Books

Paisley Prince: a Purple Prequel explores the childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood of American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actor, philanthropist, and record producer Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016). The author paints an intimate, balanced, and uncommon portrait of the icon.

Alan Leeds is as sharp as any from Prince’s circle. He manages the artist’s tours and his record label, Paisley Park. In Alan Light’s book, Let’s Go Crazy, Leeds wonders whether there’s a book to be written about the abandonment Prince faces and his extremely judgmental and difficult personality. “There’s a pattern there — it’s no coincidence,” he posits.

Well, Paisley Prince is that book.

From a frigid metropolis, a shy Gemini named Prince Rogers Nelson toils alone. He burns the midnight oil in musical study and rehearsal. It’s easy for most to overlook or underestimate him. His story is both complex and simple.

From his first memories, his parents fight. John Lewis Nelson moves out with his son in third grade. Prince feels deserted. Mattie Della Shaw invites Hayward into their lives. He abuses Prince. From age 11, the boy bounces between homes. He becomes a loner — fiercely independent and uneasy with trust. He pushes away his best friend, talented bandmates, his devoted manager, and the record label who takes an extraordinary leap to launch his career. He connects with women. Popular covers by Cyndi Lauper and Alicia Keys, plus Top 10 hits with Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Sheila E, Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, The Bangles, and Sinéad O’Connor all testify.

Despite the pain he endures (and likely because of it), Prince is able to move mountains.

This book explores the fortunate and difficult developmental aspects Prince faces. He’s born into a musical household with prodigious abilities. However, he must survive a broken family, epilepsy, and backlash from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to find steady footing. Travel back to his humble beginnings. Live on his street. Be a fly on the wall as his circle forms.

This book won’t pass judgment or seek resolution. Points plot, lines form, but all remains open. Prince would appreciate the approach. What some might object to seeing is the honest treatment. This is not a book for false idolatry.

Perhaps this book can achieve something very important. Maybe it nudges families with gifted children to more closely examine their choices. Maybe it convinces the next Prince to seek balance earlier in life.

— Eric S. Townsend, author

The following are but four of the more than 200 excerpts in the book.

1958

John sits back on his stool. The fallboard slips through his fingers and slams over the keys. His hands are shaking again. Mattie belts his name alarmingly from the kitchen. Something in the water does not compute, and they rush to Mount Sinai Hospital. Prince Rogers Nelson is born. She passes their son to hold. John’s reached for the stars many times and missed. The baby squeezes his finger. A smile slips through his tears.

1970

The rain falls heavily. Prince slouches in a phone booth and cries. He’s cold. Rewind a few months. John catches him with a girlfriend in his house and sends him packing. Prince begs for his forgiveness. He’s denied. He asks his sister to broker peace. Tyka speaks with their father. She claims all Prince has to do is call one last time and apologize. She’s wrong. The episode later inspires his biggest hit, “When Doves Cry.”

1980

The American Bandstand set is small. There’s duct tape holding together parts of it. The band’s escorted to their dressing rooms. Shortly thereafter, the host knocks at the door. Dick’s shorter than they’d imagined. He has a great tan. He’s the most cordial person Dez has ever met. Prince has that look on his face again. When Dick leaves, he calls a band meeting. He says it would be cool to avoid Dick’s questions.

1983

Vanity and Prince fight again. She thinks it’s their last. One minute, she’s musing on her life story. They’re writing a movie script together. He sits at the piano, rehearsing a song about her for the soundtrack. Soon, she’s on top of him, pounding his chest and screaming. Their chemistry has always been explosive. She wants to be his only girlfriend. He worries about her drug abuse, mood swings, and violent tendencies.

This book is 197 pages in length. It includes over 200+ short, accessible sketches. Each is about 80 words. Episodes are organized chronologically (1956-1983) — that’s two years before Prince’s birth until the announcement that his band The Revolution will be featured in the motion picture Purple Rain.

Eric S. Townsend brings a unique sensitivity to the study of Prince’s life and accomplishments through his book Paisley Prince: a Purple Prequel.

Like Prince, Townsend grows up in a broken home. His father fights in The Vietnam War and comes home a different man. His parents divorce when Eric is less than a year old. Like Prince, the author lives in a basement with its own entrance for his formative years. It’s painted purple. Prince and Eric belong to an exclusive club. Both train to become multi-instrumentalists who write, arrange, compose, produce, perform, and record entire albums of music. Both fail miserably on the same instrument (saxophone). Each comes to value independence and self publishing. Both leverage crowdfunding to launch projects. Both win a Webby (award). Both give time and money to early childhood education and the AIDS fight.

Townsend lives in Fairfax, VA with his wife, Gwen, and a bullmastiff, Marlowe. He writes and publishes “small books” (20+ since 2012) through Go Booklets. Tabula Raisa, his adventure series for children ages 6+, is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.