1 Jul 2017

A Purple Pilgrimage to Paisley Park by Georgia Duder-Wood

From RNZ Music, 2:10 pm on 1 July 2017
Georgia Duder-Wood

Georgia Duder-Wood Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Georgia Duder-Wood is a life-long Prince fan. In April, she travelled to Minneapolis to attend the official commemorations of his death at his home and recording studio, Paisley Park.

You can hear the two programmes documenting her experience, as well as see a full photo gallery here: Prince part one: artist, non-conformist, saviour and Prince part two: the finest man in pumps I have ever met

Here is the story of Georgia’s lifelong love of ‘the purple one’.

In 1983 I was the only kid, the freaky kid at Milford Primary, a school in possibly the whitest suburb in Auckland, listening to a black soul brother from Minneapolis: Prince.

Georgia outside First Avenue, where Purple Rain was filmed

Georgia outside First Avenue, where Purple Rain was filmed Photo: Jennifer Butcher

‘Little Red Corvette’ and the album 1999 had just gone mainstream, so a ten-year-old in a less than groovy part of Auckland, could find the funk.

The following year was Purple Rain and, although I was not allowed to see the film until I was much older, the album was enough. I was smitten.

My fascination with Prince wasn’t sexual – unlike other fans I’ve met, who found their sexual awakening in his smoldering bambi eyes and tight trou. As a prepubescent and then hormonally-driven teenage girl I was a little repulsed by his lasciviousness. I still am.

It was his music, always his music. Even then I somehow knew his compositions and sound were unique, clever, a cut above. Then – and still now, his music spoke to me in a way that seemed greater than the sum of its parts.

In my late twenties a potential deal-breaker with my now-husband was whether we should drive across two states in America (a fourteen hour round trip) to see Prince live. I said to him “If you don’t understand why I have to go, you don’t understand me, and thus we’ll never work. Simple.”

Later, in my thirties, ‘Purple Rain’ was my song of choice at graduation from Higher Ground, where I’d sought treatment for marijuana addiction.

Prince’s music was early recovery.

On set once as an actor, working with doves, I let one go and made a wish. A couple of days later in Australia I was on stage with Prince, so close that I could see his glittery hairspray.

I’d known, just known, that he was about to ask his backing singer to “get some folks up” and was at the stairs at the side of his Prince symbol-shaped stage and walking toward him before he’d even spoken to her.

He didn’t look at all surprised to see me. He just told me as I danced a few feet from him, grinning like a loon, “not to come any closer”. I said “Namaste brother”, and danced in total joy as he and the band held down a fat groove.

As I and the lucky few others gyrated away, he said, “Maybe I should get y’all some dance lessons“, but, like everything about this man it was given in love: a cheeky purple pixie reminding us that nobody, but nobody, could dance like him.
 
Last year I camped out over night to be first in line for in-person purchase for tickets for both shows of his “Piano & a Microphone Tour”. (My husband just sighed and told me to be safe overnight in Auckland’s CBD.) They sold out in ten minutes, but not before the ticket sales sites crashed from overload.

Promo shot of Prince ahead of his 2016 NZ tour

Promo shot of Prince ahead of his 2016 NZ tour Photo: Supplied

I got a seat eight rows from the front, centre stage.

The shows were an astonishing display of musicianship and stagecraft from a performer at the top of his game after a lifetime of perfecting an already significant talent.

I’ve never heard such perfection in pitch and placement and range and tonal diversity in live singing, ever. And all while sitting down, and playing the piano as capably as any jazz pianist I’ve ever seen.

It was more electric than any of his previous performances I’d seen with his full band, for it was pure Prince, the man sharing his genius in utter, intimate joy. 

April 21st 2017, around 7am, just a few months after this exceptional night. I was half-asleep. My husband was reading the news on his phone and called out, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry, Prince is dead.”

I dismissed it - I’d read earlier that month about Judi Dench’s death hoax – but within seconds the texts began: friends and musicians I work with contacting me in condolence. I’d made no secret of my love for this man and his influence on me musically and people reached out like I’d lost a dear friend.

My birthday two days later was completely clouded by grief. I inscribed, in huge letters in the sand at Piha, “RIP Prince. 1958- 2016”, knowing the sea would wash the words clean, but not his impact on my life. 

This April there was no choice; I had to go to his home and recording complex Paisley Park in Minneapolis for the official commemorations. It would be my birthday present (and Christmas, for the next five years! my husband joked).

Georgia in Paisley Park's Studio B

Georgia in Paisley Park's Studio B Photo: Jennifer Butcher

I heard his most significant musicians play tribute, listened to panel discussions of his artistic collaborators and met fellow fans. 

As if being at Paisley Park on my actual birthday wasn’t enough, I then found myself chosen to dance onstage, Prince’s stage.

The manager of Morris Day and The Time approached me as I danced by the sound desk (I needed the space and it has, by definition the best sound in the room) and said “Yo sexy mama, I’ve checked you, we need you side stage in ten minutes. You dig?”  I dug.
 
My love of Prince, though he does not live to make more music, will live on every time I hear his voice. As a singer, voice artist and teacher of voice, I can appreciate sublime vocal technique, but again, it’s something more: the vibration of it, Prince’s aural DNA.

It’s a voice that instantly opens my heart, centres me and makes me sense something greater than myself. In short, it connects me to me and then me to the world. I love Stevie Wonder, I love Donny Hathaway, I love Sting, but Prince is in a whole other league.

As a professional singer, an oft-quoted reply to the question of why I didn’t write my own songs had been “I can’t/won’t write like Prince, or Cole Porter, so what’s the point?“  

Now, after this death, this has changed. I’m honouring what I believe is his most important legacy - his example of being true to oneself – in a deeper way, and putting my thoughts and feelings to music. Most recently, of course, in a song about him.  

This one’s for you little purple man. Thank you.  

Georgia Duder-Wood is a singer, actor and vocal artist with two decades of performance experience. She's worked in international musical theatre, had longstanding musical residencies in jazz and soul, worked as a guest artist in cabaret and concerts, and is a specialist singer for recording and session work.

Georgia's written a song in tribute to Prince, called 'Purple One (There will Never B)', which has been recorded by her new jazz/funk band Regroovination.

Georgia lives in a yurt on Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf.