Time to Get to Work: The First Thing I Thought of When Prince Died

Time to Get to Work: The First Thing I Thought of When Prince Died

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.

Nate Scott of USA Today: “Now, even in death, [Bowie and Prince] will continue to show other people that originality is real, that art is alive, that cool is what we make it.

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.

If you want to hear my new album before it is officially released, send an email to blog@therealjohnkay.com and I will take care of you. 

John Kay
JK@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

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What Does Justin Bieber Have to Say?

What Does Justin Bieber Have to Say?

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/09/arts/music/after-his-induction-steve-miller-rips-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame.html?_r=0

THAT’S rock and roll.

Rock and roll used to be about sticking it to the man.  Now it’s about licensing deals and featured artists and collaborations and earworms.

“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”???  Give me a break.  It’s a Hall of Sales Achievement.

They induct this man — whose music is still being played on the radio (terrestrial and satellite) and at college parties today — into a supposed guild of greats, and they won’t reserve a few extra chairs at the ceremony to allow his band and their supportive spouses to attend.

Guess what??  The songs that built Steve Miller’s career were recorded and performed by The Steve Miller BAND.  Without the other members and their contributions, you’ve simply got another guy with a guitar who knows how to write good songs.  Plenty of those around.  But without the band to back him up, Steve Miller doesn’t achieve the greatness which qualifies him to be inducted in the first place.

Instead, extra seats are billed to the band members and their wives at ten grand apiece!

The Rock Hall is a joke.  It exists as a tourist attraction, a convenient way for Big Music to appear to pay homage to Their former indentured servants…while raking in $23.50 a ticket from Joe and Joan Schmoe.

N.W.A. didn’t even perform at the ceremony, as is customary when an artist is inducted.  According to Ice Cube, the group “didn’t feel like we were supported enough to do the best show we could put on.”

[BREAKING NEWS: Big Music unsupportive of controversial artist.]

The thing is, N.W.A. are now one of only five rap artists in the Hall —  they joined Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC, Public Enemy, and Beastie Boys.

And the only reason a “crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube from the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes” gets inducted is because of the coincidental success (read: $160 million domestic gross) of the film Straight Outta Compton.  N.W.A. proved to be undeniable, so Big Music couldn’t actively deny them any longer.

Make no mistake, there was a heyday in music.  There was a time when the artists were the millionaires and called the shots.  When music helped shape and define the culture, not the other way around.

Music used to be the best platform for expressing social and cultural discontent, moving millions to seek truth and become one with humanity.

And then They shut it down.  “Stop, in the name of…money!”

It’s all about sales.  All the time.  That’s why it’s major news when a bill gets introduced to pay producers, mixers, and engineers royalties for their respective roles in the creation of hits.  Because They don’t want to pay anyone except Themselves.

Jann Wenner is revered by Big Music now, but when he created Rolling Stone he was anti-establishment.  He was on the same side as the artists.

And now…he’s charging them ten grand to sit in his building, at an event honoring the music which they were an integral part of creating?

Piss on Rolling Stone.  And you too, Jann Wenner.  You used to stand for something.  You made the magazine whose cover aspiring artists wished most to grace.  Now you recycle the same drivel about the same artists issue after issue, and cater to Big Music’s priorities.

Because Big Music pays.  And They pay well those who do Their bidding.

Steve Miller did enough of Their bidding to earn a Hall of Fame performance, and I’m glad, because it afforded him the platform and opportunity to cry “BULLSHIT!!” for everyone to hear.

But he’s a dying breed.  Today’s artists are afraid to take a position on anything, lest they potentially lose a single fan.

And that doesn’t just apply to the famous and well-known artists.  I used to be in a band in which saying anything that could potentially be interpreted as offensive or alienating to anyone was off-limits; potential social media posts had to first be approved by the group.

It’s as if everything today has to be homogenized and pasteurized for the masses.  Soft.  Safe.  Easy.  Inoffensive.

Because the offended minority has a voice now: the internet.  And the internet allows them to connect with each other and express their particular opinions and thoughts.

So what ends up happening is, enough of these offended individuals connect and become a group voice.  They stoke the fires of the negative and fuel the flames with posts and comments, throwing their vitriolic pearls into the great ocean of cyberspace.

Because they know there are no rules on the internet, nothing governing what is actually truth and what isn’t.  (There’s a reason Snopes is incredibly popular.)  “WWW” may as well stand for “Wild Wild West”.  Anyone can literally post anything about anything.  And a negative social campaign which goes viral can crush almost any business.

If you’re mad enough, and enough people agree with you, your voice may be heard.

So artists play it safe, staying in their lane, only posting positive things, smiles, show updates, etc.  Everything is rosy in their world.  They play the angles, secretly hoping for that call from Big Music someday, and they know they need to be squeaky clean in order to get it.

But we all know it’s bullshit.  Life isn’t perfect.  Everyone has issues from time to time.  Everyone has opinions about this or that social or cultural happening.

Where are the artists???  Where are the ones who speak out against injustice??

Steve Miller just did.  So did Bruce Springsteen.  They are 72 and 66 years old, respectively.

What do you have to say, Justin Bieber…?

http://noisey.vice.com/blog/its-time-to-start-taking-justin-bieber-seriously

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

On Becoming a Jerk

When do you just become a jerk?

When do you finally say to musician friends whom you respect for their hustle, but you can’t sing or name one of their songs…

“Look, I appreciate that you keep inviting me to your ‘events’, but I don’t want to go see you perform at such and such dive bar….”

When is the last time the “next big thing” was discovered in a dive bar???  Only Leon Bridges comes to mind.

“I want to see you on a good stage with lights, surrounded by other undeniably talented musicians, not just you and a bunch of pretenders that I’ve never heard of and will never hear of again, who got the gig because they know someone who is someone or know someone who knows someone who knows someone who is someone…”

And that’s how it always works, until the talent shines through. And when the talent shines through, people know. They get it, because it has the quality of being undeniable.  And they tell everyone who will listen.

“That’s why I won’t be at your event that you’re inviting me to on Facebook.  I know you are talented, but I’m not going to go. Because I know I’m gonna have to sit through a bunch of garbage in order to get to you, and my time is worth more than that. Most everyone’s time is worth more than that, especially yours. Yet you continue to do what you think you’re supposed to be doing in order to ‘make it’.”

It makes me sad, but it’s understandable. Because it’s what we’ve been fed all our lives: do this, do this, do this, do this, do this.  Ad nauseam.

What about going your own way? What about finding your own people? What about simply discovering who you are and making the art that you want to make?

“Here’s the deal: I want you. Not in a sexual way. I’m saying I want You. I want to know who you really ARE.  Not the selfies, but the actual Self.”

It’s not about image. It’s not about branding. It’s about who you are and your story. If all we know of you are the pictures we’ve seen and the posts we’ve read on social media, then we don’t really know YOU, now DO we?

Where does this unique voice come from? Who shaped you? Who influenced you…before They got to you?  Before the ones who you thought knew better than you told you that they knew better, and told you you could do better than who you actually truly are?

They’ve said it to me too, and they’re full of it.

“Do I want to come see you perform?? Absolutely. I want to see you perform your heart out and mean it. But I know you don’t mean it tonight, at the place you’re inviting me to on a Tuesday with one-dollar Budweisers. When you’re waiting for the opportunity to leave without losing face or standing with your fans, the “venue”.  I want to see you under the hot lights, on the quality stage, with someone running sound who knows what the hell they are actually doing, within the crowd that knows all the words to your songs, in front of the ones in back who are only there to judge you and hate on you later, and behind the ones in the middle who want to hear the song that’s going to make them rush to the front. That’s when I want to see you. I want to see you where your fans want to see you.”

There is nothing wrong with doing your own thing .  There is absolutely something wrong with doing everyone else’s thing because you’re afraid to do your own thing.

“So…where are you performing next???”

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay