Don’t worry. I will alert you of spoilers, so read ahead.
When we initially heard that Prince had only completed about 30 pages of his autobiography, I assumed the worst and that the project was doomed. I guess that I was wrong, but at the same time, it has certainly taken a different route than what was originally planned and is still bereft of shortcomings.
While Prince had chosen to take this autobiographical journey with an unproven co-writer named Dan Piepenbring who had only edited an online literary publication called the Paris Review, it was always Prince‘s expertise to notice raw talent when he saw it. He also knew how to cultivate that talent.
The original vision of The Beautiful Ones was to be all inclusive of Prince‘s career that would cover the humble beginnings and struggles and end up at his performance at the Superbowl to signify the pinnacle of his success.
There were also many moments and intentional plans for this autobiography to be a thorough recollection of his perspective on music, his experiences, powerful viewpoints on racism and societal constructs, and that would be revered as a literary legacy as Miles Davis’ autobiography had been to so many of his fans.
Unfortunately, Prince‘s passing negated his ability to oversee his autobiography and it was left in the hands of a writer of unknown ilk. The questions arose about Dan Piepenbring‘s capabilities to finish a majority of the project by himself and exactly what the outcome would be. Was he supposed to guess what Prince would have said? Would a white man be able to communicate racism from the perspective of a black man? Would he thread together interviews and notes to craft his voice? The short answer is no.
The end result would be a fairly intriguing collection of artifacts, stories, and memories that most certainly deviates from the timeline, but upon realizing what type of challenge and vitriol he would face if he chose poorly, probably put together the best possible option if not for a few missteps along the way.
I will not consider this a spoiler, but more as properly setting expectations as to how the book is structured. So if you don’t want to know how the book is laid out, you can tune out here and scroll down to the summary section. I will not divulge any spoilers here outside of the book structure.
Some would wonder if I had simply perused the book and I’m reporting haphazardly without completing the book or if it really can be gone through in one day. It is the latter. I could have gone through it even quicker had I known how the book was structured. That does not diminish the value of what this book brings to the table.
The book is broken into distinct parts. The first being the portion that is written by Dan Piepenbring which is a great read and well executed. He covers the process of being selected and everything that occurred between Prince and himself complete with all of the humorous dialogue. He includes all of the journeys, meetings, experiences, and tragedy. At the same time, he also avoids the boring tidbits and manages to keep the pacing.
That is followed by the second part which are Prince’s handwritten pages that you can read (if possible). If for some reason you can’t read cursive or get frustrated trying to make out his handwriting in this section, you’ll be pleased to know that the transcribed text follows in the next section. That would have been fantastic to know, since I had spent a couple of hours trying to decipher some of the handwriting. Only to be greeted with everything written out in an easy-to-read format immediately following the photocopied pages. Complete with the 8’s as ampersands, the 4’s for for, U’s for you, etc.
Then we are treated to a photo book that Prince had been putting together in 1977 to document the journey to his first debut album. Then there is again more handwritings of the original overview script for Purple Rain which is also followed by the actual transcription. Then it’s all finished off with more photos, musings, and excerpts from interviews that had been done throughout his career (Chris Rock, Larry King, etc.)
There will be an audiobook that will be offered as well that features a reading from Dan Piepenbring, Esperanza Spalding and Adepero Oduye. Outside of Dan reading his own part of the book, we’re not sure what Esperanza and Adepero will bring to the table for the audiobook.
Some Spoilers Here
One of the things I was a little disappointed with was the omission of anything beyond Purple Rain. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much other than the fact that it seems that almost every book is focused on wrapping up Prince‘s life in 1985.
There is so much more that I wanted to know regarding his view of religion and God, inspirations behind some of the songs, and none of which is here.
What is here is a great collection of never before seen photos, contact pages, mentions of first loves and girlfriends, first kisses, and much more. Sorry Mi Ling, you’re not there anywhere. I was hoping, but his story stops before your time.
Some other strange anomalies such as the removal of all photos of Owen Husney from Prince‘s photobook section. This was an unusual choice where all of the 3 or 4 mentions of Owen Husney had descriptions indicating that it was a photo of Owen, but all photos mentioning Owen were gone and suspiciously absent. Trademark issues?
Also, any mention of bandmates were surprisingly slim. Wendy & Lisa were only mentioned once during the entire book. Even Morris Day only enjoyed one line or so, although he did get a full page of photos. We get it. Those folks came along after the pieces he had written.
However, even Andre Cymone who (along with his family) was integral in the early days of his upbringing and well-being, and he only enjoyed one very brief mention. It’s as if he truly had no friends during this time of his life.
End of spoilers and summary
All Prince fans will want to get their hands on this book to enjoy a good collection of photos and insight into some of the creative process. But if you’re looking for a book that is going to answer so many of the undying questions you’ve wanted to know, they’re not here.
Ultimately, that is probably how he would have structured it anyway was to create more questions than it answered. It’s definitely worth your time to pick it up and add it it to your slowly growing collection of Prince-themed books. Just be sure to also note how gorgeous the actual hardcover is when you take off the sleeve.