I got a text from Prince’s assistant. That’s how things go in the Prince universe: You get a pre‑message saying that a phone message is coming later. But this time, the message said something different. It said that there was going to be a roller‑skating party that night, for Valentine’s Day, and that I should bring some cool people.
I was puzzled. What did Prince mean by “cool,” exactly? I wasn’t sure if he was trusting me with the word or with the concept. I texted back: “Cool?” It turned out they meant the people who were already with me: Mos, Talib, Jill, Erykah, Common. I started to line people up in my mind and called them to give them the news. I thought they would do backflips: a party with Prince? To my amazement, most of them weren’t up for it. Jill came backstage and told me that she was tired. Talib said that he needed to be in bed before midnight. I ran into Alan Leeds, who led me to Raphael’s dressing room, where Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy were sitting and talking. I went to my same pitch:
“Hey, guys, want to go roller‑skating with Prince?”
“Right,” Alan said. “I’ll be in the grave before I’m in skates.”
“Right,” Chris said. “Like I’m skating with these knees.”
“Right,” Raphael said. “I’m too old for that shit.”
I was confused and a little depressed. How good were these people’s lives that they could pass on Prince’s roller‑skating party? Only one man was brave enough—visionary enough—to see what lay before us, and that was Eddie Murphy. “This is historical,” he said. “For starters, I need to see if Prince can roller‑skate. I’m a comedian, and honestly, what’s funnier than that?”
Prince’s assistant texted me directions to a rink in Glenside, way out in the middle of nowhere. It was around one in the morning by the time we drove out there, and the place was empty, a bare rink, and I started to worry that I had the wrong place, or that I had been punked. Maybe Alan and Chris were in on the joke. Maybe they were all somewhere laughing. Then I saw DJ Rashida and some of her friends skating. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey there,” she said. They were so happy to see us that I started to feel bad that I hadn’t brought more people. “No,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Prince likes to keep things intimate. A dozen people is a big crowd to him.” That may have been true, but it was crazy for her to say, as a DJ, and just as crazy for me, as a DJ, to hear. Do you know how hard it is to entertain a crowd that small?
The rink staff was professional, if a little nonplussed. “He’s paying for us to stay open,” one guy told me. “Let’s make the best of it. What’s your shoe size?”
My girlfriend and I skated for about an hour. No Prince, no nothing, and the longer we went, the stranger it seemed. Was he coming? Was he up in the rafters, laughing? It was a strange setup, to say the least. Someone was putting down cash to keep the kid behind the snack bar there, watching the pizza bake under the heat lamp. He should have been home studying for his spelling test.
Around two in the morning we were ready to go. Still no Prince, and the anthropological benefit of watching this strange half‑attended all‑skate was wearing off. Suddenly, Eddie came in.
They were clear skates that lit up, and the wheels sent a multicolored spark trail into your path.
“Hey,” he said. “I have an idea. Maybe don’t take those skates off just yet.”
And there he came, Prince, followed by a Princely entourage: his wife, Manuela; Larry Graham; some kids. I didn’t recognize the kids but they were a familiar type—show‑biz small‑fry, like I was all those years ago, when my father took me down to the green room to meet KISS.
Prince was carrying a big briefcase in his hand, and he was acting all mysterious, like it contained the glowing substance from Pulp Fiction or something. He made like he was going to open it, then stopped, then started again. Then he walked toward me.
“Where’s your phone?”
“What?” I said.
“Yeah, right, what?” he said. “I know you have it, Ahmir. Where is it?”
I thought maybe he wanted to make a phone call. I admit now that’s not a plausible reading of the situation, but it was all so surreal. “It’s here,” I said.
He took it from me and turned it over in his hand. “Your coat is in coat check?”
“Put this with it.”
“Why? You think I’m going to record something?”
“Check the phone.”
“What about him?” I pointed at Eddie. “You’re not going to take his phone? He’ll tell everyone.”
Eddie put up his hands. “Hey, man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. My phone’s in the car.”
I put the phone in coat check. Prince was asking me. I was being asked by Prince. It was Prince who was asking me. And fine, maybe I didn’t understand any part of what was happening, but sometimes you just have to launch yourself out into the river of an evening.
When I got back, Prince had the briefcase out on the floor. He clicked the lock and opened it, and took out the strangest, most singular pair of roller skates I had ever seen. They were clear skates that lit up, and the wheels sent a multicolored spark trail into your path.
He took them out and did a big lap around the rink. Man. He could skate like he could sing. I watched him go, so transfixed that I didn’t even notice Eddie Murphy appearing at my arm. “I’m going to go get your phone for you,” he said.