Part of living like Prince is using his songs like an apothecary. I like to imagine his songs as colorful bottles on a shelf of a magical apothecary. Feeling blue? Pick the prescribed bottle off the shelf. Play its music and you might find your spirits lifting, or as Prince called titled of his songs, “Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful.”
Prince left us more than a thousand released songs and for any possible emotional state, you’ll certainly find one that heals whatever ails you.
In keeping with the theme for my month of color, here are some common ailments and colorful Princely prescriptions:
SYMPTOM: You broke someone’s heart and “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it.
PRESCRIPTION: There’s no better way to apologize than the opening lines of “Purple Rain”
SYMPTOM: You’re suffering from low self-confidence
PRESCRIPTION: “Cream,” a reminder of who you are and how much you’re capable of
SYMPTOM: You’re on cloud nine, having met someone who wows you
PRESCRIPTION: “Raspberry Beret,” my personal favorite Prince-penned pop song
SYMPTOM: You are crushed by yet another horrific act of violence that sees innocent people being killed
PRESCRIPTION: A song called “Cinnamon Girl” about a woman who prays for no more war
SYMPTOM: You’ve had a rotten string of bad relationship luck
PRESCRIPTION: Until you find a righteous one … “Computer Blue”
SYMPTOM: This time, you’re on the receiving end of an unwanted break-up and you can’t stop playing the memories back in your mind
PRESCRIPTION: “Tangerine” has Prince using his ex’s picture as a coaster and bemoaning that she changed her phone number
SYMPTOM: You’re feeling disgusted by our celebrity culture
PRESCRIPTION: “Gold,” because Prince has been to the mountaintop and he wants you to know — there’s nothing there.
Sometimes at night I put a glowing orb on my nightstand and stare at it as it changes colors. (The color-changing orb is the goofiest thing, I swear. It cost maybe $3 and I’ve had it for years). I get so absorbed in the brilliant cobalt shade of blue that when it begins to fade and morph into the next color, I am literally sad to see blue disappear. And then as blue gives way to green, I fall in love with the green. I am fickle.
Now I’m dreaming of summer and wish I was sitting on the grass at Lake Ann watching my kids playing with the dog. But I’m only allowed a moment’s reverie. The colors of the orb are fleeting. I want to capture the smell of green grass before green disappears and morphs into purple.
As I feel about colors in the orb, Prince felt about creative inspiration. He believed you must capture inspiration when it strikes, and act on it. In Paisley Park, he built a world around him that supported his work 24 hours a day. Every room was wired for sound — including the bathrooms. There was literally no way for inspiration to escape Prince. He had it cornered. And when it came, he worked as hard as he could for as long as inspiration stuck around. When it was done, he rested. Knowing that Prince lived his life that way, watching the orb, I released purple and watched as it morphed into love.
A good leader is fair and equitable. A good leader might feel more positive about one team member than the other but treats them both the same. A good leader makes sure all team members get an equal chance and equal assignments. Right?
Wrong! The best leaders play favorites all the time. Leaders lean on the people who show they are willing to say yes to the organization. Why struggle to convince people who are resistant to doing what needs to be done — whether that’s a business, or a band? Playing favorites can be viewed as a way of going with the flow. In a competitive world, playing favorites can give your organization a competitive advantage.
If Prince ever had a band member who wasn’t willing to do the work (“Are we really going to work these hours?” “I need to get home for (insert event),” they got left behind. Your work ethic is one way to make yourself a favorite. If you were a girlfriend, however, I think the playing favorites tendency wouldn’t be any fun at all. Your time basking in the sunshine of his attention would be heavenly, but the inevitable fall? Ouch. That would be tremendously painful.
But, back to color. Prince would become besotted by a certain color and wear it, sing about, buy a car in that color, get his band members to wear complementary colors — he was unabashedly playing color favorites. As I mentioned yesterday, he went through a yellow period in the early 90s that makes me happy. But the yellow period eventually ended and we wound up with Prince wearing an electric blue jumpsuit with his hair in pigtails by the end of the 20th century. I guess you could say that all good things never last. There was great controversy in 2017 when Tyka Nelson declared that her brother’s favorite color was orange, not purple. I’m sure orange did have his heart in some period of time. But Prince was never going to be fenced in with one favorite for his whole life. He rolled with his emotions and happily embraced his next favorite color.
How did the color yellow become so maligned? It’s connected with two unattractive “-ice” words — cowardice and jaundice. But to me, it’s the color of playfulness and joyousness. I love yellow. It’s the only color that makes me smile just looking at it.
In the early 90s, Prince seemed hell-bent on getting away from purple and eventually, even his identity as Prince. He wore a lot of yellow during a string of early 90s albums that included Diamonds & Pearls and the Love Symbol album and then morphed into gold with The Gold Experience, which was released after he dropped his name and adopted the Love Symbol as his name. In the early 90s, Prince was working to make a comeback after the commercial failure of Grafitti Bridge and was bursting forth with the energy that came from having a new band called the New Power Generation that could seemingly play anything. He even had a yellow BMW that featured prominently in the videos for Gett Off andGangster Glam.
Prince’s yellow period is cemented in history with the infamous yellow lace “butt out” suit that he wore to perform “Gett Off” on the MTV Video Music Awards in 1991, two years after Andrew Dice Clay had been banned for life for a routine that included two of the seven words you can never say on television. Prince’s yellow butt-out suit was one in a long history of shocking VMA stunts, from Michael Jackson’s awkward kiss of Lisa Marie Presley to proclaim their love (1994), to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” writhing on stage in a wedding dress in the show’s inaugural year, 1984 (and many years later, kissing Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears).
I’m not much into butt-out suits but I am considering buying this yellow sweater in honor of my month of color and in my undying optimism that spring will one day arrive. I don’t know if I look great in yellow, but who cares! If it makes you happy …
Every Tuesday, I attend the Open Art Studio class at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. When I signed up, I assumed that “art” included writers (hey, I’m an artist too, right?), and when I showed up the first day and opened up my laptop, I realized that everyone else was setting up easels and tubes of paint and going to the nearby kitchen to fetch water for their brushes. Whatever initial awkwardness there was, was quickly dismissed by Wendy DePaolis, the Arboretum’s Curator of Art and Sculpture and Fine Arts Education Programmer. She popped into the class that first day and told me, “I thought it was fun that a writer would join the group!” I’ve since become the group’s token writer. My fellow artists at work on watercolors or oil painting never fail to inquire about my latest projects. They get a kick out of my love of all things Prince. (And yes, I once played Prince’s song “Arboretum” for them. Fortunately, it’s an instrumental so lyrical content was not an issue. Ha!).
Prince loved the Arboretum, which is just down the highway from Paisley Park. Knowing that Prince loved this place is part of the reason I signed up for class. When I first moved to Minnesota, I’d go anywhere Prince used to go, figuring if it was good enough for him, it was certainly good enough for me. So I went to hear music at Dakota Jazz Club, where he had a table, and had brunch at People’s Organic, where the owners were Prince’s personal chefs. Prince has never steered me wrong, even when I inadvertently wound up in art class.
There is a whole series of photographs of Prince taken at the Arboretum by his former art director Steve Parke. The colors here are spectacular year-round and I am greatly inspired by watching paintings take shape. In the midst of a very long winter, seeing painters at work with brushes and palettes of paint in every hue of the rainbow lifts my spirits. And even though I’m here tapping away at the keys on a laptop rather than brush on canvas, it’s remarkable what a room full of artists can accomplish together! There is a colorful energy to creating — whatever the medium.
Prince and the color purple are forever linked because of the song Purple Rain, right?
Here’s a little glimpse behind the curtain of the wizard of Paisley Park. Prince is linked with purple because of branding and an intentional effort to have you connect him with purple. He wasn’t the only performer to be identified with a color: Johnny Cash wrote a song called “Man in Black” and only wore black after that; Jack White and Meg White of the White Stripes also identified with a color.
Chris Moon, who in the 1970s was a Minneapolis-based record producer and Prince’s early collaborator, said he suggested that Prince link his identity to a color. In a Facebook post in 2018, Moon shared this:
When I first started working with Prince, I was also running the recording studio at Campbell-Mithun, the largest ad agency in MN. They had many very large national and International clients and I would learn how advertising campaigns and product image was developed by watching the ad execs develop them.
In the process, I sat in on a color review meeting one week when the ad agency worked on selecting a single color for a new company image and this is when learned how color was used in advertising. I shared this story with Prince when I was working to develop his image for him and explained how linking a color to a product or artist created another way for the audience to identify them.
We had gone through a lengthy process of settling on his name (another story for another day) so during one of the next steps in the marketing and packaging process, I proposed to Prince this idea of picking a color for his identity. I suggested the one we should use for him be Purple as it was a color directly associated with royalty which would help cement the Prince name in the minds of fans. I told him if we always used purple on everything associated with him, then as an artist eventually he would own that color and no other artist could use it without it reminding the audience of Prince … that it would be HIS color. He liked the idea and he liked the color purple so we agreed from that point on this would be HIS color.
Decades later, the idea of personal branding would take hold (the bestselling book The Brand Called You, was published in 1997). The idea of personal branding leads us to the treacherous questions of the brand called Prince, versus the human being called Prince, and later, how Prince dropped the brand called Prince and became a symbol. What he was really saying to us was that while “Prince” was his birth name, it was a brand. As much as “Prince” was a brand, so were the various personas he adopted to express other parts of his personalities, from the character of Christopher Tracy in Under the Cherry Moon, to Jamie Starr (the producer of The Time and Vanity 6).
The other day, I was talking with my husband about the myriad challenges of raising kids. Ah, parenthood. It breaks your heart and rebuilds it over and over again. We started discussing how our educational system rewards certain traits in kids, while trying to squash others. The message is clear: Conform, and succeed. But squelching parts of you that are a unique gift and great strength is not the way to success (at best), and harmful to your soul (at worst).
Imagine if Prince had squelched aspects of his personality in order to conform. Imagine the tragedy of Prince diminishing his own genius so he could be like everyone else (whoever “everyone else” is). The world would be so much poorer for what he could have contributed but didn’t allow himself.
Be unapologetically yourself. The world needs you. And watch this two-minute film from brilliant Minneapolis filmmaker Nic Askew.
Erika Peterson is an L.A.-based artist and a contributor to the Muse 2 the Pharoah podcast that explores Prince, from a female perspective. As someone with synesthesia, until she was 20, she thought everyone experienced music the way she did — full of color! Here, Erika gives us a glimpse into how she “sees” music.
Q. How did you figure out that you have synesthesia? We had a unit on it in one of my art classes my second year in college and up until then I thought everyone heard colors in music! I was honestly surprised to find out that I was the only person in the class to experience it.
Q. Can you describe how synesthesia feels for you? When it comes to letters, numbers, sounds, songs, do you “see” them in colors, or is it more of “when you think of the color E, what color do you imagine it to be?” I experience it in several different ways! I don’t necessarily “see” them in colors but for me, the letter E and my name are both red, the number 6 is green. I manage a lot of calendars at work and when people color code them I always have to redo them because the paint department is seafoam green, please do NOT use a hot pink highlight on it!! It manifests itself in dance as well – when I hear certain sounds, it makes me want to move my body in a certain way. And this part sounds so silly in writing, but I have a lot of really big, colorful tattoos – full sleeves, kind of a watercolor, dreamy style, lots of blues and purples and greens… when I finally finished them, I felt like I finally looked on the outside how I feel on the inside… bursting with color and vibrancy.
Q. Is there anything in Prince’s work — clothes he wore in certain periods, stage lighting for certain songs — that makes you wonder if he might have had synesthesia? YES. Diamonds and Pearls for me is so pleasing in this way – the end of the 80s seemed to be such a fraught and emotionally loaded time for him, a lot of the music is darker both in sound and lyrical content (a lot of suicide contemplation in Graffiti Bridge!); Diamonds and Pearls sounds to me like the sun coming out after a storm, so the abundance of canary yellow in his wardrobe at this time and the choreography with the Game Boyz during “Daddy Pop” fits with it so nicely. Sign O’ The Times is another one that sounds like how he dressed and the stage set for the movie – I didn’t see anything from it until I was well acquainted with the album, so it was pleasing to see a lot of peach because that’s how Camille’s voice sounds to me. Art Official Age sounds like space to me, like you’re floating through a galaxy and Lianne La Havas’s voice is a shiny, smooth metallic gold cutting through it, really futuristic and in a dreamlike space. Again it was something I listened to before I saw the album art or what he was wearing at the time (lots of galaxy prints and metallics).
Q. Do you identify particular Prince “eras” with colors? How about albums? The Black Album for me is that – mostly black! Same with Batman – most of the songs on those two albums don’t seem as colorful as his earlier 80s work or as lush as his early 90s output. Lots of shiny blacks and thin lines, but not much else. The One Night Alone era is green for me, I have no idea why!!
Q. For the fun of it … do you connect any of these songs with a color?
Little Red Corvette – the title of the song when written is green!! The synths are pulsing rainbows, the song itself is orange-ish yellow. Definitely not red.
The Beautiful Ones – the song as a whole is black, the keys are hot pink, his voice in this is lavender, the synths in this are green, at the end when he’s screaming it’s a dark blue.
If I Was Your Girlfriend – the drum machine is black, his voice is peach, the backing vocals are thin, straight black lines, morphs into green at the end.
Girls & Boys – light blue with white sparkles, the bari sax is a dark blue/teal.
Gold – this song sounds like the album cover looks. his voice on it is a sheer, thin white, the end is like… a burst of rainbows/fireworks like the old Winamp screen savers in the early 2000s!
Morning Papers – shades of blue, his voice is a light blue, the piano is white, the guitar is gold and the horns are yellow.
4Ever – layers of green, the instrumentation is dark green, his voice is grass green, strings are light green. Ombre stripes almost.
Dolphin – the beginning sounds like when you’re underwater looking up at the surface when sunlight hits it. The rest of the song is thin strings of color, mostly blues and greens.
Way Back Home – this whole album is SO colorful (but in a different way than the Revolution albums are colorful). This song sounds like nebula looks.. navy and purple, hot pink swirls of cloud looking formations with billions of stars. His voice is rich and smooth matte black with gold streaks.
Big City – this song is so vibrant! Mostly red, lots of warm colors.
BONUS – the song Peach is not peach at all, its various shades of green and his voice is red. The guitar solo in Joy in Repetition is always green, no matter what version.
Q. What’s been the absolute best thing about having the gift of synesthesia?The ability to experience music through so many different senses & appreciate it so fully! The ability to manipulate your mood with music isn’t exclusive to someone with synesthesia, but if I’m feeling a particular way, I can choose to enhance it or change it by listening to songs that feel like certain colors, or that make me want to dance in a specific fashion. For instance today it’s raining so I’m listening to a lot of songs that have a dark & stormy sound to me – not necessarily moody, they just sound like it looks outside. And of course another fun aspect is freaking people out, let’s be honest.
Thank you for sharing your gift with us, Erika! Check out Erika’s art via her Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/houseofmiranda or her business Instagram, @erika_anne_creative.
The venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica describes synesthesia as “a neuropsychological trait in which the stimulation of one sense causes the automatic experience of another sense.” The encyclopedia describes synesthesia as a genetically linked trait estimated to affect from two to five percent of the general population.
In other words, if you see a color when you hear a song, you might have synesthesia.
Many people, including myself, believe that Prince had the gift of synesthesia. (Yes, I consider synesthesia a gift). Learning about synesthesia connected a lot of dots for me. Synesthesia doesn’t only involve sounds and colors. It can mean that letters or numbers are linked to colors too. For example, my name starts with “L.” My favorite color has been yellow since I was a little girl. Now I recognize that the letter “L” is yellow. It makes tons of sense that yellow became my favorite color.
During my Year of Living Like a Prince, I am actively working to develop my synesthesia skills, specifically, color hearing, in which musical notes and sounds are connected to color visualization. Color hearing is relatively frequent, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. A lot of us can do this and here’s the thing: You can’t do it wrong.
Since I’m a yellow lover, let’s take Prince’s yellow period as an example. If you’re wondering, what the heck is Prince’s yellow period, give yourself a moment. What album feels the most yellow to you?
For me, it’s Diamonds and Pearls, closely followed by the Love Symbol album, which is where Prince began to transition from yellow to gold. Of course, the yellow/gold period culminated in The Gold Experience.
Isn’t this fun? Synesthesia is exhilarating once you learn to tell your mind to TAKE A BACK SEAT and let ideas come into your field without interfering.
Although Prince will forever be identified with the color purple, his exuberant musical catalog skips across the rainbow, from one colorful reference to the next. Like a coat of many colors, Prince’s catalog includes songs such as “Peach,” “Cream,” “Gold” and “Tangerine,” as well as those with colorful adjectives such as “White Mansion,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Raspberry Beret.”
Color references weren’t reserved for songs, however. Prince’s love of color was reflected in his clothing, stage lighting and even his cars, from his yellow BMW to the purple Prowler and the baby blue Bentley (the Prowler and Bentley are on display in the sound stage at Paisley Park). A Chanhassen resident who grew up next door to Prince’s bodyguard Chick Huntsberry told me that Prince would drive around town in an orange VW bus dating from the 1960s. (If anyone can confirm this, please let me know!). He did sing a song live at Paisley Park on June 18,1995 called “The Volkswagen Blues,” so perhaps that is a clue that he was having trouble with the orange bus. Or, as with so many thing Prince — maybe not.
Prince relied heavily on purple stage attire in the early days of his career, but once he “graduated” from the juggernaut that was the Purple Rain tour, he branched out and wore every color of the rainbow. In his first major video after Purple Rain, he appeared wearing a bright blue suit covered in fluffy cumulonimbus clouds and singing “Raspberry Beret.” He looked good in it. Somehow, he managed to look good in all colors, from lime green to vibrant orange (who looks good in both lime green and orange, I ask?).
Halfway into my month of exploring Prince and color, I feel like a kid in a colorful candy store. It occurs to me that Prince delighted in his music the way a kid delights in a candy store. And it led me to wonder if Prince ever secretly got fed up by the limitations of purple and the way that branding effort took on a life of its own. I can imagine that all purple, all the time, could have made him feel like he was painted into a corner. Once, when I was young, my Grandma exclaimed to the family how much she loved the color orange. For the next three years, every gift from every grandchild was orange, from kitchen towels to candles to throw pillows. Finally, my poor, overwhelmed-by-orange Grandma declared a moratorium on the hue!
In fact, what if Prince’s favorite color was not purple, but rather, changed throughout the years? Blasphemy? Not at all! One of his defining qualities as an artist was the way he freely changed his image on a dime. His sister Tyka made headlines in 2017 when she declared that Prince’s favorite color was not purple, but orange. Others have said that Prince’s favorite color was yellow during the early 1990s when he made Diamonds and Pearls. Some reported that he loved the color gold. I can certainly buy that, as the Love Symbol album, released in 1992, one year after Diamonds and Pearls, featured his new symbol emblazoned in gold over a photo from the video for the song “Seven,” with Mayte dressed in a stunning yellow bellydancing costume. In 1995, he released his first album under his new identity as the Love Symbol, and entitled it The Gold Experience. That album’s title track was “Gold,” a power ballad that sure felt a lot like a song intended to be the successor to “Purple Rain.”
This month, we’ll take a look at how Prince branded himself with the color purple — a strategy that other artists from Johnny Cash to Jack White have also done successfully — and explore the many hues he wore, wrote about and incorporated into everything from his beloved cars to his even-more-beloved guitars.