The first thing I thought of when I was told Prince died…was myself.
Mostly growing up as an outcast, I always had to react, always had to be aware, always had to know what was going on around me.
Because chaos can come at any moment — Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “If you wait to be acted upon, you will be acted upon.” — and how people consciously choose to respond to chaos contains tremendous opportunities for growth (read: Viktor Frankl).
So whenever anything chaotic happens, I first think of myself and my natural reaction to it, and whether I can do anything about the situation. Then I force my mind to move beyond how the moment or event is affecting me, and focus my attention to the bigger picture, on everyone else affected, and how I can help them.
But when I heard Prince was dead…I went numb for a minute.
He was 57. That’s too young. WAY too young today to die.
And honestly, did he not look like the picture of health each and every time you saw him…? Since the first moment I saw him on a TV screen when I was a child, he’s looked basically the same: dressed to kill, with a smug and knowing smirk on his radiant, youthful face, ready to shred on a guitar or sing a pitch-perfect screaming vocal at a moment’s notice.
All of a sudden, it was January 10 again — I didn’t know how to process it. And I don’t know any of the people who were close to Prince, so I can’t think of them and “keep them in my thoughts and prayers”.
Although…was anyone really close to Prince? Ever?
Prince was pretty much a loner his whole life — and that isolation may have proved to be his undoing.
He was notorious for his privacy, and for his refusal to engage with others. A very guarded human being, Prince purposely kept people at a distance, both physically and emotionally.
The problem is, when you keep people away from you physically, when you isolate yourself like that, your immune system can grow weak because you’re not exposing yourself to enough germs and viruses, enough bad stuff.
Going to different geographical areas, interacting with different people who have interacted with different people, at some point we all ultimately get sick. That’s why a lot of younger bands on tour constantly become ill, and why road veterans preach “don’t party every night”, and drink lots of water, take vitamins, don’t touch your face, hit the gym now and then, and stuff like that.
You get sick, it’s a part of life. But you build your immune system up…to where it’s able to combat those pesky germs and viruses.
Well, Prince had unexpectedly begun touring again within the last year. And a week ago he came down with the flu. We’ve all come down with the flu. But unless it’s the bird flu, we are pretty much convinced that even though we have the flu, we’re not actually gonna die from the flu.
[Aside: We may say to our loved one “Oh, I’m dying!”…but that’s just to get the chicken noodle soup. We just want the soup. We love you, but we’re sick and we just want the soup…and we want you to want to make it for us, but we don’t wanna ask for it. We’re not really dying, my love.]
Anyway, Prince was hospitalized with the flu last week. And now he’s dead.
So when I say his isolation may have proved to be his undoing…
Paisley Park was as much his fortress as it was his recording studio. From The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, “The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere — everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from. … With their small and confined spaces, fortresses are…extremely vulnerable to the plague and contagious diseases.”
What if, by leaving his fortress to tour and mingle among the masses, he came down with a basic flu virus, and subsequently, by going to the hospital, he became exposed to all kinds of other airborne pathogens, and ended up contracting something he couldn’t combat because his immune system was so weak from his years of isolation???
But we don’t yet know what actually happened. It could have been a drug overdose. It could have been something completely different. Supposedly his death is being investigated, and a full toxicology report will be completed within a couple of weeks.
The point is…that one-of-a-kind who gave us so much fantastic music for over three decades…he’s gone.
And you know he still had more music in him. So did Bowie.
Prince and Bowie were loved because they showed people the truth. They held up the mirror to everyone, reflecting who we really are: the dearly beloved, just trying to get through this thing called “life”.
And they taught us we can consciously choose to be whomever and whatever we want to be.
Many people hated what Prince represented (namely, change), so they shunned him. But millions of others were drawn to Prince because he showed them who they really were…and they liked it.
In November 2015 I read I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, a fascinating book by the journalist Touré. The book illuminates that Prince was born into a very specific time during the generational crossover from the Baby Boomers to Generation X — a generation whose cultural zeitgeist, eloquently explained by the author, was divorce. As a consequence of the divorce explosion of the times, the prevailing attitude amongst Gen X-ers was mostly “If the supposedly rock-solid union of mom and dad can end, so too can everything else; why care about anything?”
Generation X was drawn to Prince’s music, because it resonated with their “cynicism, skepticism, disillusionment, nihilism, and distrust of traditional values and institutions”, according to Touré.
Though, it had to help that Prince’s music borrowed from many different influences — from funk to punk, from rock to soul, disco, and beyond…his songs had a little something for everyone to latch onto.
Prince also placed a high importance on diversity within his band, purposely hiring musicians of different genders and ethnicities rather than forming an expected, traditional all-male and all-black lineup. This allowed fans of various backgrounds to relate to, and identify with, the group.
Essentially, through the power of music, Prince was able to bridge the gap between the sacred world of his parents’ generation with the increasingly secular world of the young generation coming up.
But above all, Prince sold sex, rebellion, individuality, and freedom to Gen X in order to preach to them the gospel of Christianity.
From I Would Die 4 U: “Imagine America as one house on a suburban lane. Years before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince knocked on America’s door through his music. He came to the door holding a guitar and an umbrella while concealing a Bible. He flirted his way inside the door and told us he had a dirty mind and was controversial, and then he sat down in the living room on the good couch. And, when America’s guard was down, because we thought we were having a conversation about sex, Prince eased out his Bible and said, let me also tell you about my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
Prince honed his musical chops in church, and his relationship with God was, to him, the most important relationship in his life.
He was not unique in this regard. Many black artists have planted the first seeds of their musical success in churches, because churches in the black community actively nourish musical development; it’s very important to them. As a matter of fact, over the past two decades, drummers who grew up playing in black churches have vastly influenced modern drumming across many styles and genres (see: gospel chops).
Prince’s church encouraged and nurtured his musical inclinations and innate talent, and he used his time alone to play and practice and write, getting better each day.
Understand: he actively sought — and fought — to use his music as a vehicle to achieve something greater than himself, to get closer to God. He did this throughout his entire life, even as a kid, when he was an outcast, too. In response to the experiences of his most formative years, Prince grew a thick skin and became immensely independent and self-reliant.
He was necessarily selfish. But what is of paramount importance is that he actively resisted Resistance in order to focus on his craft. Prince said “no” to a lot of things and a lot of people in pursuit of what he wanted for himself, what he wanted to give to the world.
And he was able to achieve his idea of success. Because of his passion, his ruthlessness, because of his discipline.
Think of yourself: Who in your life is telling you what to do right now? Is it your mom or dad? Your so-called best friend? Bosses or coworkers? Your spouse?
What if you said “No. I’m doing what I need to do for myself.” Would they disown you? Would they ostracize you and disparage you behind your back? Would you be undermined and eventually fired? Would you get divorced?
People who suppress the individuality of others generally fear the consequences of expressing their own.
If there’s something you believe you need to do, to create, to change…do it. And have a sense of urgency about it, because it is becoming increasingly apparent that life is simply too short to do everything you want to do.
My mother being a devout Christian, I grew up in a God-centered household until she accepted that my brother and I were old enough to make our own decisions about religion. (She has since allowed us to walk our own paths, but we have always respected her beliefs.) Until we were granted that religious freedom, MTV wasn’t welcome in the house.
But we saw Tim Burton’s Batman in theaters in 1989, and I was enthralled with the soundtrack. So began my love for Prince.
If “Purple Rain” comes on the jukebox at the bar, and people start drunkenly singing along, I’m the one that wants everyone to shut up…so we can just LISTEN. So we can hear the gospel.
Read I Would Die 4 U. If you like Prince, if you don’t like Prince…it doesn’t matter. Read the book.
Our cultural icons deserve to be understood and appreciated for the amazing gifts they give to us. And by studying their paths to greatness, perhaps we can learn life lessons and gain valuable wisdom applicable to our current lives, to achieving our own intended greatness.
All I wanted to do when I heard Prince died…was get home and work on my music. All other obligations in the world suddenly fell away. Because if I die before the music that I have inside me is able to realize its existence…I will die believing I didn’t do what I was put on earth to do.
Prince made an incredible impact on the world during his brief lifetime. How are we each going to make ours..??
Time to get to work.
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com
Join the fan club: Become a Bullfighter
Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates
Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.