Use Your Gift

My world was completely rocked by the recent passing of Prince. Sigh. What a great talent, a master artist, as everyone knows. But what I personally feel was that he was the creator of the soundtrack of my youth in a rural Minnesota town. I think back to the 1999 album when I was in junior high. We would gather for house parties and his music was always just a little bit naughty–something we didn’t quite fully understand yet, but liked anyway, partly because our parents would not approve. Our theme song for the tennis team was “Delirious.” On the school bus to a tournament we would play “D.M.S.R.” and crank it up, sing “Dance, Music” but then turn it down just on the word “Sex” and back up again on “Romance” so our coach wouldn’t catch on to what we were listening to. We would play “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” at dances where the chaperones must have had no clue about the lyrics! For me it was about the music. I loved the beats, the synths, the funk, what can I say? It was pure joy. Then when Purple Rain came out it was like the heavens had parted and given me the best gift ever. The movie, the soundtrack, pure awesomeness. Forget about the closing lines of Casablanca or Gone with the Wind, is not his performance to “Baby I’m a Star” the best ending to a film you’ve ever seen? I have always loved that song. I would dance to it and pretend that I was a star too, up there on a stage.

I loved anything I could dance to. I made up a whole routine to “Thieves in the Temple” that was pretty darned good—quite interpretive, very dramatic. Nobody saw it of course, so you will have to take my word for it. I created Prince mix tapes for working out in the house. I loved that I loved his whole albums. Everybody knows “Raspberry Beret” but I loved “Paisley Park,” “Tambourine,” and “America” from the Around the World in a Day album. The Diamonds and Pearls album had some silly yet great dance tunes on it like “Jughead” and “Push.” It’s amazing my living room carpet didn’t become completely threadbare! I remember once my mom walked in while I was dancing to “Gett Off” right when he was singing about the number of positions in a one night stand. She was like, “Ummm, what did he just say?” “Oh, nothing mom!”

Some of his music has a throw-back sound that I just love. Again on Diamonds and Pearls he had a couple of jazz-infused songs like “Strollin’” and “Willing and Able.” So good. You just have to tap your foot and smile all the way through it. Then there’s the powerful political statement of “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”—one of my favorite ballads. And that’s just one album I’m using as an example. He could shift musical genres (from pop to funk to jazz to soul) and lyrical themes (from romance to sex to politics to partying) as easily as he could shift instruments.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but my biggest one is this: I had the opportunity to go on a tour of Paisley Park in the early 90s and I TURNED IT DOWN. I was living in Minneapolis at the time, and a friend of a friend worked there as a wardrobe stylist. I remember she said her job was very stressful and chaotic, like at a moment’s notice she had to hunt down a dozen pairs of leather boots for the dancers. She offered to show me around, and this was back when Paisley was on lockdown like Fort Knox. For one of the few times in my life I got shy, I guess because I felt intimidated and/or freaked out, and I was all sheepish, like, “No, that’s OK.” What??!!!!

Thankfully I was able to see him in concert in Omaha in 1997. I remember lying awake in bed not being able to sleep in anticipation of it. Back then there was no internet so I had to go stand in line at a Ticketmaster location. Even with careful and intense preparation I did not get good seats at all—third row from the back as I recall. But once inside it really didn’t matter. I was so thankful I brought binoculars! I was in awe by how he could just hop from instrument to instrument with no trouble at all. He played his songs like one big medley. It was a little frustrating that he didn’t seem to finish a song, but would roll right into the next. However, his catalog was so big and he merged his songs in a cool way so all was forgiven. I remember him calling out to the sound and lighting people to get things just right. He wanted it the way he wanted it. He stopped in the middle of a saxophone solo to say “Turn the lights down in here; I’m trying to get sexy!” He played the opening notes of “Darling Nikki” on the piano and the crowd went absolutely berserk. He stopped, pretending to be in shock, and gasped, “I’m gonna tell your ma!” He must have known that we had listened to his music covertly growing up. He had a 15-minute dedication to God in the middle of the concert.  In stark contrast, he played “Gett Off” and used a cane to point to people to come up on stage to dance with him. With my lousy seat I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting up there but I was tempted to run down front. Looking back—why didn’t I?

Saturday April 16 was my birthday. While Prince was making his final appearance at Paisley Park, I was celebrating in a bar, selecting three songs of his to play on the jukebox. I included “Sarah,” a fun, little-known ditty off The Vault album, hoping to introduce the crowd to something new. It makes me sad that the songs I picked didn’t play before we left for the night. Oh well. I guess I can think of that now as our cosmic connection—that I was thinking of him on my birthday, while he appeared at Paisley for the last time, playing “Chopsticks” on his new piano. I always have and always will select his songs to play on a jukebox. His music won’t die as long as I’m around, or the millions of fans around the world are around. I can only hope the next generation will carry it forward.

Prince used his gift to inspire us to use our gifts. As a fellow Minnesotan, he was one of us. If he could succeed, we could succeed. What I am struck by, especially, was his ability to trust his gift and have the courage to share it in a way that suited him. That’s where alot of us normal people get stuck. We have to believe in our gifts AND really not care if other people don’t get it. That takes a lot of guts. Do you think Prince cared about whether his creative process was “right,” whether the end result was “acceptable”? Nope, I don’t think so. I just watched an interview that Prince did with Larry King in 1999. Prince said, “To use your gift in a creative way—that’s the best thing you can do.” So I encourage all of us to do what is best, to have the courage to creatively share our unique gifts with the world. After all, Prince would want it that way.