In his posthumous memoir, the music legend recalls his complicated relationship with his parents

By Sam Gillette
October 29, 2019 04:25 PM
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Prince
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Prince may have died more than three years ago, but he’s still found a way to connect with his fans.

In the new book The Beautiful Ones which was published on Tuesday, Prince reflects back on his amazing journey — including his complicated relationship with his parents. The music legend remembers seeing them fight when he was a child and found it “soul-crushing,” he writes in the pages of his unfinished memoir.

“My mother, altho [sic] very loving & nurturing, the outgoing life of the party, sometimes could b very stubborn & completely irrational. No one could reason with my mother when she was in this state,” writes Prince. (The book’s editor, Dan Piepenbring, purposely presents Prince’s writing as he wrote it on the page, including his famous textspeak.)

“The sound of Ur parents fighting is chilling when U’re a child. If it happens 2 become physical, it can be soul-crushing,” Prince continues. “One night eye remember hearing them arguing & it got physical. At some point my mother crashed in2 my bedroom and grabbed me. She was crying but managed a smile & said, ‘Tell Ur father 2 b nice 2 me.’ She held me up as a buffer so that he wouldn’t fight with her anymore.”

While The Beautiful Ones is deeply personal, Prince also wanted it “to be the biggest music book of all time,” Piepenbring explains in the introduction. The “When Doves Cry” singer wanted to control his life story and empower artists, especially black artists, to create on their own terms. Prince was passionate about social justice and hoped to bring that consciousness to his writing.

“If I want this book to be about one overarching thing,” Prince told Piepenbring, according to the book, “it’s freedom. And the freedom to create autonomously. Without anyone telling you what to do or how or why.”

But the 57-year-old star had only worked with Piepenbring for a few months before he died in April 2016 of an opioid overdose.

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The Beautiful Ones is publisher Spiegel & Grau’s way of completing the project, even though Prince wasn’t able to finish his memoir. Separated into four parts, the book consists of Prince’s memoir, the pages of his scrapbook from his early years as a musician, candid photos and papers filled with lyrics that trace Prince’s career, and handwritten pages of one of the first iterations of Purple Rain

Throughout the memoir—in which Prince remembers his epileptic seizures as a child and his first experience with “animal lust” —  Prince’s parents are central figures. Both strong personalities, John Nelson and Mattie Shaw divorced when Prince was 10 years old.

In the book, Prince remembers when he decided to live with his father after his mom married his stepfather. According to Prince, his stepfather didn’t have the “keen sense of morality & class” that his dad did.

“At 12 years of age, eye left them 2 each other 2 go live with my father,” Prince writes. “It was the Happiest Day of My Life. Eye could only go so far alone with no teacher. Eye needed 2 b near my hero.”

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Prince is equally loving when he writes about his mother (whom he describes as his “1st love”), even though he recognizes her flaws. The artist begins the memoir by recalling his first memory: the smile in his mother’s eyes.

“Sometimes she would squint [her eyes] like she was about 2 tell U a secret,” Prince writes. “Eye found out later my mother had a lot of secrets.”

In a recent interview with NPR, Piepenbring explained just how much Prince’s parents influenced him — for better or for worse.

“They really formed the two poles of his being. And he said in my last conversation with him, four days before he died, that that was really one of the central dilemmas of his life,” Prince’s editor told NPR. “He said that he liked ‘order, finality and truth’; those were all things that he ascribed to his father. But if a DJ put on something funky, he was going to want to dance, and that would be his mother’s influence.”

“His mother, in these pages, emerges as a very free-spirited, almost headstrong woman, someone who was irrepressibly free, I think, and who would not allow herself to be told what to do or how to do it. And, of course, we see that time and again in Prince’s career,” he continued. “But his father was a much more disciplined, religious man, someone who worked two jobs and one as a musician at nightclubs and the other at the Honeywell factory in Minneapolis. He was concerned with just getting food on the table and keeping the trains running on time. And you see that in Prince too. That vast work ethic, that commitment to making things happen. So I think, to his mind, he was always trying to reconcile the way that those two came together in him, and I think he felt the tension there a lot.”

The Beautiful Ones is on sale now.

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