I still haven’t read the obituaries — I am in first rate denial. So this week, I’m thinking what his career as an artist teaches me.
Work quickly and finish. Some artists aim for process, others for product. Prince did both. Susan Rogers, his former sound engineer, told the BBC, “Prince once described his creativity as a curse, explaining: ‘If I didn’t make music, I’d die.'” He worked quickly – often finishing a song a day while others took a week. The myth of The Vault of his unreleased music claims that Prince could release an album every year for the next 100 years. “…As long as the guy was awake and breathing, we would be playing music. And most of that time, he was recording that music,” said Rogers.
Be unbelievable. Three years ago today, I saw Prince in concert for the first time. I was on a group trip to Las Vegas to remember a friend who had died. (This is how my people mourn, don’t judge us.) We’ve had our differences but seeing Prince was the first thing we agreed upon unanimously in 20 years. At The Joint at the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel, when Prince looked up from his guitar, gave us a shy grin, asked, “Girl, how come you don’t call me?” I screamed from the eighth row like a teenager. He started with a cover of “Let’s Go” by The Cars which blossomed into “Wild Thing” by The Troggs. In his hands, of course, those songs were always meant to be together, Prince made them his own. Then he led us into his own music and at the end of the night, Prince – 100, Audience – 0. It’s like Charlie Murphy says, “I mean, it wasn’t even close.” Prince blew us away.
Excellence on your terms, not theirs. There are the funny reminders, like when Prince challenged Jimmy Fallon to a game of ping pong. Then when Questlove went roller skating with Prince. Then there are the serious ones like his dispute with Warner Brothers. There was an ironic, low grade whine last week when fans couldn’t stream his music. This is the hard line Prince holds for all creatives — that artists should have control of their work and get paid. He called it out without apology, “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”
I’m not ready to feel the loss yet. On Friday, I waved to the guy jogging in his purple t-shirt. My Facebook feed is flooded with screenings of Purple Rain, Prince tribute parties. Cool. I keep telling myself that everyone is just celebrating Prince. I love everyone’s “that time…” stories about him. This one too. Keep telling them. There’s still so much to learn.