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New book is ‘love letter to Prince and Purple Rain’ ahead of 40th anniversary

A side by side of an author and book cover.
In "Prince and Purple Rain: 40 Years," Andrea Swensson, a Minneapolis-based journalist and host/co-producer of the Official Prince Podcast, takes a deep dive into the legendary musician’s most famous album.
Author photo by Nate Ryan, MPR; Book cover courtesy of Quarto

The 40th anniversary of Prince’s best-selling album and film “Purple Rain” is next month on June 25 and 27 respectively. And on Tuesday, a new memorabilia- and picture-filled book will be released in honor of the occasion: “Prince and Purple Rain: 40 Years.”

Prince’s story is told by Minneapolis-based music journalist Andrea Swensson, who is also the host of the Official Prince Podcast, a Minnesota Book Award winner and former host of the Current’s Local Show. A long-time reporter on Prince and the Minnesota music beat, she calls her new book a “love letter” to his legacy.

It all began in 2014 when Swensson assembled a 30th-anniversary package for MPR News and the Current.

“And that really started this whole Prince adventure that I’ve been on over the last decade,” Swensson told MPR News on Monday.

“I started covering his career so closely when he was still with us and have done a lot of work around his legacy since we lost him. And I really wanted to take this opportunity to put together something that captured so many of these amazing stories about him, and really spoke to my own personal connection to his music and to his life and what he meant to me.”

Swensson describes the era of “Purple Rain” as iconic and world-building, calling the watershed film unrivaled in rock history. Prince’s influence, she said, is almost impossible to untangle from the fabric of the music industry over the last 40 years.

Swensson says she has interviewed each member of The Revolution — Bobby Z, BrownMark, Dr. Fink, Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin — at least three times.

“He wanted us to be a gang … and by the time we got to ‘Purple Rain,’ we were,” drummer Bobby Z recalls in the book. Bassist BrownMark affirmed: “We were experts … The way we rehearsed, I mean, ‘Purple Rain,’ I could fall asleep and probably play it. That’s how well we knew the whole set.”

“We’ve had some really, really memorable conversations,” Swensson said. “This was such a pivotal time in all of their lives. Wendy Melvoin was only 19-years-old when she joined Prince’s band. And her very first show is the night that they played at First Avenue and recorded ‘Purple Rain.’”

The book was put together and contributed to by a hyperlocal team, including photography from Greg Helgeson, Tommy Smith III and Nancy Bundt; private archivist Rich Benson; designer Cindy Laun; editor Dennis Pernu and art director Heather Godin. It’s filled with evocative photography, images of ticket stubs, posters and vinyl records, reflective quotes and iconic lyrics — transporting the reader back to the summer of 1984.

Writing the tribute conjured up some unexpected emotions for Swenson.

“There was something therapeutic to me about being able to revisit that meeting that I had with him because we did talk a lot about his feelings about anniversaries ... At the time that we met, he had two new albums in the can he was getting ready to put out,” she said. “So there was something really poignant and a little bittersweet to me to really sit with my notes and my memories of that night and be able to write about it in this way. And it did feel like some kind of full circle moment.”

“Prince and Purple Rain: 40 Years,” including a foreword by Maya Rudolph, debuts on May 21. There is a book release party on June 12 at Electric Fetus in Minneapolis; a pre-order is required.

A photo from Prince and the Revolution
Courtesy of Larry Williams
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