Today is Prince’s birthday and it is cause for his friends and loved ones to celebrate. If you loved his music and appreciated what he gave to the world, that includes you. He made that abundantly clear over and over throughout his career. My appreciation for Prince and his music goes well beyond fandom and I don’t want us to forget the joy of his life while the press continues picking over the circumstances of his passing. It serves no purpose beyond morbid curiosity and petty gossip – both of which were antithetical to the life he lived and shared with us.
The obsession with “how and why” he left us when he did is getting in the way of the most important lessons to be learned from his life. And that lesson is that our definitions of life and death desperately need to be reconsidered. There are transcendent souls that are as present today as they were during their journey through this mortal coil we share. And there are transactional souls that seem to have come into this world “dead on arrival.” It is not that difficult to tell the difference and Prince is a blinding example of the power and beauty of the transcendent soul.
Prince injected so much of himself into the world through his artistry and his energy that his influence and acclaim crossed generations and geography like few human beings that have ever lived.
What makes him stand out is that his impact on culture through his music is equally universal and personal. As an art form music is unique in that way. What can be enjoyed by millions of people contemporaneously can be experienced with equal power by a singular soul that feels connected to the message and emotion in that music. That is why music is so powerful. It moves our humanity and connects us to each other in a way that can only be bested by blood. Imagine feeling a visceral hostility for someone who you discover loves the exact same music and artist that you love. It doesn’t erase your differences but it illuminates a commonality that is undeniable. So when I come across somebody that openly professes a devotion to Prince’s music I feel a connection with them. It is inside that connection that Prince lives and will never die.
What is equally impactful in the message of Prince’s life is that he lived the lesson that the ultimate value for humanity is freedom and not wealth. There are those that are earnest in the belief that wealth equates to freedom and they are correct in drawing a connection. But a more refined view is that wealth plays an important role in a individual’s quest for freedom. But riches can be just as effective as a tool of bondage as a tool of liberation.
Prince already had riches when he openly feuded with Warner Brothers back in the mid-90’s. For him, total control over his music was central to his definition of freedom. So he stood alone – with the word “slave” scrawled across his cheek – in a brutal legal battle with one of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world. In the end, he won his freedom on his own terms and being rich was a collateral matter. This was quite a lesson in a world submerged in wealth worship.
And we are all aware that Prince’s insistence on being free went further still – reaching deep into his own expressions of spirituality, sexuality and even politics. Evidently he figured out as a teenager that there was far greater power in self-definition than there ever could be in fitting into anyone else’s view of what you should be.
To that end, I credit Prince as being a pop-culture icon that embodied inclusion like no other artist ever has. Through the funk-rock fusion of Controversy it was easy to miss the chorus “People call me rude; I wish we all were nude; I wish there was no black or white; I wish there were no rules” or the lines “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?” It is evident that Prince was way ahead of his time and let everybody know back in ’82 that racism, homophobia and religious intolerance were played out. If that was what you were about you really couldn’t share his artistic journey through life.
And what a life it was – almost as amazing as the one he’s living now. Millions of people the world over connect with him and with each other every day through his music. Consequently, he is a permanent part of our atmosphere. That is a status worth aspiring to and is far more valuable than understanding the minutia of the events that triggered his transition. Prince is alive – so please just let it be.