“My Life in the Purple Kingdom” by BrownMark with Cynthia M. Uhrich, foreword by Questlove
c.2020, University of Minnesota Press
$22.95 / $31.99
You had every intention to stand still that night.
Nice try. Your shoulders were shimmying 10 seconds after you stepped to a beat, left foot, right foot, through a wall of thump that came from speakers taller than you. You stopped, and it was as if your behind had its own mind. In those days, you couldn’t stop dancing, and in “My Life In the Purple Kingdom” by BrownMark with Cynthia M. Uhrich, one man couldn’t stop guitaring.
Before he was even old enough for school, Mark Brown decided that he wanted to be a guitar player some day. Growing up in Minneapolis, he remembers listening to the radio because the family didn’t have a TV, but he was thrilled to hear music by “people who looked like me…” When television finally came to the Brown household, seeing musicians on the small screen solidified his dream.
By then, Brown was eight years old, and because his mother didn’t have money to buy him a guitar, he figured he’d have to earn the money himself. Ultimately, that led to a well-earned instrument and work-for-lessons from a proprietor of a local music store but Brown struggled with school and patience. Once transferred to a new area school for his own good, he found a way to play and it helped his self-confidence.
Success, though, was an uphill road. Racism was a problem with local bars and clubs then, and getting a toe on-stage took effort, which Brown was willing to put forth to make himself a rock star. He was still in high school, still held down outside jobs and interests, and yet he found time to rehearse with the series of bands with which he performed.
It was at one such rehearsal that someone said there was a phone call for him. That was unusual so, intrigued, he took the call and answered curtly.
Prince was on the other end of the line…
Reading “My Life in the Purple Kingdom” feels somewhat like attending your high school class reunion: there’s always that one guy there who made it big but rather than quietly accepting kudos, he feels the need to humble-brag instead. His story is interesting and you can’t resist it, but you really could do without the faux bashfulness.
Indeed, according to his own book, author BrownMark (who changed his name while with Prince), worked himself ragged to be a professional musician, and that perseverance should be lauded. Despite storytelling irritations and cutesy-purposeful misspellings, this memoir could be a real inspiration to someone with dreams.
While the story (with Cynthia Uhrich) is mostly about BrownMark’s life, there’s enough Prince here to attract Prince fans. Just beware that although there’s a happy-ish ending to this book, its author isn’t generally complimentary to his former boss and for that, and because Prince isn’t alive to offer contradictions, “My Life in the Purple Kingdom”could be somewhat controversial. Still, if you’re a concert-goer, nostalgic, clubber, or you need motivation, you should have every intention to read it.