Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Funk Owned and Creatively Grown" - Interview with Jacqui Thompson

"I've never known someone who can manifest as much as he did. ... He thought about it, and he did it. And he wasn't scared. He had no fear. And that's what I took from working with him, and I've lived by it ever since." 

Photo courtesy of Jacqui Thompson

That powerful quote from Jacqui Thompson, who worked at Paisley Park from 1996 to 2000, describes a type of spirituality that Prince employed: Unwavering faith in one's destiny and the ability to call it forth.

However, Prince was also studying the more traditional Jehovah's Witness faith during Thompson's tenure, so we discussed his transition from her perspective. She attended Kingdom Hall and had spiritual discussions with him, and dropped money into the legendary "curse jar."

"Everybody goes, 'Oh, that's so odd,'" Thompson said of Prince's eventual conversion. "But it's his choice, it's his spiritual path. It resonated with him."

During the rest of our conversation, punctuated by Thompson's infectious laughter, we talked about Prince's approach to his music career after severing ties with Warner; he managed his own distribution and marketing, and "signed his own checks."

"A lot of people discount that time in his career as unsuccessful, but it was actually ... really innovative," she said.

It was cool to hear about the impressive profits from Prince's Crystal Ball box set, which fans ordered online and by phone. And we bonded over the spectacular acoustic disc The Truth, with Thompson highlighting the songs "Animal Kingdom" and "Don't Play Me."

A lyric from the latter always stood out to me, so much so that I put it on the back of my business card:

In my book, I explore the impact of Prince's spirituality on his perspective of fame, especially as his popularity shifted over the years. I asked Thompson about that as well.

After changing his name to the symbol in 1993, Prince returned to his birth name in 2000. "He felt like he was himself again," Thompson said. Coincidentally, it was time for Thompson to reclaim her own identity. "You're in his world and that's cool, but there was a point where I knew I didn't want to be in that world forever, and I needed to expand myself," she said of her decision to leave Paisley Park.

She kept up with his career, though. She shared how she thought he was doing post-religious conversion from her limited vantage point of seeing him on TV or out on the town. We also discussed her reaction to his death and the subsequent news reports.

While a lot of fans miss seeing Prince pop up at awards shows with his cane, Thompson misses seeing him at NBA games. "He'd just be hanging out watching one of his favorite sports and I always loved that. ... I love basketball, so I think that's why."

But despite seeing that somewhat ordinary side of Prince "talking smack" about basketball teams, Thompson was amazed at how he could light up a room of major celebrities, who would always want to talk to him.

"He was a superstar of superstars," she said.

Jacqui Thompson also serves as the board president of the PRN [Prince Rogers Nelson] Alumni Foundation.