BOOK REVIEW: Purple Reign by Mick Wall
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Biography / Music
8 ½ /10
Like many of his biography subjects, Mick Wall has a personal connection to Prince and his incredible career – though not, in this instance, through having met or even interviewed his subject.
Wall was, however, amongst the first UK journalists to write about the iconic and enigmatic purple star, and helped break Prince Rogers Nelson in Britain. His 1984 Kerrang! cover story on the star provoked the biggest ever flood of letters to the editor the magazine had ever seen, and he keenly followed Prince’s career for the next thirty years. His awe and admiration of his subject seeps through almost every page.
Wall also boasts something most music pundits don’t have: impeccable contacts, and there are few insider stories he can’t get to the bottom of.
In Purple Reign he paints a picture of a childhood musical prodigy, fiercely independent and intelligent, eccentric and daring, with impeccable taste in beautiful women and – not unusual for short people – a burning need to prove something to the world.
All this we know already, so where Wall excels is in showing us the fragility behind the man, and the childhood, family, early band experiences which drove him to become such a self-contained and singular of vision musician from an early age.
There are also lavish descriptions of Prince’s Willy Wonka-for-musicians-like home Paisley Park, and an in-depth investigation into his ‘slave’ period, and the contradictions and offense that stirred up. In a nutshell, Wall says, he simply wanted to create music one day and release it the next, rather than wait years between each album like the major record labels prefer to maximise their financial return. Money was important to Prince, but music meant far more.
Released mere months after the musician’s shock drug-related death, Wall hasn’t had the time to get to the heart of how such a staunchly anti-drug advocate ended up addicted and dead in an elevator – those secrets haven’t yet bubbled to the surface.
Accordingly, Purple Reign is destined to remain a fascinating summarisation of an extraordinary life and career, but not the definitive answer to Prince’s downfall that it could have been.
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