A prince of a guy – the artist formerly known as Prince – includes a behind-the-scenes look at Paisley Park – Interview
Catherine Censor Shemo
The rocker with a “bad boy” rep talks to Vegetarian Times about the loves of his life: his wife, music and vanilla soymilk.
Most know him as the guy with the symbol for a name–the rocker whose raunchy lyrics were quoted in Congress during the debate over parental advisories on recordings; the guy whose sense of style includes peek-a-boo clothing and bold gestures such as scrawling “slave” on his cheek during his disputes with Warner Bros. But there’s a surprising side to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The man behind the symbol is witty, political, compassionate, deeply spiritual–and vegetarian. He’s also newly talkative. For much of his career, the Artist (as he is referred to by friends and even Mayte, his wife), rarely granted interviews. His reluctance to discuss the name change or other, more tragic aspects of his life (he and Mayte reportedly had a physically impaired son who died soon after birth), fueled rampant tabloid rumor.
But now, at 38, the Artist seems to have found his voice. And perhaps the reason is that he has a great deal to talk about: He finally owns the master tapes to his own work and his latest triple CD, Emancipation has gone double platinum. He is deeply in love with his wife, 23-year-old Mayte (“my-TAY”), a dancer and former member of the Artist’s band, the New Power Generation; together they have founded a charity, Love 4 One Another, that helps underprivileged kids and adults. And his vegetarianism–indeed much of his outlook on life–has been inspired by his love for her.
If the Artist is still learning his way around a vegetarian refrigerator (Mayte describes his food preferences as “still kind of bland–he isn’t used to the ethnic foods that vegetarians eat”), he’s both knowledgeable and outspoken about animal rights and human nutrition. In fact, the theme of animal rights has cropped up in the lyrics of two recent songs. One of them, “Joint 2 Joint,” on the Emancipation CD reveals a distinct preference for soy milk over dairy (“Oh great/Now you think you’re my soul mate/You don’t even know what kind of cereal I like/Wrong/Captain Crunch/With soymilk/Cuz cows are for calves”). The other, “Animal Kingdom,” from his as-yet unreleased CD, Truth, takes an unnamed friend to task for singing the praises of cow’s milk. That “friend” is apparently Spike Lee who has appeared in the dairy industry’s “milk mustache” ad campaign.
In an exclusive interview, we asked the Artist about everything from karma to Captain Crunch. Here’s what he had to say:
VT: How, when and why did you and Mayte become vegetarians?
The Artist: I’ve not eaten red meat for about 10 years now. Mayte for a lot longer. I’ve always had a preference for
all things vegetarian but not until recently did I find out how good they were for you (in a physical sense).
VT: How far have you taken your vegetarianism? The lyrics on Emancipation’s “Joint 2 Joint” suggest that you like soymilk on your cereal. Have you given up dairy and eggs as well as flesh foods?
The Artist: We don’t eat anything with parents. Complete vegans–both of us! The opening lyrics to “Animal Kingdom” [on the forthcoming Truth album] refer to a conversation between Spike and me about the benefits of cow’s milk over human. I believe they are few.
VT: Many people become vegetarian out of concern for their health, but I know that’s not what motivated you and Mayte. Can you tell us how your beliefs affected this decision?
The Artist: Thou shalt not kill means just that! We don’t have to kill things to survive. In fact, the complete opposite happens: If you kill, you will die.
VT: That sounds pretty dire. Speaking of dire: Some people think vegetarianism is all about denying yourself pleasure. Have you found this to be true? You don’t strike me as the kind of guy who thinks sensual pleasure is negative.
The Artist: Mayte and I get no pleasure from playing Russian roulette with food. Eating anything ridden with bacteria raises your chances for disease. Being sick is not pleasurable.
VT: I gather that Mayte was the driving force behind your interest in vegetarianism. Would you have gotten there without her influence?
The Artist: Mayte showed me how many different vegetarian dishes one could have and never miss the things you would imagine. I never was a big milk drinker anyway, but I really like vanilla soymilk. Being without my wife’s influence is not a reality to me, so I don’t speculate on life without her.
VT: What changes have the two of you noticed since becoming vegetarians?
The Artist: I actually enjoy eating more. I have more energy and most of all, my aura is stronger. One can actually feel one’s karmic debt decrease with every meal. Mayte enjoys preparing meals for the two of us. It strengthens our bond.
VT: Your practical, as well as philosophical experience, is of interest to us. Now that you’re eating vegetarian meals, are you learning to cook differently? Do you have a chef who cooks for you? Do you have a favorite style of cuisine or a favorite meal?
The Artist: Mayte cooks for us. She’s always trying new things. The wonderful thing about veganism is there is no favorite dish because there’s no addiction. Non-vegetarians always speak about their favorite food because it usually involves something artificial or something that doesn’t belong in them. Ah, the universe keeps expanding!
VT: I notice that a major theme in your recent music is freedom. It’s on tracks like “Animal Kingdom” and “Joint 2 Joins.” Is this a new area of exploration for you or has freedom always been a central theme of even your early work? Has vegetarianism expanded the horizons of that concept?
The Artist: Freedom has always been a theme in my work. Vegetarianism is a natural step for anyone seeking oneness with the spirit. The conscience is powerful (in a good way) when clear and weak when not.
VT: Life can be pretty brutal. There’s a lot of senseless pain and suffering in the world, and some people say, ‘Why waste your time worrying about animals when so many people are suffering?’ Are vegetarians wasting their compassion? Distracting themselves from human pain?
The Artist Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. It is never wasted. To eat a tomato and then replant it for your nutrition as opposed to killing a cow or a pig for your meal is reducing the amount of suffering in the world. Besides, pigs are too cute to die.
VT: Do you worry that fans of your music might be put off by the message of songs like “Animal Kingdom” or by the public declaration of your vegetarianism?
The Artist: Fan is short for “fanatic.” I call supporters of my music “friends.” My friends are very forward-thinking individuals. I’m sure many are meat eaters but soon all will know the consequences of a barbarian lifestyle. It’s called karma! My music is dictated by the spirit. Not worrying about people’s reaction is what has sustained me, I believe.
VT: Speaking of worrying about the public: There are lots of people who think vegetarianism is weird. You’re already the subject of lots of public speculation and gossip. Will declaring yourself vegetarian add fuel to that fire?
The Artist: We’d rather be looked over than overlooked. In all seriousness, it’s obvious that the world has problems, but doing nothing about it is foolish. We have holidays for dead presidents who stood for everything but freedom of the soul. We need an Animal Rights Day when all slaughterhouses shut down, and people don’t eat things they can’t replace. Yeah!
VT: Much has been made of your name change. Does that change signify a reinvention of self? A rebirth? What has fallen away with the old name?
The Artist: My name change is a complex issue not really suited for this discussion but what I can say is that it is much easier to separate the ego from the personality now. And I’m much happier since my name change.
VT: Tell us about the new album and your latest projects. What can we look forward to next?
The Artist: Emancipation [the current album] is a tour de force and what’s best is I finally own the master tape–so if you have any of my work and you like it, please support this project because it’s the closest to my soul. Thank you for a chance to speak to the enlightened vegans of your magazine. We like being one of you!
RELATED ARTICLE: BEHIND THE SCENES AT PAiSLEY PARK
Paisley Park is the Artist’s version of the Biosphere: A self-contained world of recording, dance and video studios, business departments, costume design, computer graphics and photography–there’s even talk of getting a farmer on staff to keep the Artist and his associates supplied with fresh vegetables. If it has to do with the production, promotion or packaging of the Artist’s music, it happens here and no one knows his way around the enormous facility better than Steven Parke, the artist’s personal art director and fellow vegetarian.
If you own the albums or have seen his videos, posters or magazine articles about the Artist (including this one) you’ve seen Parke’s work. “I’ve done everything from painting his bass to decorating Paisley Park for parties,” says Parke. “The Artist assumes that if you’re an artist, you can do anything artistic.”
What’s it like to work with his famous employer? Parke is enthusiastic: “He has a great eye. Sometimes he’ll come by and see what I’m working on and he’ll say something like, `Have you thought of moving that to the left?’ and it’ll be just what makes it work.” Parke says that the Artist even had a hand in designing Paisley’s theatrical interior: “The building used to be stark white,” says Parke, “and so he and I snapped Polaroids of the interior and just started `painting’ on the computer. Now, the interior is very visually stimulating and it sparks creativity.”
In a more personal vein, Parke notes that he’s one of several non-meat eating staffers at Paisley. “The Artist seems to want people around him who are vegetarian, so there are a lot of us here. And when I work with people who aren’t vegetarian, they often end up eating this way because they’re with me.” Parke says that in addition to the many physical and spiritual benefits of vegetarianism, one very practical benefit of the diet comes in handy: “If I ate meat like I used to, I wouldn’t have the energy to create.”
Catherine Censor Shemo is the managing editor of Vegetarian Times.
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