server in Morris Day’s club), Prince sought out AuVante and asked her to dance. Prince and Ingrid Chavez were dating at the time, but AuVante, who’d been busily flitting around the club and socializing with the cast and crew, readily agreed to dance with her friend.
Later that night, she was confronted outside the club by Chavez. Unbeknownst to AuVante, Prince had dismissed his own co-star from the wrap party after the two got into a dispute. (“He could be that way,” AuVante acknowledges. “If he got mad at you, security would remove you.”) This was Prince, the instigator, using AuVante to make Chavez jealous. Fortunately, Chavez and AuVante’s friendship was strong enough to withstand the affront, but the incident left AuVante fuming at Prince.
“He knew that if I would have known what was going on, I would not have been on the dance floor,” she says.
A recent photo of Leisl (top right) and Ingrid Chavez (bottom right)
But one summer day, the winds of their relationship shifted. AuVante had been boating on Lake Minnetonka when her phone rang with news that Prince was going to play a set at Paisley Park. She dashed over, still windblown from her day on the water. A DJ was playing and a small group of friends was socializing and waiting for Prince’s set, when Prince approached AuVante.
“Let’s go downstairs,” Prince said. He took her hand and together, they rode the elevator down to the parking garage. AuVante started to feel nervous.
“It was that unspoken innuendo that you could feel, of `Is this relationship going to turn another direction?'” AuVante says. “It caught me so off guard because we had never interacted in an intimate way, ever.”
Prince came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, placing his face next to hers, close enough to whisper in her ear.
“`So, how are you?’” he murmured.
AuVante says she felt “freaked out” by the sudden shift in their relationship.
She remembers thinking, `Is he coming on to me? What’s going on here?’
“That’s my naivete back in that time,” she recalls. “On camera, it was one thing to look like a couple, because we were acting. But now there was no one around. It was me and him, and I was caught so off guard that I said the stupidest thing.”
“So, what’s your middle name?” AuVante asked Prince.
Prince started to laugh and told her his middle name. Then he asked AuVante what her middle name was.
She replied, “I don’t like my middle name and I don’t tell anybody.”
“That was the comic relief that broke apart that moment,” she says. “We chatted some more and we went upstairs, and that was it.”
Does she feel any regrets about the way that moment played out?
“I think everybody had a crush on Prince at one point, but I feel like our relationship wasn’t of that nature,” she reflects. “Was he a sexy man? Absolutely. But the dynamic of our interactions was not that of two people walking down the road of chemistry to intimacy.”
Instead, she says, they were usually engaged in a battle of wits. Prince would frequently challenge her to do something outrageous and would qualify it by adding, “if you were my friend, you would do it,” to which AuVante would reply, “if you were my friend, you wouldn’t ask me to do it.” She chalks up those interactions partly as Prince’s way of testing the water to gauge how much control he could have over her.
“There was a sort of healthy competition. Not a lot of people talked back to him. I would,” she says. “And I think he saw pieces of himself in me. He knew that you can tell me something but it doesn’t mean I’ll do it. So he tried to push the envelope and I’d be like, `No, you know better than that.'”
While she wouldn’t characterize herself as a quest to be conquered, AuVante acknowledged that Prince had a history of moving on after he’d conquered something. The fact that AuVante showed him, however jokingly, that she wouldn’t follow his whims, gave their relationship longevity, she says.
“I gave him some intelligent conversation without the pretense of `I’m trying to date you,'” she says. “I think that’s why we worked together for so long because we had a nice friendship and we didn’t complicate it with all the things that can happen with an intimate relationship. That provided longevity to our relationship.”
AuVante in the early 90s
As the early 90s became the mid-90s, parties at Paisley Park began to change.
“Everyone wanted to be a part of it,” AuVante says, noting that the parties were no longer free, and there were long lines to get in the door. “I think they (Prince and those running Paisley Park) saw the commercial value as well as the potential liabilities they were creating by serving alcohol after hours.”
But before the good times for Prince’s close circle came to an end, the phone rang again. It was January 1994.
“I’m doing a video for a song called `The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,'” the baritone voice said. “I want you to be in it. You’re going to have to play a pregnant lady giving birth.”
AuVante hesitated, unsure whether she wanted to play that role.
“I want your son to be in it,” Prince added.
That sealed the deal. AuVante knew the video would be a lifelong memento for her five-year-old son. On the day of the shoot, her then-boyfriend came along to watch her son when AuVante was on set. Because the shoot was impromptu, she recalls that there was no food on set. But that kind of oversight was typical of the way things operated.
“One of the things I think that Prince probably struggled with was letting go of things enough to properly delegate so things weren’t falling through the cracks or happening at the last minute,” she says. “He liked being in control and he needed to be in control when it came to his creative genius. Creatives see the big picture but they don’t see the inner workings that need to take place to make the big picture happen.”
When they arrived at Paisley Park, AuVante and her son encountered Prince. AuVante was mortified when the first thing her son asked upon meeting Prince was, “How come you wear high heels?”
A big grin spread across Prince’s face, and he replied, “Because I can!”
Once on set, everyone realized that Prince hadn’t cast someone to be AuVante’s significant other for this scene with the family remembering back to the birth of their child.
“You can’t have a family scene without a family,” AuVante laughs. Her boyfriend wound up taking the role and appeared in the scene with her and her son.
AuVante decided to go to college, and as years passed, no longer had a lot of contact with Prince. Her Paisley Park friends also moved on with their lives. When there would be an event at Paisley Park, AuVante no longer had any contacts there, so she stopped going. In 2001, she met the man who would become her second husband. They got married in 2003 and had three more children.
In 2010, AuVante felt compelled to reach out to Prince. Her youthful, party-oriented years behind her, she felt that there were things that had been left unsaid and situations that she wanted to apologize for, in case she had caused Prince pain. She wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope and, as she had so many times, drove to Paisley Park. She handed the envelope to a person at the desk, saying, “Tell him it’s from Leisl.”
Three hours later, the phone rang. There was a baritone voice on the line.
Here is the story of their final conversation, in AuVante’s own words.
In our last conversation, we spent a lot of time talking about God. We had some unfinished business and it took me growing as a person for 20 years before I realized we needed to have a conversation. We were on the phone for 40 minutes. We would’ve been on the phone longer but I was cooking dinner and the kids were circling around me … We didn’t always talk that often, but he knew if I called there was something to talk about.
We both had changed as people and he was very grounded in his faith, as I was in mine. Both of us had two marriages, and both of us had experienced divorce, and both of us had found God. Spiritually, he was always fundamentally connected in a higher way, but it took him some time to find his true path of who he was. He had that aura. The forces of good and evil pulled and tugged at him. The forces of the record industry can be very dirty. He had to navigate through the egos of musicians, and the drawbacks and benefits of fame.
We had a very honest and genuine discussion about where we were and who we were as people and how we’d grown in the time we hadn’t spoken. I had married again and he had come into his own. He seemed like a different person. He had a firm grasp of what he believed in and he stood by it. It was a really refreshing thing. Through it all, he had a very strong air of humility. Surprising! And he was very honest and genuine and very humble about where he was at that point in his life. That was a cool thing to see.
We were doing a lot of catching up, like two old friends reintroducing the people they had become. We’re talking on the phone and I was in the middle of cooking dinner and I heard a timer go off in the kitchen. I said, “Oh my gosh, I have dinner cooking! Here, talk to Ava (AuVante’s then three-year-old daughter).” Prince took it in stride. When I got back on the phone, he said something like, “She sounds very sweet and cute.” He loved kids and had a special place in his heart for them. The fact that he just talked with Ava while I cooked speaks to the nature of our relationship. He laughed about it when I got back on the phone. It was a sweet gesture on his part.
I feel blessed that I had my time together with him. Some of it is immortalized on screen and some of it is immortalized in my heart.
Editor’s Note: In part one, Leisl AuVante shared how she met Prince in 1984 at age 16. She went on to graduate from high school in 1986. True to her rebellious spirit, she decided to marry at age 19. She gave birth to a son and eventually divorced. AuVante had spent a few years outside of Prince’s circle by the time 1991 rolled around — but apparently, she was never far from Prince’s mind.
On a picture-perfect summer day in 1991, Leisl AuVante’s phone rang.
“We’re goofing around with a video camera at Paisley Park,” an enticing baritone voice said. “Hurry up and get over here and bring all of your best outfits.”
For a moment, AuVante considered the proposition. “Goofing around with a video camera – that sounds a little dangerous,” she thought.
But Prince had called AuVante for good reason. What he already knew about her was this: She was spontaneous and was ready for fun. She could act, she could match Prince’s energy, and she could roll with the unexpected.
“He knew if the camera turned on, and we had no script, I could just go and improvise,” she says.
True to form, AuVante decided to give Prince’s proposition a chance. She grabbed her best dresses and headed to Paisley Park. There, she was greeted not simply by Prince goofing around with a video camera, but by a full complement of hair stylists, makeup artists and a camera crew.
“We’re filming something?” AuVante asked in surprise. It was the first in a series of surreal moments that occurred during the two-day video shoot for “Gangster Glam,” a non-album track released on the “Gett Off” maxi single. (“Gett Off” was the first single released from Prince’s thirteenth studio album, “Diamonds and Pearls.”) The video shoot would take AuVante from Prince’s inner sanctum at his private office and inside his Galpin Road home to Minneapolis’ hottest nightclubs.
AuVante’s initial surprise at discovering that she’d be performing in a music video with one of the biggest pop stars in the world was nothing compared with the next moment, when Prince emerged in an ensemble that might mildly be described as unconventional, even by Prince’s standards.
“When saw him in Speedos and suspenders and rollerskates, I was like, `What the heck?’” she says. Still, there was no time to ponder the situation, she says. “Prince said, `The music’s going to come on and we’re going to go.’”
The spontaneous video shoot is all the more striking when viewed in the context of the times. The early 90s were far from a “throw-on-your-suspenders-and-Speedos and make a video” kind of era. Pop culture was dominated by the image of the perfectly coiffed, designer-clad, vogue-ing runway supermodel. Prince’s musical rivals George Michael and Michael Jackson were sinking huge dollars into mega-budget videos. In 1992, George Michael came out with “Too Funky,” a video directed by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler and starring supermodels Linda Evangelista, Nadja Auermann and Tyra Banks. Not to be outdone, Michael Jackson created “In the Closet,” a short film directed by fashion photographer Herb Ritts and featuring supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Prince, however, intended to go his own way. His plan, unbeknownst to AuVante, was to create a video EP, essentially a visual album, to accompany the “Gett Off” maxi single. (The resulting EP runs about 30 minutes and includes videos for “Gett Off,” “Gett Off (Houstyle),” “Violet the Organ Grinder,” “Gangster Glam” and “Clockin’ The Jizz.”)
According to AuVante, they were standing in the parking lot in front of Paisley Park, with Prince’s best cars lined up and members of the NPG wearing crazy loud 90s outfits, when a boombox appeared, and someone hit “play.”
What resulted was some of the most joyous footage of Prince ever captured on camera.
Prince climbed on top of his yellow BMW and screamed his lungs out. He jumped onto the car’s hood and slid down, wrapping his legs around AuVante. He did push-ups, poolside, in a mankini (“It was weird to see him in his bare feet,” AuVante says. “I always saw him in high heels.”) He toyed with his sunglasses, placing them on AuVante’s face and admiring the result. In his office, AuVante sat in his lap and later, Prince waves her arms in the air like she’s a marionette. Then, Prince bursts into a dance with AuVante looking on from his desk chair.
Prince tried to get AuVante to lip sync for part of the song where he samples Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son. (Aunt Esther was the staunch Baptist sister-in-law of Fred Sanford who was constantly critical of him).
“When that part came on, he tried to get me to say, `Hold it, Fred!’” she laughs. “I tried over and over but I couldn’t catch the rhythm. He knew I was always a beat behind.”
As darkness fell, Prince put AuVante in his limo and sent her downtown.
“I had no idea where I was going or what we were doing,” she says. They wound up at The Perimeter, the hottest nightclub in town.
During one sequence outside of the club, Prince moved in close and grabbed her breast. Acting on instinct, AuVante spun Prince around and pinned him against the wall.
“`Wow, what are you doing, we don’t have this kind of relationship!” she recalls thinking. “And then I realized, `Oh wait, we’re on camera.”’
In the editing process, Prince reversed those two shots. Rather than the actual sequence in which Prince gets fresh with AuVante and then gets his comeuppance, the final version makes it appear that AuVante is cozying up to him against the wall to whisper an intimate secret, and then he grabs her breast. “It comes off as me whispering sweet nothings,” AuVante says, shaking her head at Prince’s clever editing.
At night’s end, AuVante jumped into Prince’s yellow BMW with Prince and Tony Mosley in the front seat. Driving home to Paisley Park on Minnesota’s open roads, they were trailed by two cars, with cameramen filming out of the sunroofs.
“It is one of my best memories,” AuVante says of those two glorious summer days with Prince. “To me, the video screamed, `the Minneapolis Sound having fun in our brief but beautiful summertime,’ and that’s exactly what we were doing.”
Next: Circle of Friends during Paisley Park’s Heyday