As a young person, did you believe you had to move away from your hometown in order to achieve your ambitions?
I sure did, and young Prince thought so, too.
Back in the dark ages of the 1970s, when Prince was a senior in high school, he gave an interview to his school newspaper, the Central High Pioneer. Seventeen-year-old Prince spent a significant percentage of the brief interview bemoaning the fact that he had been born in Minneapolis. Here’s what reporter Lisa Crawford wrote in the Feb. 13, 1976 issue:
“Prince was born in Minneapolis. When asked, he said, `I was born here, unfortunately.’ Why? `I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good. Mainly because there aren’t any big record companies or studios in this state. I really feel that if we would have lived in Los Angeles or New York or some other big city, we would have gotten over by now.'”
From a 1976 perspective, it’s hard to argue with Prince’s logic (and in case you’re still under the illusion of overnight success being a real thing, remember that the already-frustrated and impatient Prince of 1976 was still eight years, and six albums, from “Purple Rain”). It was indeed hard to get the attention of the record industry when you lived in Minnesota, in an era in which communication was done by letter (we were still a decade away from widespread access to fax machines and FedEx) or expensive long-distance phone calls. Back in the 1970s, the Twin Cities had a population of two million, and as a small city, there were no outposts of major record labels. After graduating from high school, Prince took his own advice and departed the Minneapple for the Big Apple, where he stayed with his half-sister Sharon and tried to get meetings with record companies. He found no greater luck there. Then came a call that a manager in Minneapolis, Owen Husney, wanted to take him on. Prince flew home, and the rest is history.
More than a decade later, in the late 80s, I found myself at a similar age and similarly frustrated as young Prince had been. No, I wasn’t a musician trying to make it, but I was a reporter working in a small town in south-central Wisconsin, with a population of fewer than 10,000 people. No offense to Prince and his frustration at being born in the Minneapple, but if population was a measure of your chances of making it, I was worse off than Prince by several zeros. Like Prince, I knew I had to make a jump — a big one — to get out of my small town and achieve my ambitions. Encouraged by a community member who owned a small public relations firm (public relations was then such an unknown industry that during our first conversation when he told me he owned a PR firm, my response was, “PR? What’s PR?”).
I went to our local library, and in the big Jack O’Dwyers reference books that listed advertising agencies, looked up the addresses and names of PR firms in Chicago and New York. I typed up a compelling letter that would persuade people working in big glass towers in huge cities to take a chance on a small-town reporter, assembled a resume, and mailed them off on a wing and a prayer. Shockingly, I got a response from a PR firm in New York. They took a chance on me, I took a chance on them, and off I went to Manhattan with two suitcases and a 3-week internship that turned into seven years.
That was 1989. Fast forward to 2018, when in my research to get this blog rolling, I came across an Internet-famous photographer and digital marketing coach named Jenna Kutcher. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jenna became famous (I don’t know if Instagram followers are a reliable indication of fame, but she has 846,000 followers) when she was living approximately two blocks from where I lived when I was a reporter. Yes, Jenna Kutcher lived in that same small town that I had to leave to “make it.”
The Internet, for all the things it’s done that can be construed as negative, has done some great things. One of them, I believe, is that it’s enabled people with ambitions to stay in their hometowns AND make it in the great big world.