I grew up in Chanhassen, Minn., a small, ordinary suburb of the Twin Cities that also happened to be the part-time home of Prince Rogers Nelson.
Prince, in all his expressive, eccentric, flamboyant glory, was everything that Chanhassen was not. His presence and everything he stood for was starkly juxtaposed against this white backdrop. As a result, he was always shrouded in an aura of mystery. His studio, situated between a storage facility and the weather station, stood like a strange, solitary fortress. All I knew about it was that some nights it lit up purple to signal that Prince was likely to perform that night. It wasn’t until after Prince’s passing that I learned that behind those seemingly impenetrable white walls lay a whimsical mansion with purple ceilings and a hidden vault filled with secret music.
Prince was Chan’s living legend. His fluid gender expression, the spectacle he curated with every public appearance, his refusal to adhere to Chanhassen’s sartorial norms — all were a welcome diversion from our bread-and-butter community, and people revered him for it. He traveled through the town in whispers, and every member of the community had their own story about him, or had at least heard a few. I asked a few of my high school classmates to share their tales.
“I heard once that people saw a purple limo in the Chaska Super Target parking lot and thought for sure it was Prince,” remembers Lindsay LaBarre.
Savannah Riese, whose parents own Chanhassen’s Goddard School, described the day that Prince walked into their daycare to visit the child of a family friend. “My parents looked up and Prince was staring at them over the desk!” she said. “He was wearing platform shoes. My parents were ridiculously surprised but they said he was a very quiet and soft-spoken guy.”
Another classmate (who asked that I not use her name) was on a bike ride with her mother, stuck at the intersection of Highway 5 and Audubon (near Paisley Park). Neither of them noticed the black luxury sedan at the stoplight. Disregarding the red light and her mother’s caution, my classmate made for a shortcut tunnel that was closed off for construction, her mom yelling hysterically behind her. Suddenly both fell silent as they turned and saw Prince behind the rolled-up window of the car, chuckling to himself at their bickering. Today, that tunnel is covered with lyrics and notes in his memory.
Prince’s color and warmth affected Chan in other ways, too. His Paisley Park shows sometimes ended in movies, where he’d bus everybody over to the local cinema that he’d rented out. Will Lemieux described working at these movie parties in high school.
“We’d get a call the evening of the screenings. They were always incredibly last minute,” he said. “Prince usually paid for his guests to get free popcorn and a drink, so we’d be popping corn and filling drinks as fast as we could. Once everyone had taken their seats, Prince arrived. We were always told to just treat him like a regular dude, so we did…I’m not sure at that point in my life I understood what a massive celebrity he was, and I hadn’t yet discovered his music. Now, I can say I have a massive amount of respect for the man he was.”
Prince’s legacy in Chanhassen goes beyond eccentric legend. His influence subtly nudged our community in a creative direction, cultivating respect and support for the arts. When I was a kid attending Chanhassen Elementary, Prince gave a large anonymous donation to the music department. My classmates and I went on to be one of the first classes at the new Chanhassen High School, and Prince’s contribution to our music education planted a seed for the nationally recognized arts programs at our high school.
Financial support, though, was only a fraction of what Prince gave us. He guided Chanhassen toward openness, dialogue, and community through his encouragement of art and expression. Yes, Prince’s legendary celebrity was our claim to fame, but his real gift to Chanhassen was a lesson: be colorful, be passionate, be glamorous, be unapologetic, and above all, be yourself.
Raisa Elhadi is a student at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.