Prince was no ordinary rock star and, as Steve Parke found during his 13 years of working for him, he was no ordinary boss, either.
Between 1988 and 2001, Parke served as the late legend’s in-house art director. As detailed in his new book “Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait” (Octopus Books, out September 5), he was on call to create video and touring-stage sets, design T-shirts and guitars, conduct photo shoots, and more.
Although based in Baltimore, Parke would commute to Chanhassen, Minn., to spend weeks at a time in the musician’s Paisley Park complex, working whatever hours necessary to meet Prince’s demands.
“Sometimes people are a little disappointed when you tell them Paisley Park was a work environment, and Prince was the hardest working of all of us,” Parke told The Post.
He got the gig when his previous job filming concerts for a CBS affiliate in DC led to him meeting Levi Seacer Jr., Prince’s touring bassist. Seacer showed Prince Parke’s artwork, and the musician liked what he saw enough to give Parke a gig that lasted through one of the most tumultuous parts of Prince’s life and career.
Here, Parke, now 53, explains the stories behind some of his most intimate portraits of his employer and friend, who passed away April 21, 2016, of an opiate overdose.
The Artist Formerly Known As . . .
The musician famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (as seen above, in the shape of his guitar) during a label spat in the mid-1990s, and his employees were no longer allowed to call him “Prince.” Some tried to refer to him as “The Boss” but Prince shut it down because Bruce Springsteen already owned that nickname. “I heard a story that [drummer] Kirk Johnson’s daughter went up to Prince in the kitchen and said, ‘I know your real name,’” Parke says. “He said, ‘What?’ And she just said, ‘Prince! Prince, Prince, Prince, Prince, Prince, Prince!’ ” Parke said. “He found that funny because she was a 7- or 8-year-old kid, but if she was an adult, it would not have gone over at all well!”
Prince married dancer Mayte Garcia (right) on Valentine’s Day 1996, and she was pregnant soon after. It was the one time that Prince’s workaholic priorities changed.
“One time [after Mayte became pregnant], around 9 p.m. I heard him yawn and stretch his arms. He said, ‘I guess we better knock off for the night.’ I was wired on caffeine and ready to go until 2 or 3 a.m. because that’s what we’d always do. He was starting to shift the way he was doing things.”
But the couple’s son, Amiir, was born with a rare congenital defect, and died at just 6 days old in October 1996. The musician’s response was once again to bury himself in work, and, according to Parke, he left for a promotional tour of Japan just days after. “[Work] was his fallback when things got hard,” Parke said.
Parke recalled how the Paisley Park staff went out for a late-night bowling session — and while everyone else had to wear the standard rental shoes, Prince was allowed to wear his outlandishly furry white boots (right). “He was renting out that entire bowling alley, so I’m sure they were like, ‘That’s fine — we’ll buff out whatever damage your boots do.’ I can’t remember what his bowling average was, but I can tell you he got a lot of a strikes, so [the boots] worked pretty well.” Prince’s basketball prowess was also legendary. “The first time I went to Paisley in 1988, I went out to the loading dock and there was a basketball court out there,” Parke said. “There was a bunch of people playing and Prince was one of them. I saw him step on to the court at one end, bounce the ball once and take a shot that went straight in. I don’t know if it was a regulation-sized court, but it was a lot further out than a three-pointer!”
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