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.