Panic, joy, shock: Dan Piepenbring felt them all when Prince plucked him to collaborate on his first memoir, followed by more shock and profound sadness at news of the superstar's death while the book was in its early stages.
Though the project was thrown into chaos when Prince died on April 21, 2016, of an accidental drug overdose, his estate decided to press on, allowing Piepenbring and his publishing team free access to the pieces of his life left behind at his beloved Paisley Park, including the contents of his vault.
Now, the highly-anticipated collaboration, The Beautiful Ones, is ready for Prince fans to read, propelling the 33-year-old journalist to explain how he sorted it all out.
"There was a sense even from the start that it couldn't really be happening," Piepenbring said of his involvement. "It felt very surreal. There was also just a sense of joy, I think, at the possibility of meeting someone that I held in such high regard, someone whose music had been the soundtrack to the better part of my youth."
The book out today from Spiegel & Grau includes no bombshells, though Prince very much wanted to provide some, and a mere 28 memoir pages written in his elegant script and quirky style, replacing the word "I" with a drawing of a human orb, for instance. All told, Piepenbring spent 12 to 15 hours face-to-face with Prince in Minneapolis, New York and on tour in Melbourne.
Their last conversation was four days before Prince died. It was focused on his parents and their conflicting influences in his life. His father, John L Nelson, was a disciplined, God-fearing jazz musician with an explosive temper. His mother, Mattie Della Shaw, was a beautiful, fun-loving party girl with a stubborn, irrational streak — and a sneaky flair, as Prince wrote:
"She would spend up what little $ the family had 4 survival on partying with her friends, then trespass in2 my bedroom, 'borrow' my personal $ that eye'd gotten from babysitting local kids, & then chastise me 4 even questioning her regarding the broken promises she made 2 pay me back."
The tumultuous nature of his parents' relationship had a lasting impact.
"The wound of Ur parents fighting is chilling when U're a child," Prince wrote. "If it happens 2 become physical, it can be soul-crushing."
Their conflicts, divorce when he was 7 and the impact on Prince is the book's prevailing theme.
"So much of his writing is about division in some way and the fight to make oneself whole again," Piepenbring said. "There's this kind of brokenness that he's always working to repair."
Prince had big ideas for the book, considering at one time a "how to" on making it in the music business without selling your soul. At another point, he suggested that he and Piepenbring figure out a way to end racism and he wanted to focus on the importance of creative freedom.
There's also an abundance of hand-drawn childhood doodles and cartoons, along with lyrics Prince often wrote on whatever was handy, including a brown paper bag.