A Death In The Family: St. Paul Of The Family Remembers Prince, The Teacher
Photos courtesy of Steven Parke.
Because we enjoy Prince‘s records almost as much as we enjoy a good Prince story, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in reminiscing about Prince, the Idea; Prince, the mysterious force for musical good…and forget to honor Prince Rogers Nelson, the individual, the very talented, fragile yet powerful human being. Which is why it seems appropriate to end our series of #PrinceDay interviews on what may be the most moving, the most personal and insightful.
In addition to being a member of The Time, St. Paul Peterson was the face of The Family, the Prince group who originally recorded the classic “Nothing Compares 2 U” before Sinead O’Conner (and then Prince’s own) version made it a touchstone of pop music for a generation. As we shared with you all, 7 hours and 13 days after Prince’s transition The Family reunited to perform the song in Prince’s honor, making a profoundly moving little bit of musical history. But St. Paul spoke with Okayplayer by phone, from Minneapolis, just days after the news shocked the world…and he had yet to achieve that catharsis, or closure that art can help us achieve when confronted with unacceptable loss. In this extremely intimate interview, he shared with Okayplayer his struggle to come to terms with the news, his relationship with his musical mentor and the true meaning of the word, Family. The Prince he chooses to remember, is one we hope you all carry with you as well:
St. Paul: For some reason, this incredible weight has been on my shoulders. I’ve had people staying in my house. Susannah’s been here and, you know, Wendy and Lisa have been over here. Matt Blisten and Eric Leeds and, you know, we’ve just been holding up and I, (deep sigh) I’ve been really, personally processing this. The thing that I’m feeling, which is weird, is just this terrible weight, man, that’s been kinda covering all of us I guess.
I even took a … I took a drive out to Paisley yesterday. Just to witness it as a fan, I wasn’t trying to get in. Karen didn’t want any of that stuff. I just wanted to go out and see what this man meant to his fans and how beloved he was and to witness it from that point of view, read the signs, look at all the balloons that are … there must be 20,000 balloons or something crazy like that, hanging for about a quarter to half a mile of the fence surrounding the complex…where I used to work, where I used to have an office with my brother, and pointing out, reminiscing about my time there, my, my room up there. It’s the most surreal, out of body, weird experience in my life. Not till, I started to shed a tear yesterday while I was there, but of course I got interrupted by (chuckles) by someone, so I couldn’t really follow through on it and I’m just kind of waiting organically for that to happen. Think it just did, watching these. It’s good. (breathes heavily)
I guess that’s what I was gonna, I was trying, um, to put into words. For me as a, as a fan that D’Angelo performance and even just listening to the old recordings that you guys made, again is something so pure about it…
St. Paul: Pure. That’s a good word.
OKP: …to be able to enjoy it as a fan from from a distance. I just wonder, are you able to? Having been as you say, been inside the factory. Inside the nuts and bolts of that dream factory, making those things. Are you able to have that, sort of pure connection with it? I,t must be a bit like watching yourself in a movie, as you said…
St. Paul: You know, I don’t really know how to describe it. I wish I could give you a more accurate description of where my heart is at and where, uh, where my emotions are at, but I’m having a really difficult time pinpointing how to feel. Of course, I feel a great loss and, and, uh, as a fan and a former employee and as a mentee, of someone who, you know, uh, really jumpstarted my career, oh so long ago. (chuckles) There’s a lot of feelings and raw emotions to it.
To really deal with and I think most important man, is just, you know, part of my childhood and, and part of music history is gone and that’s, that is, uh, a lot to deal with. So you know what I’m doing, man, is I’m just, I’m praying and…I know he’s cool, it’s the rest of us fools who are [laughs] who are left to deal with, uh, the aftermath of that.
You know, when you have a shocking death like that, I mean really, I equate it to someone like Princess Di. I’ve never seen anything like the television coverage, the memorials, that kind of thing. I remember when Princess Di died, [coughs] that vigil and the, and the, uh, outpouring of love in the form of flowers and notes and things like that. That’s the only thing that I can equate this to is. He really was royalty. And sometimes because you work with him, you forget that stuff.
OKP: I was struck that you guys [members of The Family/fDeluxe] kind of all came together. People staying at your house…we need people around us in these times, and loss does bring us closer together. What has been the group or the communal conversation that you guys are having there?
St. Paul: Mostly, a lot of unspoken things. I think just being in the presence of each other, helps us deal with the shock of it. You know, lots of funny stories and things like that, we are memorializing him with those kinds of things, you know. It’s just like you do with anybody else in the family; through each other you kind of get through these kinds of things. One thing I will say about my encounter with him so long ago is that he put me in touch with and introduced me to people who have been my lifelong friends.
I mean, Eric Leeds and I are like best friends. We make music together. We have made music together for over 30 years. Susannah is part of our family. She’s stays here, I’ve stayed at her house. It goes with everybody else. Wendy, Lisa, Sheila, so many of these friendships have outlasted I think anything what anybody would ever have imagined and that’s, that’s what I think impacts us the most. He was not only was he an incredible person, Prince was able to put, you know, pick talent out. Through those relationships, or through those bands, we became really lifelong friends because there’s a specific bond [chuckles] that we all share, an experience that you can’t explain to anybody. No matter how hard you try. Being through the, uh, the Prince camp, it is a, it’s a very exclusive club, you know, not a lot of people had the opportunity to go through. And those of us that did, I think it really bonded us for life.
OKP: Obviously Eric and Susannah and you are, are sort of actively working together with fDeluxe and making music…but has this moment, caused you to reconnect with anybody from that camp so to speak, that you’ve just been out of touch with or estranged from?
St. Paul: We’ve never really been estranged from, from anyone, it’s just life happens. I reached out to, people like Jerome and Andre, who I was in a band with, and we’ve been in contact. Yeah. You know, we’re just checking in, seeing how everybody’s doing. … It is really cool to watch this community come together and just lift each other up.
OKP: I have to ask, I think in some ways, the main question that’s been on my mind this … You know, it’s impossible to get away from this word, Family. This was a man who obviously in some ways, uh, not to assume or to speak ill of him, but he obviously in some ways struggled with the idea of family. And yet, he brought all these people together and he named his band, The Family. and in some ways, you know, creating community, not just picking talent…
St. Paul: (laughs) Yeah.
OKP: Do you see that in him, that he was trying to surround himself with a family?