Review: The Most Beautiful

The male-dominated music world has never been kind to ex-wives or widows, and Mayte is clearly no exception.

Because I want this blog to be as well-researched as possible–and because I have a reputation to uphold as a leading Prince expert, lol–I’m making an effort to read all of the major books being published about Prince. This month, we started out with a big one–The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince, an intimate memoir by Prince’s first wife, Mayte Garcia.

To be honest, I’ve been a little surprised by the negative reactions to this book in the Prince fan community–though, as a longtime Yoko Ono apologist, I probably shouldn’t be. The male-dominated music world has never been kind to ex-wives or widows, and Mayte is clearly no exception. There is admittedly a case to be made that because Prince was such a private person, no stories should be told about his personal life; this, however, would be more than a little unfair to Mayte, who lived through the same experiences–and suffered the same grievous losses–as Prince in the 1990s. As she carefully notes in the introduction, this is first and foremost her story, and she has as much a right to tell it as anyone.

In any case, for those who have been on the fence about reading the book, maybe I can help put some concerns to rest. Context is everything, and when read in the proper context–i.e., not a deliberately attention-grabbing excerpt in People magazine–The Most Beautiful is far from a trashy tell-all. Indeed, Mayte seems to be going a little soft on her ex-husband, who she still acknowledges as her soulmate (she even has nice things to say about the Graffiti Bridge movie). There are certainly moments of anger–especially toward the end of their relationship–but she is clearly writing from a place of acceptance, affection, and mourning; the book’s prologue, where she recounts the moment when she heard of Prince’s death, is among the most moving pieces I’ve read about that sad day. I don’t know if Mayte wrote the book 100% on her own–I don’t see a ghost writer credited in the acknowledgments–but her voice is evident throughout, with a charming, personable tone that occasionally turns poetic, even metaphysical.

Reading her side of the story also helps brighten some of the darker corners of her and Prince’s life during this period. On paper, as a few interviewers have recently observed, their relationship didn’t look great: Mayte met Prince when she was 16 years old, and they maintained a friendship and professional interaction that, viewed uncharitably, can look an awful lot like grooming. Mayte, to her credit, leaves the readers to draw our own conclusions: she affirms her consent, and notes that they did not become physical until well after she was of legal age, but otherwise refuses to simplify the nuances of the situation. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a minor social-media backlash over this, similar to the post-death “revelation” that David Bowie had sex with minors; but hearing Mayte’s perspective makes their love affair sound much less sinister, even if it does still test the limits of social acceptability.

Also invaluable is Mayte’s perspective on the tragic loss of her two children with Prince–though it’s unsurprisingly a difficult part of the book to get through. For those of us who weren’t keeping up with the NPG in the ’90s, Mayte was perhaps most memorable for her and her husband’s bizarre 1996 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where they seemed to deny that their infant son had died as a result of a rare genetic disorder. Her book captures this moment in detail, revealing the emotions and humanity behind something that was widely sensationalized and misunderstood at the time. She also sets the record straight on a few things: including the name of their son, Amiir, who has been widely misidentified as “Boy Gregory” due to the paparazzi’s unchallenged misreading of his hospital intake papers.

These corrections of tabloid misinformation are a big part of why The Most Beautiful feels not only justified, but also necessary–and why it’s ironic that the book is being bashed, sight-unseen, as a kind of tabloid in its own right. Mayte’s depiction of her ex-husband is no hagiography, but it is complex and humanizing: she makes “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” a figure often depicted as the very definition of inscrutability, into a real person. I hope that in the years to come, we will get more glimpses behind this artist’s self-erected walls, and that they will be as warm and well-considered as this one; I for one would love to see his second wife, Manuela Testolini, write a book–and Susannah Melvoin, and Jill Jones, and Susan Moonsie, and anyone else whose life he touched. Prince probably wouldn’t have approved, it’s true–but then, he wouldn’t have approved of a lot of things (this blog included). And if he really is in the “Afterworld” he clearly believed in, then I have to imagine he has better things to do than read his own posthumous biographies. The bottom line is, you don’t have to read The Most Beautiful, and I certainly respect anyone’s decision not to; but if you’re interested, it comes with my highest recommendation.

You can support dance / music / sex / romance by purchasing The Most Beautiful (or anything else!) using my Amazon affiliate link. We’ll be back with another conventional post later this week.

By Zach

Recovering academic. Music writing at Slant, Spectrum Culture, and elsewhere. Arguably best known as the author of Dance / Music / Sex / Romance, a song-by-song chronological blog about the music of Prince.

11 replies on “Review: The Most Beautiful”

The audio book is like nothing I’ve ever heard. Her voice is beautiful, her emotion real and still raw. The inflection of her voice is mesmerizing to the point where when she is discussing conversations that she and Prince had, and she repeats what he said, you can almost hear him speaking through her voice. I never understood why people used the words “Tried to hide,” the baby’s death. Could they not see the pain they were in and that he simply did not want to share that with the world. I’m so glad she wrote this book and set alot of ugly straight.

I have heard that about the audio book, and it honestly makes me want to re-“read” the book! Re: the Oprah thing, I agree: it probably isn’t how I would have handled the situation, but knowing what we know about Prince, it makes absolute sense that it’s how he handled it. Also reminds me a bit of the party he threw at Paisley to show he was “OK” soon before he died–his way of coping was to pretend everything was normal.

I read it first and then listened to the audio–couldn’t agree more about the power of hearing her narration. Beautiful and tragic and totally worthy of the subject.

Agree with your review and Kim’s comment above. You can feel her love for him and her breaking heart when Amiir died and then her marriage just fell apart. I have both the written and audible version and I highly recommend the audible one. Her voice is lovely and she brings the words alive. I have to say that this is one of my favorite books now. I think I’ll be returning to it again and again.

Yeah, those last few chapters messed me up like few other books I’ve read. I lost a potential child to a miscarriage and that was rough, but I can’t even imagine going through what they did. It really puts so much of Prince’s life afterwards in perspective: his religious conversion, his aversion to looking back, his increased isolation, etc. It was good to see that pivotal moment discussed in a way that was empathetic and not sensationalized.

Beautifully written review/article! I was on the fence about buying the book (somehow it weirdly feels like a disloyalty to Prince) but am going to get the audio now for sure!

Thank you for your considered review of Mayte’s new book. In reference to what you said above, “The male-dominated music world has never been kind to ex-wives or widows, and Mayte is clearly no exception.”, I’m glad you said that because I’ve always been amazed at how her contribution to Prince’s work is minimized and disdained, even in photo captions. It blows my mind. I think it’s time that someone pointed out what a phenomenal dancer and performer she was in working with Prince. She added a huge amount of excitement and beauty to their performances and videos and I think that should be really emphasized. She’s absolutely fantastic. The other thing that has always struck me about what comes across in articles and interviews about their relationship, is the enormous amount of power he had over her. I recall an interview where she said that she didn’t even have a name to call him – she didn’t call him Prince, and the Love Symbol was unpronounceable. Can you imagine not having a name to call your own spouse? I hope that in private she really did have a name to call him, but if not – how horrible and dehumanizing. She was young and unknown, he was much older and a rich international superstar. She had no power at all – she had to please and accommodate. So – I think she should be shown a lot of respect and I think it was totally justified to write this book and tell her own story, which is a very interesting one in its own right. My impression is that she did it in the right spirit.

So, she kind of speaks to the “not calling him Prince” thing. The way she explains it is, basically, to her “Prince” was the superstar, not the guy she knew, so she never felt comfortable calling him that. It’s definitely odd, but I think at that level of fame, normal life stuff gets pretty weird. That being said, the power imbalance in their relationship is unavoidable–not just in terms of age (and the baseline gender inequality), but also because he was her employer for longer than he was her husband. She mentions after they got divorced that he retained the masters for her Child of the Sun album–the irony was not lost on her. And there are definitely parts of their relationship that made me raise my eyebrows; she talks about him hypnotizing her and having long conversations, which seems to have been a way for him to allow himself to be intimate, but of course she was always the one being hypnotized. It’s a fascinating book. Prince definitely comes across as deeply flawed, but human. As for Mayte, I definitely agree: I’m not crazy about self-identifying as a “fan,” but if I was a Prince “fan” before, I’m a Mayte “fan” now. I’m looking forward to digging into the music from this era again and hearing it with the benefit of her perspective.

I agree with you 100%, particularly about the irrational negativity that some project onto the wives of beloved rock stars. I think she did a thoughtful and sensitive job and appreciate that she chose to share her version of the unique experiences she shared with him. I also think this book makes a good case that she was more significant as an artistic collaborator than she is generally given credit for.

Definitely–and this touches on some similar things Elizabeth said, too. I’m so much more interested in Kamasutra, etc. now that I know more about the process behind it–most discussions I’ve seen have been like, eh, it was just some dance thing Mayte did. Her being an active participant in his music during this period enriches it, I think.

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