When an artist dies, it’s not unusual for some to scour the press in search of the elusive “last interview.” It’s especially true if the person dies suddenly; it’s a morbid game to see if the deceased had some sort of awareness of the end that was coming, or that their thoughts eerily hinted at something more cryptic, especially if it appears their demise might be self-inflicted. If the deceased happened to be elderly or dying of a terminal disease, one seeks to see what final thoughts they might have on their career, their lives, and what wisdom to impart for future generations. It’s the spirit that drives publisher Melville House’s unique series, The Last Interview, which offers up a subject’s final interview, along with the subject’s very first interview and conversations and articles from all aspects of their career, to help give a sense of what they were like as an interview subject.
If one word could be used to accurately describe the enigmatic Prince Rogers Nelson, it would be contradictory. When you examine his life, it’s not hard to notice certain things: he was a workaholic with a healthy social life; he was a reclusive fellow who had a lot of friends; he was an introvert yet had an outgoing persona; he exuded lust and sexual prowess, yet was deeply religious; he embodied a hedonistic lifestyle, but he did not drink, smoke, do drugs, or even swear.
Prince had a love/hate relationship with the press, but considering his contradictory nature, it isn’t surprising he was always game for playing with them and he knew the right times to let them in. The first interviews with him here reveal his genius at a young age; he’s relatively straightforward, ambitious in his vision, yet just humble enough to not sound too conceited. He knows he’s talented, but he knows he doesn’t have to prove it, either. To their credit, the journalists recognize it, too; the praise is glowing, but the prose is never purple.
But by the 1980s, everything changed. The modest success in the first part of his career soon skyrocketed, thanks to the innovation of MTV and the success of his album 1999, but even that paled in comparison to what would come with his album and film concept, Purple Rain. Suddenly, the young man had the world’s attention, and for a guy who was weirdly shy and reclusive, he soon started to make the gossip sections—and he didn’t care for that one bit. The first interview he did for MTV, which is offered here in transcript, isn’t so much an interview as it is a scripted promotional item, with Prince coming up with the questions that would subsequently be asked by his manager.
After that, the walls go up. He doesn’t need to talk to the press. He is a superstar on a transcendent level so far beyond the grasp of mere mortals. When he does talk, he’s catty, aloof, and more than a little playful. He’s not about to reveal his cards, and he seems to find a certain level of amusement baiting those that attempt to try. But it’s clear that he isn’t necessarily being willfully difficult; when given thoughtful questions, he answers in such a way that is both interesting and frustrating. He is a man of wisdom and deep thought, and you’re left wishing the interviewers—and all of the examples found in Prince: The Last Interview And Other Conversations did their best—could have cracked the code.
Then again, had they been able to do so, he wouldn’t have been Prince.
As for that last “interview?” It’s rather anticlimactic, truthfully; Prince offers no great wisdom, there’s nothing particularly eerie about it—the article, by Alex Petridis of The Guardian, simply details a press conference held at the end of 2015 to announce a forthcoming tour. The Prince we see here, in front of a small, select audience, is a middle aged artist who has arrived at a comfortable point in his career, a living legend who is both content with his legacy but still driving forward, innovating, creating.
If there’s something to take away from such a banal final conversation, it’s that death has a way of intruding when the seas of life are calm and relaxing. Death may have stopped Prince, but Prince was not stopping for death. Although you won’t necessarily come away from Prince: The Last Interview And Other Conversations with any greater insight into him, you will definitely enjoy the humorous and often frustrating experience of being in his presence.