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Grief At The Gates At Paisley Park: Mourning Prince In Minnesota

Ana Marie Cox visits the heartbroken fans outside the gates of Prince’s studio

Only people with flowers have been allowed to approach the gates at Paisley Park. So people walk up, lay down their wreaths or bouquets, and hug the middle-aged black woman in a Prince sweatshirt. She is reportedly an employee of the estate, but the ad hoc nature of the security here makes it seem just as likely that she's a self-appointed gatekeeper.

There is something of the flavor of an extended family gathering to the afternoon, the sense of shy curiosity and cautious respect born of knowing you're related but not quite sure how. There is no predominate skin tone. The only color is purple.

What the people here really have in common is that they are crying, or are about to cry, or are trying not to cry. The purple and the tears are the only real clues about what could have ever drawn together a crowd this diverse. Though it isn't just the mixture of races that's noticeable — it's the range of ages, from babes in arms and toddlers to gray-haired women in flowing tunics with faded tattoos. There's a guy in a ratty Ramones shirt and another in a safety vest and hard hat. An interracial couple hold hands as they rest two red roses on the grass. There are families here and knots of teenagers. More than once, I saw women in professional clothes dart forward to place a flower on the fence and then scurry away, studiously avoiding the scrum of media. I hurry after one: "I'm not ready," she says. “Sorry.”

A woman in dark glasses hunches over a whole pot of purple petunias before setting it at the gates. She doesn't want to talk, either.

What had been a rainy day suddenly turns gloriously sunny and the lawn across the street from Paisley Park sprouts mounds of coats and bags. They are unattended while mourners form small groups, consoling each other.

"All I remember is that he got banned in Alabama," a gentleman in a collared shirt tells me, when I ask how he first heard Prince. "You can look it up. He wasn't allowed on the radio, so you had to hear his music from friends. We passed it around." He laughs, "It was from him I first learned the word ‘masturbation' — before ‘Darling Nikki,' I didn't even know what that word meant."

Later, he says, he started to understand there was more there than dirty words. Later, he says, "I saw what he meant musically, culturally, socially."

A woman tells me she first heard Prince in elementary school: "And I knew something about him was different, because I was different."

And of course that's the other thing they all have in common: They all feel different, different in the same way Prince was different, which is to say uncategorizably different, so different that it doesn't even have a name.

Two older women sit on the curb with a boom box cranking out Prince's greatest hits. They are chair-dancing and crying, alternately waving their hands in the air and hugging each other. "This is what he would have wanted," one tells me. "He's not really gone, I don't believe he is. He is with us right now" — she points to the boom box — "and he always will be."

Prince on MTV: