Local Current Blog

‘He wanted to be bigger than life, and he was’: Susannah Melvoin tells podcast about loving Prince

Susannah Melvoin at The Current in 2016. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Prince always wore tube socks to bed, and he liked to spend nights watching In Living Color with a bowl of popcorn. These are things that only close friends of his would know. Or, perhaps, someone who was once engaged to him.

Musician Susannah Melvoin met and worked with Prince in the 1980s, forming a bond that would eventually lead to a proposal. In 2016 Melvoin told The Current about her relationship with Prince, and then recently sat down with Touré (author of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon) on his podcast “Touré Show.”

In the 90-minute episode, Melvoin discusses Prince at length, beginning with the moment she met him at age 17 up until the last time she spoke with him on the phone.

Melvoin’s twin sister Wendy plays with the Revolution, as does Wendy’s musical partner Lisa Coleman. The three were roommates in L.A. in the ’80s, and Prince would often crash at their house when visiting California for work.

It was on one of these visits that Prince discovered Melvoin was sleeping on a horribly sagging mattress, and sent a brand new one, as well as a new box spring, to her door the next morning. This marked the beginning of a long but never dull courtship.

“I was getting a focused attention from him, and I knew that was unique,” Melvoin remembers. “He would send flowers to my door for two years straight.”

Melvoin would visit Prince in the studio constantly, making her an eyewitness to some of the most formidable years of Prince’s career. It was actually in a studio restroom that Melvoin and Prince shared their first kiss. “He opens the door, shuts it tight, pushes me up against the wall and he just starts kissing my face.” Melvoin recalls. “He said: ‘I can’t stop thinking about you. Okay, that’s all I wanted to say.’ Then he opens the door and he goes out.”

When it came time to record, Melvoin says that Prince wrote quite a few of his songs as he went along.  He always started with a drum pattern and then would layer all of the other instruments on top. She got to see his entire creative process, except for one key component: the vocals. “You weren’t there ever to see him sing.” She says. “Everyone had to be out. He would record his own vocals, so nobody was in the studio when he would do that.”

The Revolution were obviously a huge part of this process as well. Since Melvoin lived with Wendy and Lisa, she had a front-row seat to observe the relationship that Prince had with his band. “They were very great players, and he also loved them. With them, it seemed to be cohesive. It all worked really well.”

With the Revolution by his side, Prince recorded hit after hit. Melvoin fondly remembers “Sometimes It Snows In April,” which she says was a song dear to Prince’s heart. She goes on to point out that it was written on April 21, 1986. Prince passed away on April 21, 2016. It’s coincidences like this that really stick out to Melvoin. “He has always been a unique alien,” she says

“Nothing Compares 2 U,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Empty Room,” and “Crystal Ball” were some of the songs Prince wrote specifically about Melvoin. But even though their relationship was beautiful enough to write about, it wasn’t always perfect. “He could be really mean,” Melvoin said. “It didn’t matter if you stood up to it or not.” Prince had a temper, but Melvoin only recalls having one big fight with him.

They were in Paris for the filming of Under the Cherry Moon, in which she was originally meant to play the lead. One day, Prince woke her up and said: “I don’t want you to be in the film. I want you to be my wife.” Just like that, they were engaged.

Although their engagement didn’t end in marriage, Melvoin says it is something that she wouldn’t trade for the world. “I felt blessed to have a working relationship with him, and then one that was intimate at the same time.” She fondly remembers deep conversations that they would have over milkshakes at Minnehaha Falls. She knew him in a way that few people did.

Melvoin found out that Prince had died while she was in class one day, getting her college degree. She left class and hopped on a flight with her kids in tow. She didn’t have a plan, but she remembers the aftermath of his death as being nothing short of horrible. At the same time, it reinforced to her how large of an impact he had on the world, and on her. “He had grand ideas for himself,” she says. “He wanted to be bigger than life, and he was.”