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A book that is but isn't

Cover of The Beautiful Ones
A review of The Beautiful Ones by Prince with Dan Piepenbring

Prince was working on THE rock memoir of all time with journalist Dan Piepenbring when he unexpectedly died in April of 2016. Random House held the rights to the book but there wasn't enough content to complete it at that time. After a number of years and change in direction, the book was finally published under the prestigious Spiegel and Grau imprint this past October. The book is a stunning tribute but not the rock memoir it could have been. Prince's goal was for the book to be "a handbook for the brilliant community wrapped in autobiography wrapped in biography." The book still tells a story but it's the story of a life cut short.

The book started as a collaborative project with Prince and Piepenbring spending time together during three whirlwind months in the beginning of 2016. Editor Piepenbring notes that the pages of The Beautiful Ones represent a sliver of what they intended. The structure of the book is based on four things, covering childhood and adolescence culminating in Prince's album and film Purple Rain. The first part of the book is an introduction about how the book came to be, including brainstorming sessions, editorial meetings, and in-person time with Prince. The second part includes the actual handwritten pages Prince started writing for the memoir. Prince had a unique way of writing with abbreviations and pictographs and I initially had a difficult time deciphering them. I found myself skimming until my eyes and brain adjusted the way you might adjust to a magic eye picture. The pages are about Prince's family and there are expansions and asides made to Dan while they were in Melbourne. They are reprinted later in the book in typeface. What follows next are photos from 1977-1978 when Prince was 19 and staying in San Francisco to record his first album For You. Finally, there is a handwritten synopsis of what would become the film Purple Rain.

I can't imagine what it was like for Piepenbring to work on this book after Prince's death. There wasn't enough source material for the memoir that was originally planned but there was access to Prince's home and the Paisley Park archives after his death. More than 5200 items were reviewed including original lyric sheets, report cards, and personal family photos. Piepenbring describes looking for objects that communicated some intimacy and shed a new light on Prince's family and his art. Prince wanted his book to demonstrate his creative process and make his readers want to create, too. 

The Beautiful Ones is a beautiful book, but sad. I so wish there had been more time. I'm always moved and inspired when I hear Prince's music and this book is special to me for that reason.

Feb 10, 2020