FRESH AIR: Dan Piepenbring was a 29-year-old editor of the literary magazine The Paris Review in 2016 when he met Prince for the first time — and agreed to help the musical icon pen a memoir. It was the assignment of a lifetime for a writer who had not yet published a book, but Prince wanted someone he could open up to — and Piepenbring fit the bill. “If there was any advantage to the kind of guilelessness that I brought to our conversations, it was that it let me listen to him very openly and without judgment,” Piepenbring says. “He didn’t want someone who was going to be judging him for wanting to break the mold of the memoir.”
But Prince died from an opioid overdose on April 21, 2016, just a few months after that initial meeting, leaving Piepenbring to finish the project alone. At first, he wasn’t sure how to continue. Then he visited Paisley Park, Prince’s estate outside of Minneapolis, and he began to see a path forward. While sifting through Prince’s belongings, he came across a collection of handwritten lyrics that had been clipped together. The songs included “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” and other hits that spanned Prince’s career.
The pages, Piepenbring recalls, “were all alive with these cross-outs and revisions and erasures. … They seemed the perfect testament to his creative process, which is something that he had wanted to bring across in the book.” Looking back, Piepenbring says, “that was one moment where we knew that we could carry forth, that we could make the book happen, even in his absence, because here he was in these pages.” The new book, The Beautiful Ones, includes pages Prince had already written, as well as an essay by Piepenbring about working with Prince. It also contains photos of Prince, handwritten song lyrics and images of items Piepenbring found in the vaults at Paisley Park. MORE