MINNEAPOLIS — Darrell Rembert is grilling ribs to raise money for a youth group at the Trinity Tabernacle Church on Plymouth Avenue in the Northside of Minneapolis. The church is one of many in the neighborhood where Prince Rogers Nelson was born and raised, and on Saturday Rembert grilled as a homeless man named David (randomly) approached.
“God bless you, sir. How are you doing today?” Rembert asked David on Saturday afternoon. “What’s your name? You can call me brother Rembert.”
David — shuffling, grabbing at an aching lower back and carrying a half-smoked cigarette — told Rembert his name and said he was somewhat surprised to report he felt alright.
Today was another day, he noted.
“I feel good, brother Rembert.”
All night Thursday and Friday thousands gathered at Prince’s home in Chanhassen, Minnesota and at the music venue First Avenue to pay homage to Minneapolis’s most famous son, bonafide global music icon taken too soon from this world. It was a party, because anywhere that Prince’s music is played usually comes with a good time. But on Plymouth Avenue on Saturday afternoon where Rembert was smoking ribs and David was being saved, the only thing marking Prince’s death were purple balloons and memories of a neighborhood kid, not a creative deity.
And the artistic immortality mentioned in many stories written over the last few days about a musician whose work has resonated across races and continents is a worldly thing, Rembert knows. If Prince was as devout a Jehovah's Witness as some say he was, he knew it too.
“When he’s standing in line and God reads from the book, he ain’t gonna be Prince. God is not gonna care about any of that,” Rembert said. “God only cares about what is in your heart, and besides, He already knows the story.”
Prince’s story began across the street from Rembert’s Trinity Tabernacle Church in the 1200 block of Russell Avenue. In Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson’s home is a tourist attraction, preserved as a museum for a man who fits in the same category of Prince — brilliance and global talent from a skinny kid born into Midwestern mundanity. On Russell Avenue, Prince’s childhood home is just sitting there, serving as the setting for another family’s evolving story.
No plaque, no symbol known worldwide, no purple markings. Just a home.
Marilyn (Rembert's wife), like almost everyone on the Northside, has a Prince story of her own. She was in sixth grade — 11 years old, maybe — when Prince and his band played at a school dance.
“It was a real treat,” she said. “They played Atomic Dog and all those songs from back then.”
She wore a purple shirt and secured a purple tablecloth on a table next to her husband’s grill. She and a young man from the church walked up and down the block tying purple balloons to light poles to attract the attention of drivers. The smoke rolling from Rembert’s grill would do the rest.
In France they lit the Eiffel Tower for Prince. How amazing is that? Rembert wondered. On the Northside of Minneapolis, Marilyn paid homage with simple purple balloons, and raised money for the kids of the church by selling rib tip dinners for $10, hot links for $2.50.
“He was just a neighborhood kid,” Rembert said, “playing ball like the rest of us.”
Except Prince had something inside of him — a gift, if you want to call it that, and he got out of the house on Russell Avenue and achieved something very few people do. If he obtains immortality through his art, that’s all well and good, but brother Rembert knows that’s not the most important thing.
“Will you pray with me?” he asked David, grabbing his hands. Eyes closed, head bowed, Rembert told David about the sinners on the cross at either side of Christ, and that they, too, were offered the blissful immortality of Heaven if they accepted the crucified man on Calvary Hill as their lord and savior. That’s all it takes.
“Really? I didn’t know that,” David said.
“Yes, it’s true,” Rembert reassured him.
With only 50 cents to his name, he said, David asked if there was any way he could get a sandwich.
“Come back at noon and I’ll have a plate for you,” Rembert told him. “That’s when it will be ready.”
Rembert went back to cooking after David went on his way. The 54-year-old remembered his great fandom of Prince following the release of Purple Rain, then his difficulties with some of the sexuality surrounding the musician, and finally coming to terms with knowing he would never support everything the neighborhood kid did but believing he was a good person, and that everyone is judged by God, not their fellow man.
“See because of my beliefs I tend to stray away from all this talk of Prince as an icon and all of that,” Rembert said. “What most people don’t know is that like a lot of black musicians Prince was brought up in the church. He came up from the city and the struggle; he was brought up into the Gospel.”
Rembert recalled Hezekiah, who was sick and nearing death when God told him he would die and told him to have his house in order.
Prince had told fans and friends just last week at a party at his home to “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers,” Rembert recalled.
“I don’t know if he had his house in order or not,” Rembert said. “But I always say prayers can’t hurt.”
Rembert went back to quietly cooking; a few neighbors stopped by to grab plates of food and hot links to go. Marilyn busied herself inside preparing baked beans and coleslaw. There were no huge crowds waiting in line and dancing all night, or mourners creating thousands of small memorials to be shown over and over again on live TV, or anything, really, that is much different than any day on the Northside.
As the purple balloons waved in the wind, creating shadows on Plymouth Avenue, noon passed.
David never showed.