By Sam Bleazard
Inevitably a year on from the death of Prince Rogers Nelson a slew of books have appeared giving further insight on the famously guarded and private purple enigma. What makes this The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince different is that Mayte Janelle Garcia was an audience member at a concert, a member of his band and entourage, his wife, the mother of his child and then finally a stranger at arms length. Added to all this, she was also the closest person to the singer and multi instrumentalist during arguably his most turbulent period, the infamous “Slave” years of the 1990s. In her attempt to peel away certain layers of his mystique, inevitably a man lauded as a creative genius is revealed to be as fickle, flawed and fallible as the rest of us. To her credit Mayte steers well clear of lurid bedroom tales, but doesn’t shy away from the darkest aspects of his personality.
What it doesn’t do is focus on the music – for the definitive accounts on his greatest works check out Per Nilssen’s superbly researched Dance Music Sex Romance or Dave Hill’s Pop Life – instead choosing to throw light on his struggles and insecurities. Mayte is also unerringly honest about the problems she encountered within her own family background, this tragically involved physical abuse by a close relative and a domineering mother.
The fairytale of her teenage years is a head-spinning one which takes place at breathtaking speed: being picked out by Prince at a concert, meeting him, talking at length to the superstar over the phone and then being flown across to Minneapolis as a teenager to be part of his New Power Generation (on the strength of a VHS tape of belly-dancing). In fact, one of the saddest parts of the book highlights the great irony that Mayte is at one point reflecting on the sacrifices she’s made (lucrative offers to dance in different countries) to be holed up, and largely alone in Minneapolis on a basic wage that barely covers her rent. That she has to flag to Prince, who’s clearly falling in love with her at this point, that she’s no more than another one of the employees on the payroll, highlights the slight subservience of her role in the relationship, which sets the tone for what comes later in their relationship.
That Prince was besotted with her is not in doubt, however she’s also partly a project in his mind, a creative canvass, a clothes horse, and someone to project and further extend his many ideas. It says a lot for her strength of character that Mayte is able to push back on things such as suggested name changes – regardless of Prince’s endless requests to rename her “Arabia”, she eventually flatly refuses. Of course in a one person account, you are only getting one side of the story and it’s also worth bearing in mind that a ghost-writer may have been used to pull the narrative together. However, it always feels like a genuine voice speaking, and as someone who endures the traumatic loss of a child shortly after birth – without question the saddest part of this story – she comes across as well balanced and philosophical in reflecting on such strange and unique life experiences.
Is it worth reading? Undoubtedly, and what emerges is a workaholic genius, who even to those closest to him operated in the shadows and span more creative plates than would seem possible to mere mortals. Illness and possible dabbles with prescription drugs are hinted at, but she’s honest in saying that even in his lowest moments it would hard to be conclusive about their effect.
An almost vampiric figure, romantic, driven, schizophrenic, driven by libidinous impulses – we knew some of these things already, but this is a genuine insight from one of Prince’s most important protege’s: first wife and muse. You don’t get the whole picture, but you get a big piece of the puzzle, which will leave many tinged with sadness and others knowing more about the man than maybe he might have wanted.
Many claim to be unique, but for all the pain and bittersweet reality, the overwhelming sense this account leaves you with is that creatively Prince is an artistic force who’s sorely missed, and that Mayte is one of many in the flickering light of that shooting star who wishes she could have saved him.