I arrived at the United Center on September 26, 2012, for the final show of Prince’s three-night Chicago residency. Under my arm were two copies of the same record: the box set I’d been working on for the Numero Group, Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound. One was for Adrian Crutchfield, a friend and former bandmate from North Carolina, who had secured a chair in Prince’s massive horn section. The second copy had a more uncertain fate. Upon glancing at an unfinished version of the project a few months earlier, Adrian erupted at the sight his boss’s seventh-grade yearbook photo in the introductory notes. “Yo, you got to send me one of these! I’ve got to show this to Prince!”
While the box set certainly didn’t represent the pinnacle of Princeploitation, the mercurial artist was known to be touchy about his past. I didn’t want a good friend—a humble black kid from Roanoke, Virginia, who worshiped Kenny G—to risk losing the job of a lifetime.
At least to my knowledge, Prince never saw Purple Snow. But his Purple Badness was never one for mawkishness. Nor was he the release’s target audience. Since he signed with Warner Bros. in 1977, Prince was extremely busy being Prince, and the rest of us were left to obsess over what that meant.
Scouring the tape rooms of numerous Twin Cities recording studios as research for Purple Snow, I kept hearing lore of Prince’s famed vaults, where purportedly thousands of hours of unreleased material sit imprisoned. Prince message boards are populated primarily by those who feel this material should be made available to the public. Some of his most committed fans somehow seem to ignore the reality that Prince issued a dozen terrific albums in the time it took D’Angelo to release one. But this is what Prince did to us. The more he gave, the more we wanted.
This fact was clear at the close of a March 2011 Prince concert in Greenville, South Carolina. The house lights of the half-packed arena revealed the aftermath of one of the most uninhibited shows I’d ever witnessed. The audience sat motionless, slain in spirit. A woman in the far corner of the stadium screamed incessantly: “We’re still here! We’re still here!”—to Prince, to us, to herself. I could only reason that his aura had passed through her, and that it would soon be out in the parking lot somewhere.
The loss of Prince is strangely easier to process than was his supernatural existence. But Prince is pure energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed.