Despite enjoying an (almost) four-decade-long career, Prince has remained an enigma. Perhaps that’s fitting, considering that the he not only transformed the musical landscape, he also made an indelible impact on fashion and pop culture. As author Mobeen Azhar states at the beginning of his book “ name transcends race, gender and the confines of the music industry itself. It’s as if one little man from Minneapolis is just too big for definition.“
But Prince: Stories from the Purple Underground is not a biography. It is snatches of conversation with the people who worked alongside Prince and knew him best, vignettes of a man that are both fascinating and frustrating because – although there is some attempt at maintaining a timeline (the book starts with his debut release and then touches on each subsequent album, all the way up to his death) - there isn’t really a natural flow to the material. On one page, sound engineer Susan Rogers will talk about how she became obsessed with building an archive of Prince’s recordings, while on the opposite page she’ll remember how he recorded a song for Sheila E’s birthday party. On another page, drummer Michael Bland will recall how Prince backed out of writing the soundtrack for I’ll Do Anything because he didn’t want to write songs for Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner – the voice of Marge – starred alongside Nick Nolte in that film) while, on the next, Hans-Martin Buff (another sound engineer) recalls bonding with Prince’s future wife in a bid to save the track Strange but True. Yes, these are all beguiling glimpses into Prince’s working-and-thinking process but the voices change too rapidly and it’s all too bitty to be satisfying.
Still, most fans will already know so much about their idol that they’ll want this book purely for the beautiful photographs that illustrate the text. On that score, this book is gorgeous – it’s a large format coffee-table volume with some amazing pictures between its covers. And, don’t get us wrong, Azhar has amassed an astonishing array of contributors from throughout Prince’s life and the text is scattered with fantastic details. It’s just a shame that the depth behind the words couldn’t quite match the power of the imagery.
PRINCE 1958-2016: STORIES FROM THE PURPLE UNDERGROUND / AUTOR: MOBEEN AZHAR / PUBLISHER: CARLTON BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW