Nathan Rabin's Happy Place Literature Society #1 Mayte Garcia's The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince
When an artist becomes as popular, wealthy and powerful as someone like Michael Jackson or Madonna, they attract less a conventional entourage than a royal court, complete with all manner of intrigue, back-stabbing and complicated alliances.
That’s certainly true of Prince, appropriately enough. In The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince, Mayte Garcia’s heartbreaking memoir of loving and losing the legendary musician, she entered Prince’s royal court as a virginal 16 year old belly-dancer predictably enthralled by Prince and quickly learned the curious customs of Prince’s world.
For example, Prince could be a bit of a germaphobe and was never one to touch people unnecessarily. So if he shook the hand of an attractive young woman, everyone around him understood that the woman had passed Prince’s test and that a much sweatier, more intimate form of touching was inevitable.
Prince was still sleeping with one-time protege Carmen Electra (whose Prince-written and produced-Box-friendly anthem “Go Go Dancer” inspired many a fevered masturbation session) when he fatefully shook Garcia’s hand. Years later, Mayte got a sense that her own time as Prince’s girl was drawing rapidly to a close when he shook the hand of Manuela, a woman who would go on to be his second wife, and then his second ex-wife. Mayte takes understandable pride in being Prince’s wife and the mother of his child and a collaborator, but she has no illusions about her ex-husband’s libido or the role beautiful women have played in his life.
The Most Beautiful is a love story that begins and ends with heartbreak, rejection, death and isolation, with divorce and an early, seemingly preventable death. Garcia looks back at her beautiful, transcendent, invigorating and ultimately devastating relationship, marriage and then divorce through a veil of tears. It's a tragedy and a triumphant but more than anything it's a complicated romance.
Prince could treat Garcia with heartbreaking cruelty. After their relationship fell apart, for example, Prince ordered his staff to burn anything that might remind him of his ex-wife or the son they had together who died not long after his birth for example. Yet in spite of these acts of profound cruelty, The Most Beautiful is above all an act of devotion towards someone who desperately craved family and emotional connection but couldn’t escape his own demons.
Reading The Most Beautiful I was struck by how young Garcia was when she entered Prince’s world. But I was equally struck by how young Prince was when their relationship began. By 1990, Prince had spent a decade changing music forever with a run I would put alongside The Beatles’ 1960s and David Bowie’s 1970s.
When Prince met Mayte in 1990 he’d been one of the biggest and most important rock stars alive for a decade. But he was also only 30 years old. Prince was barely out of his twenties when Mayte rocked his world, so even thought there was a tremendous power imbalance between a 16 year old virgin and a world-famous rock star, in some ways Prince was just a kid himself.
If Garcia was literally jailbait when she entered her future husband’s realm, she could at least claim to be a very old 16. She’s appeared on That’s Incredible! as an eight-year-old as “The World’s Youngest Belly-Dancer” and made so much money from her trade that she was able to save six figures while still a teenager.
Even as a child and teenager, Garcia had the poise, experience and grace of a dancer and while it seems pretty obvious from the beginning that Prince’s interest in her is not entirely chaste, Garcia makes a compelling argument that Prince was initially drawn to her as a fellow dancer and artist as well as an extraordinarily beautiful young woman.
The Most Beautiful is filled with letters from Prince to Garcia. In these poignantly homemade missives, Prince isn’t a rock God anymore. No, he’s just a boy trying to impress a girl. Garcia brings out the child in Prince as well as the old soul who is convinced that his bond with Garcia transcends space and time and these fragile, disposable things we call bodies and stretches out into eternity.
In this lifetime, Prince waited years for his spiritual and emotional bond with Garcia to become physical. Throughout Mayte's late teen years, they had a strange relationship that hovered somewhere between friendship, artistic collaboration, mentorship and something infinitely, if a little uncomfortably, romantic.
Prince was intoxicated by Garcia’s beauty, charm and talent. But he was also attracted to her innocence, to the idea that while his sexual history could fill every book in a sprawling library, hers could begin, and conceivably end, with him. Beyond that, Prince seemed to be in love with the idea of being in love and even more in love with the idea of leaving a life of sin and sex and debauchery behind so that he could stand before his Lord and swear off all women as a righteous husband.
Prince wanted desperately to be that man. He was equally intent on being a father so when Garcia got pregnant, Prince started orchestrating the birth and the return home with the same meticulous extravagance that he brought to everything he did. His child would be his greatest production, so he wanted a sense of pomp and circumstance commensurate with his importance.
Prince wanted the whole world to know that he was going to be a dad but when his son was born with serious, debilitating birth defects and died shortly afterwards, he did not know how to handle it.
Garcia’s ex-husband was famously secretive, and after his newborn son died he tried to protect his family’s privacy in ways that feel both counter-productive and a little perverse. Not long after the son’s death, for example, Oprah Winfrey came to Paisley Park for a lengthy sit-down interview with Prince and Garcia but also to try to figure out what happened to Prince’s baby, since Garcia clearly wasn’t pregnant any more, but there also clearly wasn’t a baby around.
For some reason, Prince wasn’t willing, or able, to flat-out tell Oprah the heartbreaking truth so he skirted the issue when Oprah brought it up. I can only imagine how agonizing it must have been for Garcia to sit next to her husband and opposite Oprah Winfrey and try to conduct an interview without revealing the tragedy that had just been befallen them. Nor can I imagine how surreal and insane it must have been for Mayte to film a pregnancy-themed video for Prince’s 1996 single “Betcha By Golly Wow” filmed in the very hospital where their son had died after the death of their child, and not before, as you understandably might imagine.
Why would a husband ask his wife to travel back to a place of such recent, unbearable trauma? I have no idea.The Most Beautiful is revelatory in its depiction of Prince as a romantic, as a husband, as a spiritual seeker and a man lost but Prince also emerges as someone fundamentally unknowable, even to the people who loved him most.
The author and Prince tried to make a go of it after their son’s death but something had died in Prince as well. He would never be as hopeful or full or complete as he was when fatherhood loomed tantalizingly in front of him as life’s next great journey. The Most Beautiful is far from a tell-all. Even in death, she respects Prince and his privacy but there are moments throughout that hint at the substance abuse problems that would eventually kill him.
In the end, however, Jesus helped clear the way for Prince and Garcia’s divorce when it sent legendary Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham into Prince’s life as an important musical collaborator, but, unfortunately for Garcia, also as a shadowy spiritual advisor. Graham’s oft-stated Jehovah’s Witness faith was the core of his being and Prince envied his spiritual certainty so their jam sessions were quickly joined by marathon bible-study sessions Garcia couldn’t have been less invested in.
The Most Beautiful is full of insane moments captured for posterity, like a surreal appearance Garcia, Prince, Chaka Khan, Graham and Graham’s wife made on the Sinbad-hosted Vibe TV show where Graham and Prince proselytized on behalf of their lord and savior with the zeal of, well, the Jehovah's Witnesses they were to the palpable discomfort of poor Sinbad, who looks like he wishes he was back on the set of his beloved genie comedy Shazam.
Yes, things sure took a turn for Prince and a woman he loved but could never truly do right by but The Most Beautiful is largely devoid of bitterness or resentment, and overflowing with compassion, both for Prince and the woman she used to be. It’s a lovely little book about the life of a lovely little man and a lovely little marriage, both of which ended much too soon but were pretty Goddamn beautiful while they lasted.
Up next on Nathan Rabin's Happy Place Literature Society: Rachel Dolezal's In Full Color
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