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Prince On Prince

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Dearly beloved—today, April 21, we are gathered here to honor Prince on the fourth anniversary of his death.


To complement “Prince: Baby, He Was a Star”—our collection of highlights from his enormous catalog and tributes from his peers and prominent fans—we’ve assembled a concise oral history, featuring quotes culled from four decades of Purple-ology. Dig, if you will, Prince on Prince. And dig into his music all day long!


I'm Gonna Be a Star


“I ran away from home when I was 12. I’ve changed address in Minneapolis 32 times, and there was a great deal of loneliness. But when I think about it, I know I’m here for a purpose, and I don’t worry about it so much.” [1981]

“I was constantly running from family to family. It was nice on one hand, because I always had a new family, but I didn’t like being shuffled around. I was a bitter kid for a while, but I adjusted.” [1984]

“I’ve had about two lessons, but they didn’t help much. I think you’ll always be able to do what your ear tells you...I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good.” [1976]

“I had a bunch of white friends and a bunch of black friends. I never grew up in one particular culture...I want to be judged on the quality of my work, not on what I say, not on what people claim I am, not on the color of my skin.” [1981]

“I had a massive ego. Massive. But that’s not such a bad thing. Because at least you’re aspiring to be something—you consider yourself great because you want to be great.” [1996]


Pop Life


“Everything about my music is [autobiographical].” [1981]

“[Dirty Mind] really felt like me for once. When I brought it to the record company it shocked a lot of people. But they didn’t ask me to go back and change anything, and I’m really grateful. I wasn’t being deliberately provocative, I was being deliberately me.” [1981]

“I used to tease a lot of journalists early on, because I wanted them to concentrate on the music and not so much on me coming from a broken home. I really didn’t think that was important. What was important was what came out of my system that particular day. I don’t live in the past. I don’t play my old records for that reason. I make a statement, then move on to the next.” [1985]

“That stuff [in Purple Rain] about my dad was part of [director-cowriter] Al Magnoli’s story. We used parts of my past and present to make the story pop more, but it was a story. [The most real-life aspect was] probably the scene with me looking at my mother, crying...Before Purple Rain, all the kids who came to First Avenue knew us, and it was just like a big, fun fashion show. The kids would dress for themselves and just try and look really cool. Once you got your thing right, you’d stop looking at someone else. You’d be yourself, and you’d feel comfortable. When the film first came out, a lot of tourists started coming. That was kind of weird, to be in the club and get a lot of ‘Oh! There he is!’ It felt a little strange. I’d be in there thinking, ‘Wow, this sure is different than it used to be.’” [1985]

“‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was about God and Satan. I had to change those words up but ‘de-elevator’ was Satan. I had to change those words up ’cause you couldn’t say God on the radio. ‘Let’s go crazy’ was God to me. Stay happy, stay focused, and you can beat the de-elevator.” [1998]

“The thing is that when you’re called, you’re called. I hear things in my sleep; I walk around and go to the bathroom and try to brush my teeth and all of the sudden the toothbrush starts vibrating! That’s a groove!” [1985]

“People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That’s where I was. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you...I’m not a slave to Warner Bros. It’s not there to embarrass Warners. Why would I do that? You gotta understand that. I don’t need to. It’s not about that. I’m not angry with them. It’s just there as a reminder.” [1995/1996]

“I’m not the Artist Formerly Known As Anything. Use my name.” [1993]

“I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else. But you’ll be sitting there at the Grammys, and U2 will beat you. And you say to yourself, ‘Wait a minute. I can play that kind of music, too…But you will not do ‘Housequake.’” [1990]

“You know when you buy someone’s record and there’s always an element missing? The voice is wrong or the drums are lame or something? On mine there’s nothing missing.” [1991]

“I make music because if I don’t, I’d die. I record because it’s in my blood. I hear sounds all the time. It’s almost a curse: to know you can always make something new.” [1991]

“I play a lot of styles. This is not arrogance; this is the truth...Sometimes I just stand in awe of what I do myself. I feel like a regular person, but I listen to [Emancipation] and wonder, ‘Where did it come from?’” [1996]


Ain't About to Stop


“I’ve changed. I’m a different person. I’m about the present and moving forward. New joke, new anecdote, new lesson to be discovered. You know that old lady in Sunset Boulevard, trapped in her mansion and past glories? Getting ready for her close-up? I don’t run with that.” [2004]

“[It’s] kind of the blessing and a curse these days that I’m competing with [my] older music. And I don’t know anybody who has to do that. They always play Beyoncé’s latest track. But I go on Oprah and they want me to play what they remember.” [2014]

“I write more than I record now, and I also play live a lot more than I record. I used to record something every day. I always tease that I have to go to studio rehab...I’m a very in-the-moment person. I do what feels good in the moment...I’m not on a schedule, and I don’t have any sort of contractual ties. I don’t know in history if there’s been any musicians that have been self-sufficient like that, not beholden. I have giant bills, large payrolls, so I do have to do tours...But there’s no need to record anymore.” [2014]


Diamonds and Pearls


“I think when one discovers himself he discovers God. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not sure...It’s hard to put into words. It’s a feeling – someone knows when they get it. That’s all I can really say...I think there is an afterworld. For some reason, I think it’s going to be just like here, but that’s part...I don’t really like talking about this stuff. It’s so personal.” [1985]

“I know those paths of excess, drugs, sex and alcohol – all those experiences can be funky, they can be very funky, but they’re just paths, a diversion, not the answer.” [1996]

“I am music. I feel music. When I walk around, I hear brand new things. You’re almost cursed. You’re not even its maker, you’re just there to bring it forth. You know, ‘Can’t I go to sleep?’ No. You can’t. But, OK, now you can. And you go to sleep, and you don’t hear it, and then you’re lonely. No one wants to be on Earth alone.” [1996]

“I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.” [1996]

“Music was put on earth to enlighten and empower us and feel closer to our center.” [1998]

“Ultimately, spiritual evolution is the axis on which inspiration and creativity spin...there r so many songs that I’ve written and recorded, sometimes it is hard 4 ME 2 believe it comes from one source!...All of my musicality comes from GOD...the blessing/curse ensued when I kept sneaking back in2 the talent line dressed as another person...I got away with it several times be4 they caught me!” [1998]

“Really, I’m normal. A little highly-strung, maybe. But normal. But so much has been written about me and people never know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’d rather let them stay confused.” [2004]

“Music is everything to me. I love making music. I am making music. Music is spirit, it’s therapy. It makes me feel a certain way, and if played with conviction and soul, the same thing occurs in other people.” [2004]

“There’s an incredible peace in my life now and I’m trying to share it with people.” [2010]