Paisley Park tours, Minneapolis: Inside Prince's amazing home studio

For Baby Boomers there has long been a pilgrimage for fans of the greatest rock'n'roll star of their generation. Graceland opened in 1982, five years after Elvis Presley's death. It is one of Memphis, Tennessee's most famous attractions.

But now Generation X, my generation, has its own music memorial mecca to journey to.

Paisley Park is the former home and recording studio of Prince. The prolific artist behind hits like 1999, When Doves Cry and Kiss, his career spanned 30 years and it's hard to overstate his impact on popular music.

The star passed away at just 57 two years ago in the elevator of the property (the second anniversary of his death is on April 21). In August the same year, Paisley Park opened for tours. It may seem a bit too soon, but staff assure me Prince always intended for Paisley Park to open to the public at some point.

Located outside Minneapolis in Minnesota, where Prince grew up and spent most of his life, Paisley Park was completed in 1988. The building itself seems nothing special – its somewhat bland rectangular shapes bring to mind a typical corporate, industrial park building.

That changes as soon as you step inside. But first, you have to go through security.

No liquids, no bags and no recording equipment are allowed and our phones have to be placed in locked security pouches that are unlocked when we leave. You also can't wander through the property at will – a guide is with you the whole time.

With that out of the way, we start the tour by passing the stairs to the first floor. Upstairs, Prince's private living area, is still off-limits. But it doesn't matter much – there is plenty to see.

We enter a large hall, with bright white tiles and colourful decor. Above us, a small replica of Paisley Park is mounted on the wall, topped by Prince's iconic Love Symbol. It's a shock to learn this model actually contains Prince's ashes.

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Within recesses in the walls are some of Prince's outrageous outfits and guitars from different eras of his career, as well as hand-written notes and lyrics from some of his most famous songs. Various rooms branch off from this space, including Prince's private office, still full of his personal items including framed photos of his large family. There's also an American-diner style space where Prince would entertain guests and have staff cook up meals.

Paisley Park is not just a place of musical history because of its famous owner: over the years dozens of major artists used the studios, including Stevie Wonder, James Brown and R.E.M. Our next stops are the two sound studios where we hear some excerpts from Prince's last recordings – an unnamed jazz project. There's a ping pong table in one studio – it's the only item on the tour that visitors are allowed to touch (and indulge in a quick hit).

From there, it's the dance studio (which doubled as a basketball court – Prince was a huge fan of the sport) where choreography for music videos and concerts would be developed. It's now home to some of Prince's motorcycles, including the Honda featured in the movie Purple Rain. Prince also had his own sound stage, a huge performance space where he could record music videos or perform concerts. Here, a giant screen shows some of his best live performances from across his career.

Then there's the New Power Generation Music Club, Prince's own personal nightspot that he would open to Minneapolis locals on a whim and occasionally show up to perform in the small hours of the morning. In the days before social media, the only way to find out that the club was going to open for the evening was through word of mouth and locals would queue for hours in freezing weather for a chance to get in.

Our final stop, before the obligatory gift shop, is a wall filled with messages, drawings and tributes from fans that were left outside after the star died. In the background, Prince's legendary Superbowl half-time performance in 2007, where he performed his hits including Purple Rain in a downpour, plays on a loop.

When Doves Cry wasn't part of that Superbowl set, but I notice some of the other visitors wiping away their own tears.

TRIP NOTES

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exploreminnesota.com

FLY

Minneapolis Airport is a major regional hub with most US airlines providing direct connections from cities with inbound flights from Australia.

STAY

The Radisson Blu Mall of America hotel is located in Bloomington at the Mall of America, the biggest shopping mall in the US. Paisley Park is about a 20-minute drive or taxi ride from the hotel. See radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mall-of-america

VISIT

Tours of Paisley Park cost $US46 and take about 70 minutes. There are also longer, more expensive "VIP" tours that offer access to additional areas and artifacts. Prince Celebration 2018 is on from April 19-22 and will include live performances from Prince's friends and former band members, along with a range of other events. See officialpaisleypark.com

Prince fans in Minneapolis should also pay a visit to nightclub First Avenue, the live music venue where Prince began his career. Most of the concert scenes from Purple Rain were also filmed here. See first-avenue.com

The writer travelled as a guest of Brand USA and Explore Minnesota.

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