I can’t imagine this headline is what most parents were considering back in 1978 when Prince made his debut with “Soft and Wet.” Or maybe even what they envisioned in ’91 when Prince performed at the American Music Awards with citron-yellow brocade buttless pants. Maybe a few just keeled over reading it today.
Loving Prince is like breathing to me. He has been around my entire life, simultaneously mystifying and thrilling me, like millions of others. He was such a fixture in my house that we had Purple Rain on 8-Track AND vinyl. My mom tried so hard to keep me from seeing and listening to things I shouldn't before my time. This is the peril of having teenage kids (my siblings) and a tot (me): Trying to keep your baby from growing up too fast. "No Friday Night Videos!" she'd warn when she left my brother or sister in charge—but it was moth to flame. Top-40 DJ Tone E. Fly recorded my first radio spot when I called up and asked him to spin “7” for me.
Ruby already knows “Raspberry Beret,” “Purple Rain,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and “Little Red Corvette” because I sing them to her at naptime and bedtime. “Mama, sing the hat song,” she asks.
Behind some of the lusty, lascivious lyrics and beats were some other moral imperatives that I learned, and that I hope my kids learn, from Minneapolis’s most enigmatic son:
The things that make you different make you awesome and interesting. Nothing in the mainstream handbook about sex appeal or masculinity suggested Prince could become a worldwide sex symbol, but he did it anyway. Warner Brothers didn’t want to release “Kiss” as a single. It became a number-one hit and won Grammy awards. His proprietary musical blend crossed lines and blurred lines and, in at least in the case of Purple Rain, created a double-diamond record. In life as in writing—the more specific and honest you are, the more people can relate.
It’s OK to nurture your mystique. Always leave them wanting more. Prince left his heart wide open in his music and performances, but he didn’t let us inspect his medicine cabinet. We wanted to, but he said no, and he meant it. He also didn’t offer much in the way of explanation. Let ’em wonder a little.
If you love something, pursue it doggedly. Prince didn’t become a guitar virtuoso or lyrical wizard by scrolling Facebook for hours at a crack. “They” say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at a task. Prince was way beyond that. If you’re serious about a craft, you better get to work.
It’s might be mainstream to be X, but you can be a superstar if you do Y. Prince stayed in Minneapolis, mostly. He wrote what he wanted. He refused interviews and photo shoots and record-label commandments. He carved his own way. You can be non-traditional, different, unexpected—and still do something interesting or feel fulfilled. It doesn’t mean you are entitled to worldwide fame and fortune. But you can make a big difference, change the way people think, and even disrupt the powers that be for the powers that should be.
When in doubt, wear purple. If you’re feeling it, add lace. Eyeliner. Heels. A motorcycle. I take that back, no motorcycles. Moto jacket is A-OK though.
Work hard, then let it go, and let it speak for itself. If you really want to be a badass, be strict about not letting anyone dictate those terms to you. It might make waves. People might say you’re a jerk. They might say you’re weird. But you will be creating your life’s work—so who should have final authorship?
Living the life of a true creative spirit isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Do it your way. The right people will respond.
Do good works. You don’t have to take credit for it, either. Share what you have. Even if you don’t own the masters to a wildly successful Warner Brothers catalog, you probably have a wealth of other things: knowledge, kindness, time. When you give generously, you will feel filled up. Abundance is limitless. Empower those who need the extra lift that your privilege provides.
When it feels like the apocalypse is coming, get your butt up and dance. All night long, if you have to. Life is a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.