The first time I saw Prince in concert was 1981 at the LA Coliseum. He was the warm-up band for the Rolling Stones on a bill that included the J. Geils Band and George Thorogood. Prince was on few people’s radar at this time as it was before Little Red Corvette, 1999 and Purple Rain. He came on stage in a black leather trench coat and what appeared to be black Speedo and the crowd couldn’t deal. His appearance and music provoked a hostile response from the crowd and they literally booed him off the stage after three songs. Fortunately he didn’t let a little adversity stand in the way of his long-term aspirations.
Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing Prince in concert many times and like many of his admirers was left shocked by his untimely death on April 21.
I wondered how I might pay tribute in my own small way to this great artist. What did Prince teach us all about persistence, staying in the game, building a brand and constantly innovating? Whether you are a Prince fan or not, here are seven reminders we can all benefit from –
- Learn from others, absorb influences and develop your own unique expression. Prince claimed many influences from Steve Wonder to James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. He honored their inspiration and turned that influence into something uniquely his own.
- Give a lot, keep a little for yourself. Prince was generous and had many philanthropic causes. He also helped nurture the careers of many and wrote songs for artists that turned into major hits. At the same time he was a bit of a mystery and kept his personal life private – not easy in the digital age.
- Keep challenging, keep changing. There are few artists today who can say that there music and influence spanned four decades and with each new album came a new sound. He never rested on his laurels and continually re-invented himself. He was an innovator in the truest sense of the word.
- Brand boldy. Prince created his own unique groove that is now thought of as the “Minneapolis Sound” – a hybrid mix of pop, funk, rock, synth and new wave. It only takes a few bars to know it is Prince. In addition, his entire persona embodied that eclectic sense of style. As Miles Davis once said, “If you are gonna be wrong, be wrong strong.” Prince’s brand was outrageous and provocative. Everything from his music to his fashion to the demographics of his bands – he went for it full out. He was an early example of embracing the flamboyant and never shying away from controversy.
- Allow your audience in. While Prince had a very self-absorbed performance style, in recent years he made a point of playing in smaller more intimate venues where he performed solo with just his guitar or piano. His final performances maximized his connection with his audience as he reach out to give back to his fans what they had always given to him.
- Inspiration is everywhere. Prince found inspiration all around him. I read recently a quote that exemplifies this: “I hear things in my sleep; I walk around and go to the bathroom and try to brush my teeth and all of a sudden the toothbrush starts vibrating. That’s a groove, you know? You gotta go with it and that means drop the toothbrush and get down to the studio or get to a bass guitar, quick!”
- Stand for something. Prince was an advocate for artists and music ownership. He battled with his record label Warner Bros. for ownership of his work. He also fought the online forums such as Spotify and YouTube to keep them from giving his music away for free – long before Taylor Swift made her stand.
We all have our aspirations, challenges and passionate pursuits. If we are committed, when we get knocked down, we get up again and carry-on. Prince once said, “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.” Be true to yourself, make your mark, help others along the way and imagine the possibilities everyday. Prince, thank you for the inspiration.