CHANHASSEN, MINN. — As soon as Kevin Lucken heard the news, he cleared his afternoon and drove to Paisley Park to honor the life and death of his favorite musician. Hooked on Prince since the fifth grade, Lucken guessed he had been inside the famed recording studio more than 100 times to see Prince perform. Over the years, he discovered a community there that was unmatched anywhere else in his life.
“It’s the one place I’ve gone where everybody has a mutual love for being there,” said Lucken, 42, who paused occasionally to wipe away tears and catch his breath. “From a very young age, I respected this man so much who was willing to say what everyone else was too afraid to say.”
Lucken was one of more than 100 fans and neighbors who gathered outside of Paisley Park in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen after learning of Prince’s death Thursday. As the morning rain gave way to a searing afternoon sun, visitors continued to arrive, often tinged with purple. The musician’s signature color appeared on shirts, in people’s hair and on the balloons and flowers that adorned a fence surrounding the compound.
Befitting the spirit of Minnesota respectfulness, police calmly directed traffic and allowed fans to lounge and roam on a grassy knoll outside of the fenced-in compound. Surrounded by a hum of TV vans and a roving helicopter overhead, visitors were eager to share their memories.
While the crowd included babies and teenagers, many fans were, like Lucken, in their 40s, with fond memories of Prince that began during their teenage years.
“I lived my misspent youth to a Prince soundtrack,” said Julie Swenson, 48, from Richfield, Minn., who works in health-care media relations.
Swenson had been dropping her car off for service at a nearby Ford dealership when she saw the news on CNN. Along with everyone else at the shop, she said she gripped her free coffee and stood, speechless, in front of the TV. When her rental car was ready, she drove to Paisley Park. “People are just drawn here,” she said. “We’re all dumbfounded, bewildered, mystified.”
Swenson’s childhood friend Ann Healey-Allen, also 48, soon arrived, and the two women reminisced about their younger days, when they used to drive around the Minneapolis lakes, singing along to Prince songs.
“One summer, the ‘Purple Rain’ movie was playing at the 99-cent theater in Minneapolis,” Healey-Allen said. “Every weekend for the summer, we went and saw ‘Purple Rain’ for 99 cents and sang all the songs and recited all the lines.”
“All of it,” Swenson added. “It was filmed in Minnesota, so all of the places were familiar to us.”
As private as Prince was, neighbors described him as a frequent presence in the area. He was often spotted grabbing coffee at Caribou, attending shows at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, driving his Honda motorcycle or riding his bicycle around the neighborhood.
Jennifer Benke, 48, grew up in Minneapolis and remembered summer evenings with her friends by the city’s lakes, where Prince’s purple limousine would often cruise by. At the time, he was still a local pop star, and sometimes, he would stop and hang out.
As a high school student, Benke wasn’t old enough to see Prince at First Avenue, a local venue that he helped make famous. But she had her own series of personal connections to the musician, including the time her friend’s younger brother, who had just learned to drive at age 16, rear-ended Prince’s car. “Prince got out of the car and said, ‘No damage, no problem, we’re good,’” Benke says. “And he drove away.”
More recently, Benke, who now lives down the road from Paisley Park, wondered why a child was being allowed to ride his bicycle in the middle of the street without a helmet — until she realized it was actually the diminutive musician.
“He’s so much a part of us in Minnesota,” said Anisa Thomas, 48, who owns a billboard company with her husband and lives in Ramsey, Minn. Just the other night, she said, she couldn’t sleep, so she watched “Purple Rain” for “like, the zillionth time.” When she heard Prince had died, she dropped everything to come pay her respects at Paisley Park. “It’s a piece of my childhood gone. It’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking.”
Not everyone who converged in Chanhassen after Prince’s death started life in Minnesota. Griffin Woodworth, 43, grew up in Iowa and fell for Prince at age 12, when his friend Joe gave him a copy of “Purple Rain.” It was the first album he ever owned, and it blew his mind. In graduate school, he wrote a dissertation about Prince, and he is working on a book about the artist.
“I was driving my daughter home from school when my wife called” with the news, Woodworth said, periodically crying as he spoke. He gave the 5-year-old lunch, got her started on her nap and then headed to Paisley Park, where he said he had seen Prince perform dozens of times. Like Lucken, Woodworth loved the bonding that happened during those shows, the feeling of being together with people who understood that they were seeing something amazing. “I’m so sorry I didn’t get to take my daughter to have that experience,” he said.
“I heard he was having a dance party on Saturday night, but I didn’t go and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll catch him next time,’” he added. “It sucks that this is happening now.”
Mixed in with the mourning, fans struggled to articulate how the one-of-a-kind artist changed them forever.
“No one will ever be better live. I’ll go to my grave with that,” Lucken said. “It’s very hard to explain but when you’re in there, and he walks into a room, he’s diminutive in size but his presence — you can literally feel it. It’s really incredible.
“I’ve been scripting in my mind for 30 years what I would say if I were ever to meet him,” he added. “There aren’t words beautiful enough to express what his music meant to me.”