In this Feb. 4, 2007, file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game in Miami. “Prince: The Beautiful Ones,” the memoir Prince started but didn’t finish before his 2016 death, will be released on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In this Feb. 4, 2007, file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game in Miami. “Prince: The Beautiful Ones,” the memoir Prince started but didn’t finish before his 2016 death, will be released on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Prince’s posthumous book released as fans continue to mourn

NEW YORK — Panic, joy, shock: Dan Piepenbring felt them all when Prince plucked him to collaborate on his first memoir, followed by more shock and profound sadness at news of the superstar’s death while the book was in its early stages.

Though the project was thrown into chaos when Prince died on April 21, 2016, of an accidental drug overdose, his estate ultimately decided to press on, allowing Piepenbring and his publishing team free access to the pieces of his life left behind at his beloved Paisley Park, including the contents of his vault.

Now, the highly anticipated collaboration, “The Beautiful Ones,” is out in the world with its release Tuesday as many fans continue to mourn, propelling the 33-year-old journalist into the spotlight to explain how he sorted it all out.

“There was a sense even from the start that it couldn’t really be happening,” Piepenbring told The Associated Press of his involvement. “It felt very surreal. There was also just a sense of joy, I think, at the possibility of meeting someone that I held in such high regard, someone whose music had been the soundtrack to the better part of my youth.”

The book, from Spiegel & Grau, includes no bombshells, though Prince very much wanted to provide some, and a mere 28 memoir pages written in his elegant script and quirky style, replacing the word “I” with a drawing of a human orb, for instance. All told, Piepenbring spent 12 to 15 hours face-to-face with Prince in Minneapolis, New York and on tour in Melbourne.

Their last conversation was just four days before Prince died. It was focused on his parents and their conflicting influences in his life. His father, John L. Nelson, was a disciplined, God-fearing jazz pianist with an explosive temper. His mother, Mattie Della Shaw, was a beautiful, fun-loving party girl with a stubborn, irrational streak — and a sneaky flair, as Prince wrote:

“She would spend up what little $ the family had 4 survival on partying with her friends, then trespass in2 my bedroom, ‘borrow’ my personal $ that eye’d gotten from babysitting local kids, & then chastise me 4 even questioning her regarding the broken promises she made 2 pay me back.”

The tumultuous nature of his parents’ relationship had a lasting impact.

“The wound of Ur parents fighting is chilling when U’re a child,” Prince wrote. “If it happens 2 become physical, it can be soul-crushing.”

Their conflicts, divorce when he was 7 and the dual impact on Prince and his work is the book’s prevailing theme.

“So much of his writing is about division in some way and the fight to make oneself whole again,” Piepenbring said. “There’s this kind of brokenness that he’s always working to repair.”

Prince writes that his first memory was his mother’s eyes, describing her habit of throwing conspiratorial winks his way.

“Sometimes when my father wasn’t playing piano he’d say something 2 my mother & she would wink at me. She never told me what it meant and sometimes it would be accompanied by a gentle caress of her hand 2 my face. But eye am quite sure now this is the birth of my physical imagination.”

Prince had big ideas for the book, considering at one time a “how to” on making it in the music business without selling your soul. At another point, he suggested that he and Piepenbring figure out a way to end racism. At still another, he wanted to focus on the importance of creative freedom.

“I think he was really in the process of excavating his past with a level of detail and specificity that maybe he had avoided before,” Piepenbring said. “He had come to the realization that he really was in many ways the sum of his mother and father and they were the, sort of, two poles of his being.”

Prince wrote on other subjects as well, including puberty (his stepfather took him to R-rated movies at a drive-in as a stand-in for the birds and bees talk), the blackouts and seizures he had as a child and his first kiss, with a girl of just 5 or 6. They’d play house.

Piepenbring wrote a lengthy introduction explaining his encounters with Prince and how the book was completed. He wasn’t allowed to take notes during their first meeting so he was forced to reconstruct the conversation. Some of their chats are printed as marginalia in the book. There’s an abundance of hand-drawn childhood doodles and cartoons, along with lyrics Prince often wrote on whatever was handy, including a brown paper bag.

There’s a photo album Piepenbring unearthed at Paisley Park that a sleepless Prince decided to put together in 1977 at age 19, only days from completing his debut album, “For You.” With witty remarks written in pencil, Prince sits on the hood of his first car in one shot. In another, he snapped his first paycheque from Warner Bros.

There’s also an early outline he wrote for the 1984 film “Purple Rain” with an even darker story line than the one that made it onto screens. The film, based loosely on his life, won Prince an Oscar for best original sound score. In the 1982 treatment, “The Kid” character Prince plays is a diagnosed schizophrenic who as a child watches his mother shoot his father dead, then turns the gun on herself.

Prince had envisioned playing both his mother and father in flashback scenes. The finished film, not written by Prince, involves a suicide attempt with a gun that the father survives.

Many of the photos in the book are familiar to hardcore fans and it includes a heavy dose of previously published interviews with Prince. From the start, it was clear to Piepenbring that Prince envisioned him as something more than a ghostwriter.

Prince was looking for a second voice to bring his vision alive in print, almost “like a sounding board,” said Piepenbring, who is based in New York and was working for Paris Review when, at age 29, he was chosen for the book.

As for what might have been, Piepenbring said, “I think we would have gotten more of his story than we’ve ever seen, and I think we would have gotten not just this book but a number of books from him. He told me that he wanted to write a lot of books, and I really think he was serious about that.”

By The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada's vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel's approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

JASPER, Alta. — A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing… Continue reading

The smouldering remains of houses in Slave Lake, Alta., are seen in a May 16, 2011, file photo. The wildfire that is devastating large swaths of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray comes just five years after another blaze destroyed 400 buildings and left 2,000 people homeless in Slave Lake, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
Ten years later: Five things to know about the Slave Lake wildfire

A wildfire burned about one-third of Slave Lake in northern Alberta in… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid races to 100 points this NHL season

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid sprinted to a 100-point NHL season and… Continue reading

A Foodora courier is pictured as they pick up an order for delivery from a restaurant in Toronto, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Two-year EI review needed to buy time for needed tech upgrades, Qualtrough says

OTTAWA — Canada’s employment minister says a budgetary pledge for funding to… Continue reading

A person wears a face mask as they walk through McGill University during light snowfall in Montreal, Sunday, December 20, 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Some universities say no to proof of vaccination requirement

A COVID-19 vaccine likely won’t be a requirement to return to the… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, participate in a virtual discussion with seniors from Residence Memphremagog in Magog, Que., from Ottawa on Monday, May 3, 2021. Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats are on the move in advance of a potential election this year, recruiting candidates, training volunteers and grappling with how to kiss babies and press the flesh in a virtual, pandemic-restricted world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Grappling with how to press the virtual flesh, parties gear up for election showdown

OTTAWA — The three main national parties are firing up their election… Continue reading

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Most Read