Rookie of the Year

Let’s Go Paisley

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #109. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.

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Not everything about Paisley Park is weird.

But when I toured it in September, on the day of its 31st anniversary, two things stood out as particularly odd – one that’s pure Prince, and one that‘s not at all what a casual fan like me expected.

First the latter, something Prince devotees certainly already know: the outside of the late mad genius’ legendary, 65,000-square-foot recording studio/nightclub/home looks exactly like any one of a million suburban corporate office complexes. If the exterior was used for, say, the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, or Initech, all but America’s biggest Prince fanatics wouldn’t bat an eye.

Nothing gives it away. It’s just a series of white squares, bordered by a thin line of black, that together resemble a bunch of boxes packed neatly together to form an otherwise nondescript building. The number 7801 is affixed to the top, in black, and the entrance simply features a white sticker that reads A1 on its glass front door.

I thought I’d GPSed to the wrong place. That is, until I went inside. And entered the atrium.

The atrium is the first stop on the tour, and, for reasons that will soon be obvious, the most, um, important.

The atrium is the first stop on the tour, and, for reasons that will soon be obvious, the most, um, important. We’re not allowed to take photos on the tour – in fact, our phones are locked in small bags that are re-opened for us as we leave the gift shop at the end – but this room is pretty burned into my memory. The floor is adorned with the Prince symbol that for a time became his name. There’s a couch. There are more records on the walls. Under a large skylight, the walls are painted with clouds and, on one side, a flight of doves soars up the wall toward the windows. There are real doves in a cage on the floor above, too, and they can be heard singing. There are small rooms and alcoves with costumes and other memorabilia in them and the hallway that leads to the recording studio, the next stop on the tour. In front of us are glass doors through which we can see a television and a kitchenette we’re told Prince used often.

So what’s so odd?

Above this room is a frosted box, hanging from the wall above our heads. In it we can see another purple Prince symbol. Though it’s hard to make out, the tour guide tells us that behind the symbol is a replica of Paisley Park. A replica Prince had commissioned.

To store his remains.

Yes, in the atrium of Paisley Park, in the very first stop, in fact, on the Paisley Park tour, we stand directly below what is left of Prince Rogers Nelson.

Yes, in the atrium of Paisley Park, in the very first stop, in fact, on the Paisley Park tour, we stand directly below what is left of Prince Rogers Nelson.

People tend to get emotional, the tour guide says, and she gives us a moment to reflect. There are those among us who do seem emotional; there’s an older couple wearing Prince T-shirts who seems to feel the weight of the occasion, but particularly moved by the whole affair is a Japanese woman, who earlier had admitted she could barely tell the tour guide she was from Tokyo because she was so flustered.

As for me – and my dad, who’d agreed to come along for the ride after I described the place as being akin to Graceland – I felt more like smiling. Partly out of discomfort – it was a little bit of a shock to be told this, plus it was even creepier than the late great musician’s mustache, which has always made my skin crawl – but partly because it just seemed so perfectly Prince.

The rest of the tour was great. My dad and I loved it. Highly recommend it, too. We saw Prince’s studio, where he would record his vocals while sitting at the board serving as his own producer, and were played an unreleased track. The Purple Rain Room, in what used to be his basketball court (hello, Charlie Murphy!), has artifacts including his leather-bound copy of the movie script, and we were lead from there through hallways and other themed rooms into his warehouse-sized film studio, then to his nightclub, where he’d surprise guests by randomly appearing, and, at last, to the gift shop, where for $40 visitors can buy an umbrella that promises to turn every rain into . . . you get the idea.

My best hope was that Paisley Park would be a music fan’s mecca. And I was right. It is.

I never expected, though he died there after all, for it to be a tomb. Which, like Prince, was extremely weird. And also uniquely awesome.

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

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