This weekend, I attended Wordsmith 2019, a writing conference hosted by the Loft Literary Center at the University of Minnesota. My agenda had less to do with exploring the craft of writing and more to do with this: Find potential band members who can work as a de facto team to help me turn “Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like Prince” from a blog and a prayer, into a book.
Intentionality was key. When Prince auditioned band members, he listened not only for skill but for an innate, funky style. I would follow his lead: While keeping an eye out for people with valuable skill sets, they also needed to demonstrate a sensibility that matches that of this admittedly quirky, funk-filled project. It was a tall order!
With that in mind, I headed to a “speed dating” session for writers. The session’s goal was to enable you to connect with other writers who could support you in your work. Some participants were looking for a writers’ group; others were looking for a match in terms of their genre — say, someone writing historical fiction with a fantasy element set in medieval times (writers can be a wee bit specific about genres). Shockingly, no one I spoke with was seeking anyone writing a memoir of a year that they could describe as “like`Julie & Julia,’ only with less food and more funk.” (Wouldn’t that have been something!) But no matter. Rather, inspired by the way Prince sought out talented people who could do what he couldn’t — play horns or design websites or make costumes — I was looking for potential bandmates with skills I didn’t have and who were great at what they did.
As we rotated around the room in a musical-chairs arrangement, I spoke with seven people for four minutes each. Not surprisingly, opening a conversation with, “I’m a suburban mom living like Prince” tends to pique people’s interest. Still, one writer stared in puzzlement; another gave a bemused “sorry, not for me” look. Two others took an open-minded approach. While Prince wasn’t their cup of tea, they essentially replied, “I might not be your ideal reader but I can appreciate your idea; tell me more.” Three times, the eyes of the writer sitting across from me lit up. “How are you doing that?” they asked.
Ultimately, however, the person I honed in on as a good prospect for my “band” was in the open-minded bunch who weren’t ga-ga over Prince but didn’t dismiss the “living like Prince” spiel as a sign that they were sitting across from a madwoman, either. This gentleman described himself as a tech entrepreneur who’d sold a couple of companies and who had retired and was looking to write. As a writer, I could be helpful to him; he’s an entrepreneur, and that’s invaluable because being an author is an entrepreneurial venture that requires a product, branding, marketing, and distribution. Those things are notoriously difficult to do for oneself. But when I approached him the next day to say I’d chosen him, it turned out that he hadn’t chosen me. This could have spelled disastrous rejection, but au contraire: He seemed pleased to hear that having his input would be valuable and gave me his business card so we could be in touch. One potential band member connection made!
Then, at lunch, I joined a table of nonfiction and memoir writers and chatted with a woman who was younger than the typical demographic for anything Prince-related, but who she exclaimed enthusiastically over the idea of “living like Prince.” She impressed me with her self-awareness as she shared how she’d moved from a place with a high cost of living to a less expensive smaller city so that she could write as a profession and still manage her life. She showed a lot of dedication to her craft and a high level of maturity to boot and she happens to do freelance editing. She could be an ideal editor to help develop a book manuscript. We exchanged emails. Potential band number two, found.
When you’re going the traditional publishing route, the two other band members you need are an agent and an editor at the publishing house that’s publishing your work. The agent comes first and is your ally and guide in the publishing industry. The agent, in fact, is the one who connects you with editors at publishing houses. Once the publishing house signs you to a book deal, then you, the agent and the editor become a trio with the mission of bringing your book to life. I didn’t expect to land an agent at the conference; far from it! But I was encouraged by the positive, warm connections I made. Band members three and four remain at large, but that’s nothing concerning at this stage in the process. Prince bumped into his musical comrade-in-arms Andre Cymone as a junior high school student standing in a line in the gymnasium. Bandmates three and four will step forward when the time is right. Meanwhile, it’s time to start rehearsing with my new bandmates.
As November begins, I can hardly recall the bright and shiny version of me who jumped headlong into Living Like Prince back in January. Rather, I feel like a marathon runner who’s hit the wall at the 20-mile mark of a 26.2-mile race. Though I’ve still got that gleam in my eye, though I’ve still got determination and passion and desire, I’m emotionally exhausted and physically tired. I can see the finish line — it’s right there, in my sights. But even though I can see it, I find it hard to visualize myself finishing.
How do marathoners get through those final miles? Do they grit their teeth and do it all alone? I guess that’s possible, but it’s hard. When you have others who will spur you on, it makes you feel more able to dig into your reserves of strength. It’s hugely helpful to have others — whether you call them partners, teammates, friends or comrades — who will practically push (shove) you over the finish line.
Recently, I was thinking of Prince (as one does when they are living like Prince) and his first album, 1978’s “For You.” Young Prince wrote all the music and the lyrics and played every instrument and sang lead vocals and backup vocals and then produced the whole dang thing.
Prince was literally a one-man band.
While the album was a huge accomplishment, Prince couldn’t succeed in the music business without performing live. What was he going to do, run around the stage trying to play every instrument simultaneously? Even Prince, with all his abilities, couldn’t manage to pull off that superhuman feat. No, there was no way to perform without a drummer and a bass player and a guitarist and a keyboard player or two, so Prince had auditions and assembled his band.
Prince needed a band, I thought. That’s what I need, too.
Not a literal rock band, mind you. What I need is more akin to a “band of brothers” variety of band. A tribe. A council. A trusted group that’s got my back and will help me do whatever it takes to get across that finish line.
No one can thrive in isolation. Not Prince. Not me. And not you, either. This month, I’m going to seek to connect with other writers, professionals with complementary skills and maybe even a mentor. With the support of others, we can cross the finish line, depleted but happy.
An early theme of “Graffiti Bridge,” Prince’s spiritually-oriented 1990 movie, was the search for what Prince called “the grand progression.” When a progression of 17 guitar chords was played, it would cause the mystical Graffiti Bridge to appear. While there was a literal Graffiti Bridge in nearby Eden Prairie that had been used by Vietnam War protestors to share messages of peace, in the movie “Graffiti Bridge,” the bridge was a physical manifestation of a spiritual state of mind.
The unreleased ballad, “The Grand Progression,” was written for the movie but ultimately eschewed in favor of “Still Would Stand All Time” (you can hear “The Grand Progression” by searching YouTube for it). The song is filled with a yearning for union, of both the sexual and spiritual kind. In the concept of a grand progression, Prince expresses the mystical aspect of the musical harmonies that had been mathematized as far back as 500 b.c. by Greek philosopher Pythagoras. Like Pythagoras, Prince was exploring the mathematical aspect of music in the concept of a grand progression, but Prince added another dimension: He was also expressing music’s effect on the human spirit.
As I pilgrimaged through October, Prince’s idea of a grand progression took on new meaning. I began to see every step of my spiritual journey as a chord in “The Grand Progression.” Each step moves us forward in a journey to get closer to our higher self. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned the grand progression as mystical musical staircase that leads us into a higher level of consciousness, and at the end of our lives, back into the arms of God.
What I’ve learned this month is that spiritual journeys are built on trust. You must be willing to let go of the comfort of one step to move to the next level. You must trust that there will always be another step on which your foot will land safely. And like an improvising musician, you must trust that in releasing one chord, the next will come.
If you see life as The Police did when they sang, “We are spirits in the material world,” then it follows that life by definition is a spiritual journey, one travelled by your spirit, carried within your body for the purpose of having an earthly experience. And if we listen to one of Prince’s spiritual teachers, author Betty Eadie, what we are here on Earth to do is to grow our spirits through serving God — “Love God” — and serving each other — “Love4OneAnother.” We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Well, there’s one thing we do take with us, according to Eadie: When we leave our bodies, our spiritual growth during this lifetime is what we take back to heaven.
Tomorrow, we turn a page on the calendar to a new month and a fresh start. Tune in for the announcement of November’s theme!
Midway through October, my attempt to assimilate Prince’s 57-year spiritual journey into 31 days has left my mind spinning. And why wouldn’t it? Prince and his music bounced back and forth between the profane and the sacred like a ball bounding across the ping pong table in Paisley Park’s Studio B.
I needed to talk with someone who could provide clarity and insight into Prince’s spiritual life. Ideally, the person would have known Prince. She would be someone he trusted and respected. And she would have a great deal of life experience.
Or, afterlife experience.
Betty J. Eadie is the author of “Embraced by the Light,” the vivid and detailed account of the near death experience she went through following a surgery in 1973. After Prince’s death in 2016, Eadie wrote about their decades-long relationship on her website. That tribute caught my attention and made me wonder: Could Eadie provide me with guidance on how to be a spiritual seeker like Prince? I was eager to speak with her.
Eadie, a mother of eight, might seem an unlikely choice of spiritual mentor for rock star Prince. But spiritual mentor is exactly what Eadie became when the two met in the early 1990s, a particularly turbulent time in Prince’s life. He was extracting himself from his contract with Warner Bros., changing his name to a symbol and writing “slave” across his face.
Eadie, now 77 years old and living in Seattle, published “Embraced by the Light” in 1992. The book, published by a small press, slowly garnered publicity, and ultimately landed Eadie on the then-mountaintop of all talk shows, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” “Embraced” was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years and Eadie became a household name.
In the midst of that hectic time, Eadie’s office received a package. Inside were photos and CDs sent by Prince.
“I put one (CD) in and listened to it and thought, `That is horrible music,'” Eadie laughs. Eadie, who was 16 years older than Prince, says that as a busy mother and author, she had only a vague idea of who he was.
As part of her book tour, Eadie visited Minneapolis, and while speaking to a darkened auditorium filled with thousands of readers, the doors in the back opened. Illuminated from the light streaming in from outside, Eadie saw the silhouette of a small figure followed by a group of people who took seats in the back row. She was mystified, but kept speaking. The next day, Eadie received an invitation from that small figure’s representatives: Would she like to visit Prince at Paisley Park? To appease her son — he served as her agent, traveled with her and exclaimed, “Mom, he’s one of the greatest singers of all time!” — Eadie agreed to shift her travel arrangements to accommodate a visit.
Upstairs at Paisley Park, Eadie says she found herself sitting knee-to-knee on a love seat with Prince. Her son sat on a second love seat, with a coffee table in between them. Eadie was facing Prince’s right side, where he had written “slave” across his cheek.
“I couldn’t avoid looking at it,” she says. “With that`slave’ on his cheek, he looked so pathetic and wounded-looking and sad.”
Prince said, “You got my music?”
Eadie replied, “Yes, I did.”
He said, “Well, what do you think of them (the CDs)?”
Eadie noticed her son sucking in his breath sharply. He knew how open and honest his mother was.
“It’s not really my type of music so I can’t really comment on it,” she said.
Her son exhaled.
“I write it for the kids,” Prince replied.
“I know you do,” Eadie said to Prince, gathering her courage. “But is that the type of music you should be writing for them? It’s painful, hurtful, suggestive and it’s not the kind of music I want the kids to listen to. As talented as you are and as much as I know you love youth, why don’t you write things from your heart that are uplifting?”
Eadie knew she’d said the wrong thing, at least from a social niceties point of view, and she held her breath. Then, something unexpected happened: Prince began speaking of his business with Warner Bros., his family and his upbringing. He poured his heart out.
“He looked right in my eyes when he did so and I could see the pain in them and it even brought moisture to my eyes,” Eadie says. “I could sense this was a man who was hurting so much.”
Prince’s “miserable” family life growing up was part of his anger, Eadie says. “He was exposed to abuse and it embittered and angered him,” she says. “The very things that hurt him were what he was writing about and trying to make them okay and make sense of it all,” she says. But, she adds, the greatest pain he had was the feeling that others in power had taken advantage of him as a young musician.
Eadie says the Prince she encountered that day was nothing like “Prince” the rock star, which she describes as a stage persona.
“Was that the real Prince? No, that wasn’t. He was very vulnerable. He was tender, wounded and he needed a mother’s love. That was what he felt he could receive from me because I am motherly,” Eadie says. “With him, the minute I saw he had this hidden part of him I wanted to hold him and say, `Everything is going to be okay.'”
Prince told her that he “put himself into music to get rid of the pain,” she says. She told him that while it’s good to get rid of pain, and millions of others can relate to similar events so they gravitate to your music, it was time to shift his music and message.
“Is that what you want, that they (your audience) keep listening to pain?” she asked Prince. “Now that you’ve built a great reputation and following, why not bring them closer to love?”
“Get that `slave’ off your face. You’re no one’s slave,” she told him. She counseled Prince to remember that what you put out in the world will come back to you — “so make sure it’s good.”
Prince was on the edge of his seat, Eadie says, “as if he was hearing it all for the first time.”
They had spoken for an hour and a half. Near the end of the conversation, Prince told Eadie that she was like family to him — like a mother.
“He thanked me for being open and honest with him. We had to go because we had a flight out, but I could tell he was not wanting us to go. He felt an attachment, and I began to feel an attachment to him. He needed someone and at this moment I was the person he needed to talk to,” she says. “What I saw was a wounded soul and someone who needed someone and I happened to be the one at the time. I was glad I was there with him.”
As they stood up, Eadie says, they realized they were the same height.
“We laughed and we looked down at our shoes. I had four-inch heels on because I’m short, and he had the same four-inch heels, although his were more platform style than mine,” she says.
Prince escorted Eadie all the way downstairs from his upper-level suite. As they prepared to part, Prince reached for Eadie and gave her a “warm and beautiful” hug, Eadie says, noting that it was only later that she was told that Prince not only never embraced people; he never, ever walked people to the door.
“When I left he felt like an enlightened person,” she says. “He was more in control of himself and didn’t need people’s approval.”
Later, after Eadie had returned home, Prince called with more questions about how best to give to others.
“He always felt he gave, but whether it was the right way or not was debatable based on his emotions at the time,” Eadie recalls. “He said that maybe it was more about him than about wanting to serve.”
The second time Prince called, he had a proposition. He was going on tour, and he wanted Eadie to go with him.
“Go with you and do what?” Eadie asked.
Prince replied, “I’ll sing and you’ll give your presentation. They need to hear you.”
Eadie laughs at the recollection. “Now, in my mind, Prince’s songs and what I have to share are not compatible.”
Prince told her, “I will buy a book for everyone who comes and hand them out. That way I’m giving back.”
As enticing as it might have been for the sales of her book, “I just couldn’t do it,” Eadie says. Back in those days, Prince had changed his name to a symbol and was the object of a lot of negativity. And negativity from the general public was something Eadie understood all too well.
“This was the early days of `Embraced (by the Light).’ It was a forerunner of the most personal account of a near-death experience. People attached all kinds of negativity to it and I was getting it (criticism) left and right. I thought, `Now all I need is to go out on tour with Prince!'”
Eadie told Prince that she was thinking of the songs she’d heard on that first CD she’d listened to, and she told him that she couldn’t do it – it didn’t seem like a good fit with her message.
Prince replied, “Well, I’m going to change my music.”
Prince told Eadie that he was going to write a song for her, and that’s when he wrote `Dolphin,’ a song about reincarnation that appears on the 1995 album, “The Gold Experience.” The entire album captured Prince’s state of transformation, Eadie says, adding that she told him he needed to be a “bridge walker,” a term for a person who has the ability to bridge the gap between human existence and the spiritual world.
Of “The Gold Experience,” Prince shared with Eadie that some of the songs on the album represented the kind of songs he used to write, while others represented the kind of music he was currently writing.
“That was his change and he wanted to demonstrate the old Prince and the new Prince,” Eadie says. Prince went on to write other songs inspired by “Embraced,” including “Into the Light,” on 1996’s “Chaos and Disorder” album.
Over the years, Prince would call when he faced a dilemma and needed to talk things through, or late at night, just to “talk normal,” says Eadie. (“He told me that he was so famous that nobody talked normal to him,” she recalls. With a chuckle, she remembers thinking, “How famous are you?”).
Eadie and Prince stayed in touch over the years and at the end of his life, they were in contact again about the possibility of Prince writing songs for the movie adaptation of “Embraced.” Prince was elated at the prospect, she says. She believes that it’s likely he had written some songs for the movie before his death, and she is in touch with his Estate in that regard.
Looking back now, what resonated with Prince, says Eadie, was her book’s message of God’s unconditional love.
“We each are valued and have our own path in life that we can serve Him or serve others. It’s never about us,” she says. “The more we do to help other people, the greater our spirit becomes. What we leave with when we die is that growth.”
The pain we feel from the choices we make is hell on earth, Eadie says. But at any time you choose, she says, you can let go of that pain, adding, “We are free to do that at any time.”
“It was challenging to live up to his image and he wanted so much to change,” Eadie says. “`Embraced’ was a part of his change.”
By day, Erica Thompson works as a features reporter at the Columbus Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio. By night (and weekends, and seemingly every spare moment), Erica labors on her passion project, a book about Prince’s spiritual journey entitled, “Willing to Do the Work: The Spiritual Mission of Prince.”
In this month of spiritual seeking through our theme of “Love God,” a valediction that Prince used frequently, I had to talk with Erica. Anyone who’s invested huge swaths of time in an effort to understand the spiritual journey of an often inscrutable artist could certainly shine a light on the path ahead. Might Erica provide us with some shortcuts on the spiritual path of Living Like Prince? Advice on what to bring on our journey? Read on as this purple pilgrim shares tales of her progress.
(Laura) When were you first introduced to Prince’s music?
(Erica) It goes back to being a junior in high school and watching “Purple Rain” and getting inspired — and getting my mind blown. I knew who he (Prince) was because my mom played him in the house … I went out and picked out (what was then) his latest album, (2001’s) “The Rainbow Children,” and that was my entry point.
In college, I started out as an English major and a flute performance major (editor’s note: shades of Lizzo!) … I had a biography class in undergrad, and that’s when I started to think that I wanted to put together his spiritual life … When I went to get my master’s in journalism, I decided I would do something on him. Other students were doing things like a historical analysis on newspapers and I’m doing Prince’s spiritual journey. When I turned in my thesis it was 40 pages long, and I decided, I want to turn this into a book. Ten years later, I’m still doing it — and it’s 400 pages!
You’ve worked on this for 10 years! You were writing it during Prince’s lifetime, then?
I wanted to finish the book and I wanted him to see it. And I thought I would get to know what he’d think about it. In 2013, I spoke with Omarr (Prince’s younger half brother) and he said he thought Prince would really like it, that he would tell Prince about it and maybe he would call me. That never happened.
Sometimes I get clues along the way that it’s happening how it’s supposed to happen. After he passed, more people have opened up to talk to me. I have done so much more research. If I had published the book before he passed, I wouldn’t have understood some of the religious systems he was into other than Christianity. Of course I wanted to interview him for this book, but now I’m seeing it wasn’t meant to be for me, and the reason was for me to focus on my interpretation. I don’t think my interpretation is the only correct one, but my goal is to show people and have them make up their minds.
What have you learned from your research that has been most impactful to you personally?
Two things have been especially impactful. The first is how to approach spirituality. I was raised as a Christian and a lot of Christians are raised not to explore other religions because they don’t want to put any other gods before their God. I was naïve before this project because I thought it would be a simple Christian “born again” story. But seeing how Prince pursued so many other spiritual systems encouraged me to do the same. It made me feel you can have your core belief and call yourself a Christian, and still feel like it’s okay to explore chakras or the third eye and still know that I have a Christian foundation.
Second, the perception that some have, and I think is true, is that a lot of his spiritual songs had coded messages for black people. Some people look at his songs as Negro spirituals … He’s communicating to black people that way with messages of spiritual liberation and economic liberation. It affects me personally as I’m a black person and I know Prince is talking to me and he’s encouraging me because we have a common experience. For example, “Beautiful Loved and Blessed” says, we’ve faced so much oppression in this country and we’ve internalized so many beliefs about us to say we are inferior — and Prince is saying `No, you’re not inferior.’ It’s an encouragement about the power and intelligence that black people have.
If a Prince fan (editor’s note: who shall remain nameless) asked what three things she should pack for a spiritual journey, what would you tell her to bring?
Number one would be the Bible, and I say that because that’s Prince’s foundation. He grew up going to Christian-based churches. Going through his lyrics, there are so many that point to scripture, which is the bedrock for him.
Second, I would pack a notebook because I think Prince would want us to write for ourselves. He’d want us to write how we’re inspired and channel things for ourselves and explore things for ourselves. I think Prince wants us to have agency. He wants us to empower ourselves.
The third thing is music. You could approach that in different ways. Someone I interviewed said, “If you want to know about Prince, listen to his music.” You could take “The Gold Experience” or “Emancipation” if you wanted to get into his Eastern spirituality side. Or “The Rainbow Children” to get into his Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. Or whatever of his music inspires you.
Do you have any advice for us as we aspire to be spiritual seekers like Prince this month?
One of the aims of my book is to inspire people to examine their own spiritual journeys. We can relate to a lot of what he went through, but of course he took a unique path, and I don’t know if the average person studies as much as he did. But it’s not like Prince did something no one else could do: We just have to be willing to do the work.
Thank you, Erica! You can follow Erica’s journey at www.apurpledayindecember.com.
In the early 2000s, Prince began experimenting with delivering music direct to fans via his NPG (New Power Generation) Music Club. For $100 a year (what a deal!), members could get preferred seating at concerts and access to soundchecks before shows (in Princeworld, a soundcheck is not a brief check of sound, but rather, a full, improvised show before the concert that could last 2+ hours). And, members had access to new music that flowed as freely as nearby Riley Creek, going direct from Paisley Park to fans.
Contrary to popular belief, Prince was not Internet averse (that inaccurate impression is largely based on one quote from 2010 in which Prince stated that the Internet was “over.”). In reality, Prince was an Internet pioneer who had some truly prescient ideas about how an artist could use the Internet to deliver music direct to fans, effectively owning the distribution channel. The NPG Music Club, which also was the name of the physical space inside of Paisley Park pictured above, was one of Prince’s very best inventions in an inventive career. According to webmaster Sam Jennings, who worked with Prince to launch the NPG Music Club, the club started on Valentine’s Day 2001 with monthly “editions” that delivered multiple new song downloads per month, plus a downloaded radio show curated by Prince and the NPG that featured new music, commentary and comedic skits.
On Sept. 18, 2001, NPG Ahdio Show #8 was released. In those awful days following 9/11, many people were looking to celebrities to make statements. As far as I can tell, this was Prince’s musical statement. Featuring some of his most spiritual songs, the show seems intended to address the gaping wound, pain and sadness created by the tragedy.
In an article for the Washington Post on April 27, 2016, webmaster Jennings wrote, “Prince’s goals for his own online business were simple. As the creator of the music, he wanted to control the distribution chain himself with as little dilution as possible. `Let the baker bake the bread,’ he would often say.”
What Prince shared in September 2001 is bread for anyone seeking spiritual solace.
Thanks to the encyclopedic resource, Prince Vault, we have the tracklisting of NPG Ahdio Show #8. From this, I made my own playlist, minus the tracks from Lovesexy, because that album is essentially created as one single song, and thus the songs are not separate tracks. I’ll be singing along to these songs all weekend long.
Eye No – Prince (intro only) The Plan – The Artist Anna Stesia – Prince Elephants & Flowers – Prince I Wish U Heaven – Prince Love… Thy Will Be Done (Prince Mix) – Martika (intro only) Pearls B4 The Swine – Prince 7 (Acoustic Version) – Prince and the New Power Generation Space (Universal Love Remix) – Prince Still Would Stand All Time – Prince Into The Light – The Artist I Will – The Artist The Holy River – The Artist Outro (including New Power Generation (Pt. II) and Positivity) – Prince
“Oh!” — as in, oh boy. I’m still feeling stunned at the events of September, and I don’t mean that simply on a national political level. September started off like any other month and ended like no other. In between, I found myself preoccupied with my real-life job, because, like the vast majority of writers, I have a paying day job. Twice a year, I write a white paper of about 20 pages, and now that I think back, the last time I did one was at the beginning of January, just as I began living like Prince. I’m here to tell you: Living like Prince and writing white papers is not compatible. I’d forgotten how all-encompassing a white paper project was, and it turned out that all of my writing energy went there. Then, in the midst of this huge, enormous, gigantic workload, it became apparent that my husband’s time at his job needed to come to an end. This is the job that brought us to Minnesota in 2016, so it was very emotional to see my husband through the process. Because we haven’t lived in Minnesota long enough to have grown deep roots, but rather, are beginning to feel integrated and part of the community, watching that job unwind left me feeling untethered. In yoga, it’s like the moment when you’re holding tree pose beautifully and mentally patting yourself on the back, when suddenly you start to wobble and sway and make all kinds of tiny muscular adjustments to try to stay upright.
Yoga is exactly what I needed, as I couldn’t help but wonder if my husband’s search for a new job would result in another move. We hope not, but how can you stop the thought from entering your mind, given the situation? That thought was a stark juxtaposition with September’s theme of going local and appreciating all things in your backyard. While I wasn’t posting a lot of blog posts, I was doing personal journal writing on the subject, and my thoughts took a slight turn from living local to the meaning of home.
In my life, I’ve moved 13 times. Not all of those moves were to new states: Many of those moves were within the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. And, for purposes of counting moves, I decided that if I lived somewhere six months or more, it could be considered a move, so I included Madrid and Phoenix, where I only had brief sojourns. When I looked back on all the varied places I’ve lived, my first thought was: How lucky am I! Like Stevie Nicks, I must have a gypsy soul, because that’s far more than the average. While most Americans have moved to a new community at least once in their life, a notable number of Americans — 4 in 10 — have never left the place they were born. In the Midwest, this number is higher, and nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown.
Poet Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I like that pragmatic feeling about home. Home isn’t just a place where you feel like you belong. To me, each place I’ve lived has created a different sense of belonging by providing an opening for me to explore an aspect of my personality. I thought of the different people I was in the various places I called home. I recalled the adventurous person I was in New York; the carefree person I was in Chicago; the creative person I am in Minneapolis.
And now, it’s October. While I didn’t get as much writing done in September as I expected, I did get out into the community and do. I especially have to give myself kudos for fully embracing the local music scene, something that’s essential to Princely living. I saw one of Prince’s former bands, fDeluxe (formerly known as The Family) at the Dakota Jazz Club while sitting an arm’s length away from Prince’s former table (#299, where Prince’s nephew President was seated). And, I attended two fabulously funky new music release parties for local bands — one for St. Paul Peterson and the MPLS Funk All-Stars and another for Nooky Jones. I hung out and wrote at the local library, and a kind librarian showed me how to get “The Rise of Prince” into the collection of works by local authors. I shopped at our local food co-op and bought tomatoes and dahlias grown nearby. I faithfully wore my purple Minnesota wrap bracelet made by a local artist and gifted one to a friend who had recently moved here. I joined my neighborhood book group. I even made a point of eating Minnesotan when I went out: “I’ll have the walleye, please.”
While I’m still far from a Leslie Knope, the indefatigable and idealistic hometown deputy director played by Amy Poehler in the show “Parks & Recreation,” I did prioritize the local and made sure not to take the wonderful things that Chanhassen has to offer for granted. Hey, it was not for nothing that Tyka Nelson said shortly after Prince’s death that “Prince loved Chanhassen.” Community is vital to well-being, whether those communities are built around proximity and geography, like neighbors in Chanhassen or church or an open studio art class at the arboretum — or a shared interest, like the many Prince fan groups I belong to online.
September taught me that you can’t know all of what is to come and the time to appreciate where we live is now. What’s more, while local is important, so is finding a home in our own heart. I recall the story about Matt Damon trying to make small talk with Prince, as told in Vanity Fair magazine in July 2016.
Julia Stiles: After The Bourne Ultimatum came out, there was a premiere in London. Prince actually came to it, then got tickets for the cast to come see him [perform]. We were summoned into a room to meet him [after the show]. Matt said, “So you live in Minnesota? I hear you live in Minnesota.”
Matt Damon: Prince said, “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.”
October brings a fresh start with its theme of “Love God.” You could spend the month living in your own heart and be perfectly Princely while learning a whole lot about not only God but yourself. In October, I’m excited to let go of the security of physical geography and to dive into an exploration of the human heart and soul.
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.
In late August, I pulled into the parking lot of Lakewinds Food Co-op in Chanhassen, a place that Prince shopped on occasion. (My brain is nothing if not a treasure trove of Prince-the-real-guy trivia). Once inside, the Lakewinds produce department was replete with Midwestern zucchini (always abundant if not overly abundant in peak summer), delicate lettuces and bunches of fuschia-colored dahlias, all labeled with “locally grown” tags.
One of the things that struck me most when we first moved to Minnesota was the locals’ love for this state. Having lived in Illinois for 19 years, I can vouch for the fact that people in Illinois are not anywhere near as enamored by their home state. Maybe that’s because a vast majority of Illinois governors seem to wind up in prison, certainly a demoralizing statistic. In Minnesota, however, there is a deep and abiding love for the land of 10,000 lakes. Maybe that’s because winter weather is unifying in an “it’s-us-against-this-blizzard” kind of way. From Duluth Backpacks to Faribault Wool blankets to Milkweed Books to Surly Brewing’s Furious IPA and the world-famous Electric Fetus “wrecka stow” (record store for the “Under the Cherry Moon” uninitiated), Minnesotans are dedicated to anything made in their state. When it comes to choosing music, for Minnesotans, listening to Prince is essentially buying local. It was music made nice and fresh just around the corner at Paisley Park.
I’ve always believed that one of the most seminal decisions in a career of unorthodox decisions was Prince’s commitment to staying in Minnesota after the success of “Purple Rain.” This belief was confirmed when I spent time over cocktails at the Hewing Hotel with Carmen Hoover, an academic who attended the University of Minnesota in the early 80s, worked at as the first female doorperson at First Avenue (and wound up in front of the stage the first time “Purple Rain” was played, on Aug. 3, 1983) and traveled with the Purple Rain tour. From her front-row seat to Prince’s rise to fame, she recalled that everyone in her circle who had watched Prince’s career progress from local hero to global superstar was surprised when he decided to stay in Minnesota post-1984 and “Purple Rain.” The obvious choice would have been to decamp to Los Angeles or New York or any other of the world’s cultural capital. But instead, Prince doubled down and built Paisley Park in suburban Chanhassen.
Most would not make a similar choice, and sometimes, the locals that supported that artist or athlete or product are left embittered by the experience. The downfall of the great Brett Favre, former Green Bay Packers quarterback (a person who is not Prince-like in any way but hear me out) is one such tale. Certainly, Green Bay made Brett Favre. Favre was the starting quarterback for every Packers game from 1992 to 2008 and bonded with the fans in a very special and unique way. When he waffled on whether to retire, the Packers traded him to the New York Jets. Bitterness ensued. Loyal Packers fans wondered why Favre couldn’t have gracefully retired when he was at the top of the game and held in reverence by Packers fans. Instead, it became complicated and Favre’s reputation among Packers fans is tarnished to this day.
Then yesterday, the New Yorker published an article by Dan Piepenbring, the writer who had been contracted to write Prince’s memoir only a month before his death in April 2016. In it, Piepenbring shared Prince’s thoughts on why he stayed in Minneapolis. Piepenbring quoted Prince as saying, “I stayed in Minneapolis because Minneapolis made me. You have to give back. My dad came to Minneapolis from Cotton Valley, Louisiana. He learned in the harshest conditions what it means to control wealth.”
Prince stayed in Minneapolis because Minneapolis made him. I love this.
This month, I’m going to follow Prince’s lead. I’m going to buy local products, listen to local musicians, cheer on local sports teams, eat locally grown foods and drink local wine (wish me luck with that one!). In September, let’s honor the place that makes us — the place where we live right now.
Today is August 24, which means there are seven days until September 1. It’s around this time each month that I start to feel a flutter of anticipation. What will next month bring?
The truth is, I rarely know. This is not like me: My comfort zone is the land where people are organized and make lists. But living like Prince means living outside your comfort zone, and Prince was an expert at deploying the element of surprise. I have a hard time imagining Prince methodically working down a to-do list each day, although I don’t have any hard evidence that proves he didn’t. What is certain is that he understood the fickle nature of inspiration. When an idea for a song struck, he worked as hard as he could until he had the song completed. That was why he had every inch of Paisley Park wired for sound. He ensured that he could capture every idea that struck like lightning in a bottle — whether he was in the kitchen making popcorn or in a conference room discussing business or in a bathroom … taking a bath?
At the outset of the project, I made an effort to map out the year. While I’m not a great planner, I am organized, and the thought of having the year laid out appealed to me. As it turned out, I didn’t manage to plan the entire year, but I had a pretty good idea of where I was going with the first four or six months.
But then, in the middle of the snowiest February in Minnesota history, when I was taking my wardrobe cues from Prince and dressing up every day — even for my Target runs — I got rerouted. Put in a different way: Inspiration struck, and the idea wasn’t what I’d planned for March. I struggled with dropping my planned theme for March, but my excitement and curiosity about exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia — the way Prince saw color when he heard sounds — won me over, and I dropped my original plan like a hot potato. March turned out great! And it was meant to be because when I was in a watercolor class exploring synesthesia, I wound up drawing the symbol that I adopted as my name in April.
As the year has progressed, inspiration has come in many ways. It’s come in the form of a friend saying, “Hey, you should change your name to a symbol” or “I took a weekend trip without my cell phone and it was amazing; you should try it.” Or it’s popped into my mind. Either way, I don’t force an idea from the left side of my brain. I wait for something to come to me and when it does, I trust the flutter in my stomach that tells me: a) I’m both terrified and excited at the prospect; and b) the idea wasn’t generated by my brain.
I’ve learned to trust. And I’ve never been left without an idea when a new month rolls around. Usually, the idea comes to me with such urgency and clarity that it feels less like, “oh that’s an interesting thought” and more like, “here’s the idea that’s going to make next month AMAZING.” There’s a flutter in my stomach and tears flood my eyes, and I know exactly what I’m doing with my life in the next month.
Once the idea is set, I allow my planning brain to step in. I research the idea — because yes, there is science behind Prince — and often, I buy a book on the topic, whether that’s “Well Played” by play expert Meredith Sinclair, “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair or “The Alter Ego Effect” by Todd Herman that becomes my reference guide for the month. From there, I generate a list of ideas for blog posts, and off I go!
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You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter! Now you deserve your exclusive bonus: SEVEN TIPS FOR LIVING LIKE A PRINCE 1. Fast for Clarity In January, I fasted for clarity, inspired by the fact that Prince famously would fast to stay trim. Whether or not Prince fasted because he was caught up in making music and forgot to eat or fasted intentionally isn’t clear, but during the month of January, I declared that my theme was “Life in the Fasting Lane.” I found that fasting gave me a lot of energy and mental clarity. The method of fasting I used was called Alternate Day Fasting. I would fast for one day (I was allowed to eat up to 500 calories), followed by a day when I could eat anything. 2. Dress Up and Show Up In February, I dressed up daily – no excuses! Prince famously dressed up for everything and turns out, there’s a method behind his madness. “Enclothed cognition” is a scientific phenomenon that explains why dressing the part makes you perform at a higher level, whether in sports, career or being a world-class musician. Despite the fact that February was the snowiest month in Minnesota history, I dressed up each day – hair done, makeup on, heels, dresses. I didn’t wear jeans for an entire month, because Prince didn’t either! I felt more productive and professional because of what I was wearing, even though I was often working from home in the middle of a snowstorm. 3. Adopt a Symbol In April, I made my biggest leap of faith to date when I changed my name to a symbol that I drew in art class. My symbol is unpronounceable, just like the Love Symbol that Prince changed his name to in 1993. I created a heart surrounded by rays, and I drew it in gold. To me, the symbol meant love and sunshine, which is what I aspire to be in the world, but you could say it’s a radiant heart or a symbol radiating love and positivity. Like Prince’s Love Symbol, my symbol is open to interpretation! I even had it printed on t-shirts, and at a couple of public events, wrote it on a nametag and introduced myself as my new identity. 4. Support Live Music One of Prince’s favorite sayings was “real music by real musicians” and he not only represented that in his own music and his bands but by doing it himself! He had a table at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis, and over the years, was known to show up at Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue and local hangout Bunker’s Music Bar and Grill. 5. Be a Good Neighbor Prince was a loyal Minnesotan who did much to elevate the profile of his home state, not least by being one of the originators of the Minneapolis Sound. In the last few years of his life, Prince offered fans an unprecedented level of access to a star of his stature by opening the doors of his sprawling recording and studio complex Paisley Park for spontaneous performances and DJ dance parties. Lucky fans who responded to a last-minute invitation on social media might find themselves in an exclusive group of 40 or 50, listening enrapt as Prince played a marathon set of live music. 6. Don’t Be Quick to Judge Getting to know more about the man behind the outrageous costumes and provocative lyrics taught me not to judge. Now, when I meet someone, I make an effort to hear their story. The world needs a whole lot more people who don’t rush to judgment or avoid making contact because someone looks different or acts different. 7. If God Gave You a Gift, Share It Yes, Prince was a musical genius who heard music in his head, but here’s the truth: He had a choice about what to do with that music. He could have ignored it or procrastinated until the melody slipped his mind. He could have decided he was too shy to be a performer. Instead, when inspiration struck, he threw himself into his work, often composing and recording for 20 hours a day in a flurry of nonstop creativity. He learned how to be a performer despite his initial shyness because he wanted to share his music.
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