Less than a week after the release of Graffiti Bridge, Madonna released Justify My Love. The trip hop song was the lead single from The Immaculate Collection, and would quickly become Madonna’s ninth Billboard Number 1 hit, dominating the airwaves and generating a frenzy of controversy along the way. Sadomasochism. Voyeurism. Bisexuality. Justify My Love had it all. What was designed as an erotic dream turned out to be a nightmare for MTV when execs screened the video on November 26, but the controversy turned out to be another PR genius move by Madonna, as 260,000 copies of the video hit stores at $9.98 a pop.
While the uproar may have cooled by early February, 1991, the spotlight was just about to heat up for Chavez, who, it turned out, had written the lyrics for the song and who claimed that it was practically a heavy-breath-for-heavy-breath copy of a demo tape that she had shared with rocker Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz, who ultimately produced the single, co-wrote the song with Chavez and Andre Betts, and immediately pitched the concept as a sexually-charged vehicle for Madonna’s upcoming greatest hits album. Virgin Records pounced on the idea of a Kravitz-Madonna collaboration. It appeared to be a win-win for all involved, as Justify My Love seemed like the big break that Chavez had been waiting for, a career-boosting writing credit for one of the biggest singers on the planet. Consider: If her material was good enough for the Material Girl, then how many others out there would be lining up to work with a songwriter like Ingrid Chavez? Instead, the excitement of being attached to such a big hit would quickly digress into a publicly litigious battle with Kravitz.
It all started with a chance meeting at a landmark Minneapolis nightclub.
“I had gone to a concert with Prince,” Chavez recalls. “We went to see Lenny Kravitz play at First Avenue, which was located in downtown Minneapolis. This was during the filming of Graffiti Bridge, and we decided to see Lenny’s concert after wrapping for the day. It was a really great show, but Prince wanted to leave the club before Lenny had finished playing. I remember getting in the car with Prince and driving all the way to Chanhassen, only to have him instruct the driver to take me back to Minneapolis. I thought, why did he bring me to Chanhassen just to have the driver take me right back home? It was still early, so I asked the driver to take me back to First Avenue.
“After the show, I went backstage and met Lenny. There was an immediate connection between the two of us. We hung out and talked for a long time, talking about all kinds of things, and then he asked me if I wanted to go watch him play another show. So I hopped on the bus and went to Chicago. It was impulsive but it was also a lot of fun – I remember having to stay the night in the city because it was so late when the show ended, and then going back home the next day.”
Chavez and Kravitz continued to talk. He was also photographed hanging with Madonna, which fueled the tabloid’s speculation of a high-profile affair. Kravitz, married to Lisa Bonet at the time, insisted the relationship with Madonna was strictly professional. True or not, one thing today remains clear: Justify My Love could not have happened without Ingrid Chavez’s involvement.
“We stayed in touch,” she says. “Whenever I was in Los Angeles or New York we’d make it a point to connect and hang out if he happened to be in town. One time we were in L.A. together, and the two of us were in the studio with Andre Betts, who created an interesting loop from a Public Enemy song. Lenny asked me if I had anything to add. I had a letter which I had written for him, which was written like my poems, so I pulled it out and pretty much spoke the letter.
“Shortly after that, we took the song to Virgin Records, because Lenny wanted to let an executive he knew at Virgin to hear it. The guy said it was great, that he really loved it, and that he thought we had something hot. He then asked if he could hold onto the copy we’d just played for him. I was very naïve, and I didn’t suspect that anything was wrong. I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And that was the last time that I ever had a copy of that song.”
Elated by confused, Chavez quickly learned that there was more to the story; if she wanted to be part of the project, she would have to agree to remain invisible.
“Everything just kind of spiraled out of control from there,” she says. “The next thing I know, Lenny is telling me that Madonna is going to do the song. I was initially very excited because she was such a big star and she wanted to record something that I’d worked on, but then I was being told that nobody can know that I wrote it. It was an extremely emotional and stressful time. I was torn on what to do, because I really wanted writing credit, but I ultimately signed off on their terms. I know I should have insisted that my name be included, but there was a tremendous amount of pressure on me to make a decision in a very short period of time. I felt powerless, because I didn’t have management representing me, but it all happened so fast…I just happened to be in the studio with Lenny Kravitz at the time that he was recording, and suddenly there is this track, with my words on it, that Madonna now wants to do. I had no one advising me.”
The fallout would reach Paisley Park.
“Prince called to me one day after the song came out, and he said, ‘Ingrid, what’s up with that Justify My Love song? I just heard it on the radio and I know that’s you.’ I was shocked that he knew immediately, even though I hadn’t told anyone. I had kept my word. Only filmmaker Craig Laurence Rice, who happened to be in L.A. at the same time that I recorded it, knew about my involvement in the song. I admitted to Prince that Justify My Love was me. He was pretty upset about it, because my record hadn’t come out yet. He said that people were going to think that I was copying Madonna.”
The controversy couldn’t have happened at worse time, as Prince was focusing his energy on Chavez’s May 19, 1992, and brilliant songs like Candledance and Elephant Box were being created around her spoken word poetry. Chavez, torn between two paths, had a decision to make.
“That was the first time that I actually went out and hired a lawyer,” she says. “I fought to at least get my name on the song, which I ultimately did, but it was a long, ugly, drawn out fight. In terms of money, I could have gotten twice as much as I ended up with, as far as the percentage, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. The settlement was already double what I had been offered originally. It should have been doubled one more time out of fairness, but I just couldn’t keep fighting. It was ugly and I just wanted it over with.”
Chavez was vindicated by the settlement, but the experience left her disillusioned.
“I would like to think that Lenny Kravitz just had so much pressure placed on him from both Virgin Records and his own management, and that’s why he behaved the way that he did. I am going to choose to believe that. I just can’t believe that he’s the kind of person who was intentionally trying to take something from me and not give me something back, you know? I just don’t believe that that’s who he really is. I think that Virgin just came down on him really hard, because they wanted this song for Madonna and they wanted me out of the picture. As a result, I think he had a lot of pressure on him. That’s what I want to believe. I spent quite a bit of time with Lenny, and I never felt like he was that kind of person, but the whole experience really turned me off of the music business.”
With Justify My Love in the rear view mirror, the focus turned to May 19, 1992. While Prince was still engaged in the project, putting the finishing touches on the wildly infectious Elephant Box, he turned much of the production over to Paisley Park’s Michael Koppelman, who immediately worked with Chavez on Winter Song. Prince liked the result, and Koppelman was hungry for more. He produced Candledance next, which included Prince on guitar, and followed that up with work on Hippy Blood. Warner Bros., keenly aware of Madonna’s success with Justify My Love, enthusiastically supported the tracks and felt good about the album’s upcoming release. The record, released on September 21, 1991, featured promotion around three key songs; Hippy Blood, Heaven Must Be Near, and Elephant Box.
“There was a lot of excitement about it, but when it came out it fizzled for some reason and didn’t do so well,” Koppelman said years later.
For Chavez, the lukewarm reception given to her record was another sign that everything going on in her life needed reevaluation.
“I stuck with my music career for a while,” she says. “My record had just come out, and Graffiti Bridge and Justify My Love were still relatively fresh, so all of this was happening pretty much at the same time. I just didn’t realize then how much I really wanted out.”
Ingrid Chavez Press Kit promoting her Paisley Park album May 19, 1992
Some kind soul decided to upload the entirety of Ingrid Chavez’s May 19, 1992 onto Youtube. While the album’s mythology kind of dulls the album, it’s still something I recommend to most people. ‘Candle Dance’ is the best My So Called Life proto-soundtrack there is, and ‘Sad Puppet Dance’ is cool. ‘Wintersong’ feels like an emo Degrassi Junior High soundtrack, but you will deal.
I was really putting effort into the Ingrid Chavez record because we had a few nibbles, particularly in Europe, in Paris & parts of Italy there was real interest in the record. I decided to dedicate myself to exploiting that & Prince came in one day, he had been working on the Carmen Electra record which I couldn’t give a shit about. It wasn’t his best work as a writer & producer, I didn’t see her as a real artist. It was completely about “Can she make a sexy video?”, he was convinced that she could & that this would sell records. I didn’t say anything because she was his girlfriend at the time. He said “I bet I’ll sell more Carmen Electra records than you will Ingrid Chavez records!” & I’m like “What, we’re competing now? It’s your label!”
“Prince was always pushing himself artistically, and always challenging those around him,” says Chavez of his music-making. “The first time I saw Prince was at the club First Avenue. We passed each other and made eye contact, but on that night we didn’t speak. When I finally met Prince I was instantly comfortable around him. He had this ability to see creative potential in a person before they saw it in themselves.”
On September 11, 1987, Paisley Park officially opened. Prince was between albums, with Sign O’ the Times winding down and something called The Funk Bible in the works. He had also released the Sign O’ the Times concert movie, which was praised critically and attended en masse by the most hardcore Prince fans. The movie, with live clips re-shot at Paisley Park, was a svelte jolt of everything that captured Prince at his most dazzling: The singing, the dancing, the multi-instrumental talent, the rapport with his band, and those bolero-chic outfits that only The Purple One could carry off.
There was something else about Prince that stood out during this era; his music had taken on a decidedly darker edge, matching his mood. On Cindy C., Prince sang about feeling rejected by a high-class model in Paris. Rockhard in a Funky Place was about a guy on the prowl for sex in a whorehouse. Superfunkycalifragisexy urged people to drink blood and dance. All of these tracks were being readied for inclusion in the 1988 release of The Funk Bible, an album that Prince insisted be produced without printed title, artist name, liner notes, production credits, or photography. Everybody – family, friends, employees, musicians – was on edge around Paisley Park. Prince ratcheted up the tension at every turn, demanding more from everyone and pressing forward with a project that was certain to alienate segments of his fan base. Warner Bros, meanwhile, continued to publicly support The Funk Bible, prepping 400,000 copies for distribution while privately bracing for a commercial failure. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a more toxic time than those early days at Paisley Park.
All of that changed on a bitter cold December night, when Prince ventured into a Minneapolis bar with his entourage. Chavez was also there. She wasn’t supposed to be – if not for a friend’s incessant coaxing, she would have spent the evening at home, comfortably out of the weather. But fate has a funny way of working. Turns out, her decision to go out that night was the final reaction in Lovesexy’s self-amplifying chain of events.
“I wasn’t going to go to the bar,” Chavez says. “Prince strolled in soon after I got there, and he kept staring at me. I thought he looked very puzzled, and I was very curious as to why I would puzzle him. So I sent him a note. It read, ‘Hi, remember me? Probably not, but that’s okay, because we’ve never met. Smile…I love it when you smile.’ I didn’t sign it or anything. I just gave it to Gilbert Davison, who was Prince’s manager at the time, and who was with him that night. Prince took the note and read it, and then he had Gilbert come and get me. So I walked over and sat with him.”
The connection between poet and recluse was immediate.
“This was during the Sign O’ the Times period, when he used to wear those mirror heart bracelets. He took the one that he had on his wrist and put it on my wrist. It was so surreal. It felt like a strange dream that couldn’t possibly be true; one minute I’m sitting at home alone, the next I’m sitting in a bar with Prince, one of the most famous singers in the world, and I’m wearing his mirror heart bracelet on my wrist.”
Long known for his playful side, Prince quickly warmed to what came next.
“We started talking, and he asked my name because I hadn’t signed my note,” Chavez says. “I introduced myself as Gertrude and he immediately said that he was Dexter [laughs]. From that moment on, that’s who we were to each other. When I look back on some of my journal writing from that period, I never referred to him as Prince. I referred to him as Dexter in all of the passages.”
As they talked, Chavez had no idea of the inner struggle taking place within her new friend. Warner had grudgingly started sending out advance copies of The Funk Album to dance club deejays in England, with mixed results. Prince’s latest movie project, Graffiti Bridge, had hit some speed bumps and was on temporary hiatus. A new form of music – rap – was starting to gain mainstream popularity, and yet Prince had responded with Dead on It, in which he trashed the new art from and incorrectly predicted its demise.
Little could anyone have known that everything would change the night Prince met Ingrid Chavez.
“Prince asked me if I wanted to take a drive,” she says. “I sat in the front seat next to Gilbert, and he sat in the backseat. It was nighttime. Prince had Gilbert put the mirror down so that we could see each other’s eyes. The next thing you know, we’re on our way to Paisley Park.”
“He put me in a room and told me that he’d be back,” she says, “and then he disappeared. I was just hanging by myself for what seemed like an eternity. I was left with time on my hands, and I didn’t have anyone in the room with me, so I just did what I do whenever I’m alone, which is write. He came back eventually [laughs].”
What happened next remains shrouded in mystery and baked into legend, but the end result would prove to be a crossroads moment in Prince’s personal and professional life. The story goes something like this: Prince calls Susan Rogers, who was working as his sound engineer at the time, and asks her to come to Paisley Park. Rogers shows up to find Chavez alone, in a candlelit rehearsal room. Prince joins them a short time later, and after a brief conversation, Rogers decides to leave. In the hours that follow, legend has it that Prince experiences an awakening and sees God – not in physical form, but in everything around him. The legend continues that Prince now sees The Funk Bible for what it is – an evil force full of rage, the lyrics poisoned with guns and violence – and that a voice tells him not to release the record.
This much we know to be true: Prince moved quickly to convince Warner Bros. to scrap the project. The company agreed to destroy all of its copies of The Funk Bible, which would famously come to be known by another name: The Black Album.
“Prince did tell her that she had to meet me,” Chavez says, conceding part of the story. “She came to Paisley Park later that night, and Prince and I talked about a lot of things after she left. He did end up cancelling The Black Album, but I didn’t know anything about that record at the time. All I knew was that it got cancelled.”
Whatever happened, Prince emerged from the experience a changed man. Gone was the moody artist prone to tempestuous outbursts. In his place was an enlightened, spiritual being whose approach to songwriting would be forever altered.
And whether she knew it then or not, Ingrid Chavez’s own world was about to tilt dramatically on its musical axis
The cloud lifted, Prince began work on another record. Unlike The Black Album, its vibe was fueled by his newfound positivity. Lovesexy arrived on May 10, 1988, with a naked Prince on the cover, sitting atop an orchid. It was his most spiritual album to date, recorded in just seven weeks, from mid-December 1987 to late January 1988, its theme rooted in the struggle between good and evil. Alphabet St. was the first single to hit the airwaves, and immediately become a Top 10 hit. Lovesexy’s opening track is a song called Eye No, and the spoken lyrics at the beginning of the song belonged to a female that Prince referred to as his ‘Spirit Child’:
Rain is wet and sugar is sweet / Clap your hands and stomp your feet / Everybody, everybody knows / When love calls you gotta go
The voice belongs to Chavez.
“After meeting Prince, we started spending more and more time together,” she says. “It was a period of great creativity for both of us, and we were inspired by each other. For me, stepping into his world was like a fairy tale. Just being exposed to his creativity was unreal. Lovesexy is like a snapshot of our time together.”
What many don’t realize is that, while Prince was hard at work on Lovesexy, he was simultaneously working with Chavez on material for her debut album.
“It started when he put me in the studio at Paisley Park, just to see what I could do,” Chavez explains. “It was just me by myself, which was a little intimidating, and I honestly had no idea what I was going to do once I go there. I was nervous and recorded some very strange pieces, but Prince was great at making me feel comfortable. It was magical. He seemed so relaxed during that period when we were together.
“Some of the music that I produced during those sessions was open word. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be, but he really liked my speaking voice, so I think that’s where he got this idea for a poetry album. He said, ‘If you write 21 poems, we’ll do a poetry record.’ Of course I agreed. I wrote feverishly for the next two weeks to get them done.”
The music that emerged would ultimately be called May 19, 1992.
“Lovesexy and May 19, 1992 are two records that almost mirror each other,” she says. “We were having some very deep, spiritual conversations during that period. I was writing poems at the same time that he was writing Lovesexy, and we spent a lot of time talking. Because of that, the two records have the same themes. Lovesexy has I Wish U Heaven, and my record has Heaven Must Be Near, and they are very similar because we were talking about the same things, challenging each other, sharing our thoughts and emotions. We talked a lot about God, love, and sex…how we felt about those things. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversations, but the whole process was more like an experience or a journey – a discovery – rather than two people sitting down and writing lyrics.”
A nude Prince on the Lovesexy cover was met with commercial resistance; Wal-Mart refused to carry the record, and there were other chains that carried it but wouldn’t put it out on the floor. By then, Chavez’s run-time with her new friend had run its course.
“The amount of time that we spent with each other was relatively short,” Chavez offers. “It was maybe three months in total, but in those three months we spent a lot of time together, and we wrote two records – he wrote his, and I wrote mine. Mine didn’t come out until a few years later, but they were written at the same time.”
Their recordings finished, Prince turned his attention to touring.
“Our work just took us in different directions,” Chavez says. “That was an intense period of time; it was like being in a winter bunker with him for three months. We were just together for that whole season. A year later, I got a call from him, and he said he’d been working on Heaven Must Be Near, so then we started working on it again.”
It wasn’t long before Ingrid Chavez connected with another musician, Richard Werbowenko, to form Skyfish. The duo played acoustic guitar and fretless bass as Chavez sang her poems. Skyfish would prove to be a short-lived chapter in her life, as Chavez and Werbowenko broke up almost as quickly as they had formed – but not before playing a key role in bringing recluse and muse back together.
“I ran into Prince’s brother one day and gave him a copy of the Skyfish record to give to Prince,” Chavez says. “I came home a few days later and my little apartment was completely filled with white flowers. Prince called and said that he just finished recording Heaven Must Be Near and that it sounded like springtime in Paris. He asked me if I would like to finish the Poetry album.”
By then, Prince was riding a new high, scoring a Billboard Number 1 hit with Batdance and restarting his next album / movie project, Graffiti Bridge. The film, about a magical bridge, was a hard sell to execs at Warner Bros., who were spooked by the incoherent script and the disappointing results of Under the Cherry Moon. It didn’t help that Madonna had dissed the screenplay after reading it, and that both Kim Basinger and Patti LaBelle had both backed out of the project. It was then that Prince asked Chavez to play the lead role. She didn’t blink.
“I guess the only thing that can be said about me is that I’m pretty fearless,” she says. “I said ‘yes’ a lot back then. The first time I met him I told him that I was a singer-songwriter, and the next thing I knew, he’s got a session booked for me at Paisley Park and I’ve got two hours to go do something. I had no idea what I might do in there, but I was up for the challenge. I recorded some very strange pieces [laughs]. I’ve always loved experimenting with flipping tracks so I had backwards guitar and pitched vocals with layers of harmony, a lot of pretty weird stuff. I had the engineer help me record some percussion. The vocals were a mix of spoken word and singing. I recorded two tracks that day, and both were very strange…the look on his face was priceless [laughs]. Prince thought I was crazy, but in a good kind of way. He could see that I was serious and that I was different…I think that intrigued him. I think that’s why he wanted me to play Aura in Graffiti Bridge.”
The movie, shot almost exclusively at Paisley Park, was the ultimate Prince-obsessed project – with Prince credited as screenwriter, director, composer, and star. Rumors began circulating that the project was not only in trouble, but that it was destined to be a cinematic disaster on every conceivable scale. With principal photography complete in the spring, the film went through intense editing right up to its national release on November 1, 1990. His refusal to heed the advice of those around him led to an incoherent storyline, and a movie that failed to connect with audiences. Graffiti Bridge flopped on both fronts; the album reached No. 6 but quickly fizzled, while the movie was derided by some as an amateurish vanity project gone bad. For her part, Chavez, who had never acted, handled the criticism with dignity.
“I had already taken on scary challenges with Prince, embracing things that were outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “Saying ‘yes’ to acting in Graffiti Bridge was scary, but I wanted to do it. I screen tested, I was offered the part and they went with it. What am I going to say? No?”
Despite virtually everything aspect of the movie being panned by critics and moviegoers alike, Chavez walked away from the project changed for the better.
“Am I a good actress? No. Would I do it again? No. But I did it, and I enjoyed it. It was part of my journey and it helped me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined just a few years before. There were times when I was pushed and I wanted to cry on the set, because I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ For me, it was my own personal insecurities that got in the way sometimes. But most of the time, Prince would be so gentle. He was always so encouraging. He would say, ‘You’re doing great.’ He was just so genuine with his encouragement.”
Join Prince in watching the extended version of Thieves in the Temple from Graffiti Bridge
Get ready to boogie to this hidden goldmine! In this extended eight minute cut, Prince not only gets down and shakes it in thigh-highs & garter belts, but this version also contains extra scenes, and lyrics that run over the screen, but are not sung.