The Ceremony of the Interview of Princes

It is much better to offend him once than myself every day, for it would be a perpetual slavery.
MONTAIGNE, “THE CEREMONY OF THE INTERVIEW OF PRINCES”
If I can’t do what I want 2 do, what am I?
When U stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave.
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

Do not call him on the telephone. He often insists he does not own one, or that he does not know its number. He is permitted to call you anytime (on a phone he presumably borrowed or just found lying around somewhere), and Lord knows you will answer him whenever he does. But if you try to call him first, you will not be successful. Even if you’re an employee, even if you are married to him, the custom is that he first reaches out, and he does so at his leisure. So wait by the telephone.

First, a woman will call and advise you to make yourself ready. She will call back to say you can expect him in twenty-five more minutes. In a half-hour, she will call again and ask that you wait another nineteen minutes. Then she will call to say he’d rather call you at your home and would you give her that number? When you arrive at your house, you’ll find a message from her to wait five more minutes. Ninety seconds later, your phone will ring, and there will be his voice.

You will never be permitted to record his voice, but you will feel fiercely compelled to describe it. You’ll want to report its dusky smallness and its simple modulation—a massive contrast to the three octaves it runs so nimbly in larger arenas. But in a private phone conversation, he offers no pyrotechnics, and the vertigo is palpable. There is something unnerving about a majestic voice presenting itself as the sound of an intimate.

He can offer several reasons for forbidding tape recorders. Verbatim conversation creates an unjust covenant—that is one reason. Some in the past have taken my voice and sold it—that is another. A third reason is somehow connected to The Matrix, as are several other dicta.

All this resonates with his penchant for redefinition. Though born a Prince, he grew up a Skipper. His coquettish soprano was christened Camille before anyone but him knew of it. When in the service of others, he is often credited as others: Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, Alexander Nevermind. At his most irritable, he wore an oversized top hat and veil and refused to speak; his name then was Tora Tora. And of course, there was his decade as the glyph, the symbol, a halfround and half-pointy character in the shape of his most famous guitar. His staff called him Boss, Bro, the Dude, while the rest of us called him nothing, or put a passive phrase before the name we’d always used. This was when the ceremony of addressing him was a discomfort.

Perhaps he wants no reminder of how little his early decrees jibe with his present thoughts. Maybe he does not see the same Prince from one interview to the next. One cannot be a Prince for this long without some contradiction. If so, all this might be to tell us that we have spent thirty years chasing a singular Prince to set in oil and to frame—one voice, one name, one interview—and that has been a mistake….

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