I’m a child of the ’80s. The musician Prince was this fascinating, mysterious man I could not get enough of growing up. “Purple Rain” played loudly in my room. Now, as a singer and a photographer myself, “Picturing Prince” by Steve Parke seemed like a natural fit for my bookshelf.
Parke was Prince’s photographer and in-house art director for 13 years. His collection of photos and short tales about working with Prince offer a glimpse into life at Paisley Park, Prince’s estate. Parke discusses coming into his own as a photographer and designer, which Prince played a part in by nurturing and pushing his creativity. Parke writes that Prince always had a need for something out of the ordinary -- like finding a camel in Detroit on short notice or needing to be “de-pantsed” digitally.
These are the kinds of stories you’d expect when it comes to working with the purple royalty.
But those aren’t the only vignettes you’ll read in the book. Pages and pages of Prince looking regal and magical are placed next to his conversations with Parke about smoothies and music. The reader will discover Prince’s response to hearing Bono (not favorable, but with a wink) and what he thought when he first saw Destiny’s Child on a late-night talk show (you may be surprised). You’ll learn about Prince’s switch to vegetarianism and what famous, funky guest still ate fried chicken at his table.
One story that stood out to me lends a little insight into Prince’s childhood. Parke had been wearing a “Blair Witch Project” t-shirt around the time the movie was in theatres. Prince asked if it was a good movie. Then, after some back-and-forth about other “graphic” movies, Prince asked, “Would you take a 5-year-old into the theater to see ‘Psycho’?” Parke noted Prince’s body language had changed, then recalled stories of how the artist was mistreated as a child. Parke wondered if Prince spoke from experience.
Parke seemed to notice the small things, while most people working with Prince would let his remarks slide, not realizing they were his way of letting someone in.
You should not expect “literature” from these anecdotes, but that doesn’t seem to matter the more you read. This book is like sitting at a kitchen table with Parke, listening to him talk about the man named Prince as well as the artist.
If you’re a Prince fan, this book is a must-have. It’s not an expose on the singer or a thought-provoking piece from “Rolling Stone.” It’s a sometimes sweet, sometimes sad look at the brilliant musician through a 13-year working relationship and friendship with his photographer. My favorite story, since I grew up in the ’80s, is this one: people who worked for Prince starting calling him “boss” since, well, he was their boss. Prince, making it clear he didn’t approve, said, “I’m not the boss, Bruce Springsteen is the boss.” Prince didn’t need to be the “boss” -- he was royalty, after all.
Reviewer Christie Clancy is a social media specialist at Penn State and the singer for the State College band Hops & Vines. Author Steve Parke will be at the State College Barnes and Noble on November 18 at 3 p.m. for an author event.