Life lessons from the Purple One

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Prince performs in the rain at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show. After a quiet beginning to the 2000s, Prince’s halftime show at the 2007 Super Bowl brought him back into the spotlight and is considered one of the best in recent memory. (Photo:AP)

Dig if you will, a picture….

It’s so much easier to ruminate on who Prince Rogers Nelson, who passed away Thursday at the age of 57, was, what he did, and how he fit into my taste in arts and music, then it would be to write it down. There’s still an air of disbelief and a personal attempt to pull everything together.

His music was played a lot in my house in my childhood – along with an equally important superstar, Michael Jackson.

My parents weren’t audiophiles and were never really the type who said “You need to hear this”, though I remember my father trying to introduce me to Prince after I picked up the guitar. Still, he was also on the local classic R&B station (though only known as ‘The Artist Formerly known as…’ which I didn’t get until much later). In effect, like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, they were big and always there.

And now he’s not… sort of.

The symbol Prince used as his writing moniker during the 90s.

During the mid 90s, Prince had a heated dispute with his record company, Warner Brothers. In order to publish under other arrangements, he changed his name to a unique symbol.

If you set your mind free, honey, maybe you’d understand…

While I grew up with Prince, unlike a lot of music that I grew up on and would later reject, he stayed with me throughout my adolescence, teenage years, and college.

I got teased for still being a Prince fan too, I recall. When I worked as the music director at my college’s radio station, DJ’s thought it was hilarious to leave ‘Graffiti Bridge’ near my desk. But whenever a Prince song played at college, the dance floor immediately became my stage. And as I remember Prince’s part in my life, I have to remind myself of the impact that he’s had as a soundtrack for me to dance and enjoy life.

The jukebox in my head could pull up most, if not all, of his discography. I had the luck of seeing him live in Philadelphia during his Musicology Tour, a birthday present like none other.

But, I became a lot more interested in the man behind the music, a rather secretive and different man. I wanted to engage with his influence and how he approached music. And what music and art and culture and life meant.

Be glad that you are free, free to change your mind

While he may not be here physically (a shock that might never leave), what he left behind in his music is what’s supposed to stay with us longer.

We could probably never fully understand Prince, they ways and methods to his music. But from the scraps and information and interviews I’ve read, there is wisdom that I took from him. That with the funk-punk-rock-soul blends of albums like Controversy, Prince or Dirty Mind, here’s how to challenge an unsuspecting public: It’s a base that’s needed, a place to put your rocket ship before it goes off.

That the mashup of Soul with Dance/Pop (“1999″), Hard Rock (“Purple Rain”), Psychedelia (“Around the World in a Day”), Electro and R&B ( “Sign ‘O’ the Times”), you can, and sort of have to, do anything you like. You can ask more out of yourself. You can take your thoughts and dreams and make them into reality.

That from the end of the Reagan years to the middle of the Clinton years, “Graffitti Bridge” to “Rave un2 the Joy Fantastic” – you have to take control. In the face of changing tastes in pop, politics, personalities, people, and places, you will always struggle with who you are, but it’s a struggle that is up to you to solve. How are you going to live and create the life you want to live and create? And what will be your guide?

And from the new millennium until the end — until your end — you’ll always have work to be done.  You always have to explore. You always have more to learn, relearn, and change. Always have more to love.

And that you’ll always have a sense of freedom and doing all of this. But you HAVE to do it.

You can always see the sun, day or night

Prince might have been an enigma, a contradiction, and an oddity- that skinny biracial kid with a high-pitched voice, who was also a freaky sex-obsessed devout Jehovah’s Witness with a name of an unpronounceable symbol.

And this is something that I don’t want us to miss. Those contradictions are what makes Prince Prince.

And, while I’m still struggling with all the right words and still dealing with this shocking grief, there’s always going to be that solace in the Purple One’s philosophy. A spiritual, complicated, contradictory philosophy that made us all move, dance, laugh, cry, and think.

If there’s anything left to say, and if you’re still struggling with good-bye, the solace that can be taken away would be this: 

‘Cause in this life

Things are much harder than in the after world

And if the elevator tries to bring you down

GO CRAZY