Prince is dead. We’ve now had some time to let it settle in, but that really does little to take the sting out of those words, for with his untimely death (he was only 57) a great legend has passed from us.
You know what’s amazing? So few people actually know how important he was to music. Admittedly, that was to an extent Prince’s own choice as later in his life he rejected the internet and all that went with it.
He had his music taken off numerous streaming platforms, for he refused a system where profit came before art and the artist. He predicted to the Mirror in 2010, “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else.
They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it. The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”
And though announcements of the internet’s death might have been a bit premature, he was willing to put his money where his mouth is, is something we can all respect and do more of.
Here are 5 life lessons we can learn from Prince:
1. Be true to yourself
Prince made sure his music could never get boxed into one niche or one genre, so that he would never be defined as anything but himself. “I’m not the president of a record company.” He told Mojo in 1998, “I don’t want to be the CEO of anything. No titles. The minute you’ve accepted a title you’re a slave to it.”
We can take a page from his book in that regard, because of late it’s become ever clearer that instead of discovering and establishing our own individuality, we seem to think we can purchase it from the rack. And that is a truly frightful proposition. You cannot buy individuality or character. You can only get it by fighting your inner demons and the outer critics. And Prince came out victorious in both regards.
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.” – Prince
2. A strong spirit transcends the rules
Instead, he believed that we should strive to be different, to be more than the system will let us be. He was both and there were few in the music industry who were stronger than he. In his 35 year career, he produced a mind-boggling 39 albums, while never getting boring, never getting old either as an artist or as a person. And yes he had his weaker moments, but that’s okay, as that’s how we learn.
And yes, he had his problems, which meant not everybody liked him. He was often divisive and had, by his own admission, a bit of an ego problem. But perhaps it was that ego that let him be who he was.
“Why does everyone think I’m mad?” he once reputedly asked a PR agent, “Because you do weird things and you don’t explain them,” was the answer. “But why should you explain things? Isn’t it the truly strong person who can do what they like without feeling the need to explain themselves?”
So get off your Facebook, get off your twitter and your Instagram. Don’t live life for other people, live it for yourself, like Prince did.
3. Practice and perfection
Of course not everybody can pull that off. If you’re just ego with nothing to back it up you’re not going to get very far. He was not anything but just ego, however. Instead, he was incredible at what he did. And that didn’t just come to him either. He worked very hard to be that good, being intensely devoted to his craft. In fact, on his first five albums Prince played nearly every instrument, most of which were self-taught. That’s both an ode to non-formal education and to his incredible ability, unmatched by almost all other artists.
I myself discovered the need to excel only later in life. For many years I believed I was entitled to a good life. Only when that did not materialize on its own did I realize that you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen – you have to go out there and take it by being better than everybody else. I just wish I’d realized that sooner.
4. Ignore the naysayers
“There’s nothing a critic can tell me that I can learn from. If they were musicians, maybe. But I hate reading about what some guy sitting at a desk thinks about me.” Prince told the Rolling Stones magazine in 1990.
He’s right, of course, because the guys behind the desk have it easy. They are backseat drivers who can sit on the sidelines and shout ‘boo’ at you when you fail. To go out there and perform, on the other hand, to thrust yourself into the limelight and give it everything, that takes guts and courage, both of which he had and both of which we could use more of.
So do what Prince did. Ignore the naysayers. Ignore those that snipe at your failures, but don’t call when you succeed. They’re dragging you down because they don’t have the courage to pull themselves up. You’ve got nothing to learn from them and everything to gain by ignoring them.
“Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.” – Prince
5. Build character
If you’d have to sum him up, you’d have to use the word ‘character’. Yes, he was a character, but that’s not what I mean. I mean he had character and even if he was slightly insane (there were times when his former girlfriend couldn’t look at the staff and they could not look at her, while he made her call him ‘Messiah’) he left an indelible impression upon the world – an impression that added, that made the world greater, that left more behind than it took.
And that is an ambition we should all strive for. For if we all added more than we took how great this world would be. And we can certainly all agree that he did that. Now obviously, we don’t all have it in us to add 39 albums in a lifetime, but we don’t need to. We just need to put more in than we take out. And that is something we can all do.