I worked at Paisley Park when Prince had what he called a “Celebration”. It was held in the first or second week of June, near his birthday. It was a week-long event where he had several artists come out and play at Paisley Park. It was THE BEST week of music you would ever want to hear. It was fucking Woodstock. The star power was immense. Too immense for me to name them all. I will try to name some later, in another post. Us bodyguards, and the rest of the Paisley Park staff, worked for seven days straight. Our shifts were from 9 in the morning until 5 at night, then 9 at night until 5 in the morning. For seven frickin’ days. 14 shifts. Sleep-deprived lunacy occurred about mid-way thru day 3. But another time for some of that. This is about Prince, the educator and humanitarian.
I don’t recall if this was the first or second “Celebration”, but I am fairly certain it was one of the two. In Paisley Park, Prince had two main rooms for groups/musicians to perform. One room held a little under 400 (I think 380, by fire codes) people and the other room held closer to 1000-1300, I don’t really remember the exact numbers. On the Friday nights that I usually worked during the year, Prince and whoever he had as guests would play in the smaller room. This story takes place in that smaller room.
Remember, this was an all-day, all-week event. And Prince, as we all know, is the ultimate host. During this particular Celebration he displayed his true genius. Almost as genius as his music.
During the week, in the smaller room, Prince had different luminaries come in and speak about his or her profession. Prince was INFORMING people. Everyone from high-powered entertainment lawyers to educators to artists to basic, unheralded humanitarians. I would like to share with you two of my favorites.
Do you know who Maceo Parker is? If you have ever heard a James Brown song, Maceo is the one playing the sax…the signature horn sound on any James Brown song. As Maceo told the story, James Brown was known to come into town and recruit local players to play with him. I think, maybe…and don’t quote me on this…JB was recruiting Maceo’s brother to play drums for him. While in town… again, don’t quote me (this was years ago)…JB’s sax player wasn’t available for some reason. I don’t know the dynamics of sax playing, but, as I understand it, Maceo only played tenor sax at the time, and JB was looking for an alto sax player. JB asked Maceo, “Do you play alto sax”? And even tho he never had, Maceo said “yes”. There’s a lesson in that, I suppose. Successful people take risks when risks are presented. Well, as history will surely note, that was the right answer. Maceo learned alto sax on the go and became one of the premier sax players of all time. Maceo spoke on the first day of the Celebration. I know this for sure, because he played that night…for over 3 hours!!! The crowd actually stopped dancing and sat down during Maceo’s long, sultry jazz solos that would run for
20 or 30 minutes. The crowd would get up and dance again when Maceo played his livelier riffs. At one point, Maceo’s son went on stage to perform with his dad and, before he did, Prince’s head of security told him, “Hey, can you tell him to cut it short, he’s KILLING my guys!” Prince’s head of security knew all of the facets of his job. A true professional. THE professional. He knew that he needed us fresh for six more days (12 more shifts!) We left Paisley Park that night exhausted, but undeniably blessed.
Do you know who Dr. Cornel West is? I bet you would, if you saw him. As a matter of fact, I know you would know him if you saw him. Dr. West is a graduate from Harvard and has taught at Harvard and Yale (and others). He is not camera-shy. He has been on several television shows, such as Bill Maher’s show and many others. Anyway…Prince…fucking funk laureate that he is…brought in Dr. West to talk to a bunch of party-goers who thought they were just going to come out to Paisley Park and dance to the best music ever by ten or fifteen world-wide known musicians. Dr. West had a more poignant perception of this opportunity.
This wasn’t long after 9/11. Probably the next June after that fateful September. Dr. West talked about race relations and loving each other, but the thing that left me most marked… most dumbfounded…most EYE-OPENING…is that he said that the Twin Towers falling was the “niggerization” of America. He explained how that the helplessness…the PURE, RAW FEELING OF HELPLESSNESS…that everybody in America felt due to that attack on New York was how African-Americans have felt their entire existence in America. He actually said, “Because of 9/11, you ALL know what it is like to be a nigger in America”. He used the “n-word” for effect, and I was affected.
*DISCLAIMER: Please recognize that I am loosely quoting Dr. West on the use of that word, but he did say it, basically in those terms. Those are not my words. But who am I to withhold the impact of the truth?
This was one of the greatest points of realization that I, as a white man, has ever had on earth. And I will forever be indebted to Dr. Cornel West for opening my eyes.