February had me Dressing the Part each day — no jeans, no loungewear before 6 p.m., and wearing a mirror heart on my wrist, the symbol I chose for myself. IT WAS A WORKOUT! Today is March 1 and you can bet I will be back in jeans. I didn’t realize how much I wore denim until I had to go without it for a month (and it happened to be an awfully cold month full of snow — still, she persisted!).
March can be a trying month in Minnesota. It’s too early for trees to bud, but the snow tends to be on its way out (we can only hope). As the snow melts, it turns dirty and slushy, and the skies can be gray an awful lot of the time. Living Like a Prince should find me decamping to Los Angeles for a month, which is exactly what Prince would have done. Alas! My reality includes kids in school and a budget, so I’ve got to get creative.
To combat the winter blah’s, I have chosen “Communicating with Color” as March’s theme. This month will find me exploring all the colors in the spectrum and how Prince used them to communicate. Did Prince “hear” colors? What emotions did he evoke through his use of color? And what did he mean by using those kaleidoscope backdrops to his last “Piano and a Microphone” tour?
Stay tuned for what promises to be the most colorful month yet!
In February I’ve been focused on dressing the part, but during this final week of the month, I want to explore the second aspect of the challenge — the choice of a symbol to represent oneself and all the questions about identity and naming that it raises.
Back in the year 1993, Prince made a creative and daring choice: He changed his name to what became known as the Love Symbol. At that time, I was in the midst of a New York City public relations career and can recall cringing on Prince’s behalf as he became the object of ridicule in the midst of what was in my perception a PR fiasco.
Today, I see the decision Prince announced on his 35th birthday on June 7, 1993, to release the name “Prince” and adopt an unpronounceable symbol as his name and identity, as the most extraordinary decision in a career that never followed convention. Can you name another person in history who has adopted an unpronounceable symbol as a name? I have wracked my brain and have come up short. Once again, Prince did what felt good to him without caring about other people’s judgment. Now I know Prince didn’t need me to feel embarrassed for him. (And to think I celebrated my own 35th birthday by throwing a party at a wine bar … seems mundane in comparison). Prince’s adoption of the Love Symbol created an aura of uniqueness around him that few artists have been able to achieve.
When Prince shared the news of his impending announcement with his public relations consultant, Karen Lee, she was prescient enough to tell Prince that journalists wouldn’t know how to refer to him if his name was a symbol that didn’t appear on a keyboard.
“What if they took middle C off the piano keyboard?” she asked him. Left to their own devices, journalists would make up something, she told Prince.
Prince dismissed her warnings, declaring that he would change every keyboard in America (and I guess, by extension, the world). In the end, Lee was proven correct. The LA Times was the first to give him a nickname, and other journalists followed suit. Prince’s public image fell off a cliff as he became the brunt of countless jokes and nicknames, with “Symbolina” from long-time Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist C.J. being only one of many.
The fact that Prince took that decision 15 years into his career, at a stage when many stars would be kicking back and enjoying the ride, is all the more striking. Prince, intense as ever, was focused on being an avant-garde performer and not an oldies act. Never one to accept convention, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince continued to make shocking and incomprehensible statements to reporters such as “music should be free.” Free? In 1993, the only way you could imagine getting music for free was: a) shoplifting at Tower Records or b) having someone burn a CD for you. Prince was not only challenging our concept of identity, but also actively challenging the idea of how music was released and how we consumed it.
A cynical world questioned whether the name change was nothing more than a publicity stunt. As it turns out, it was much more than that. The Love Symbol became part of a master plan.
If you were asked to list the principles that defined Prince’s life and work, what would you say?
I’ve been considering this as I look toward the third month of The Year of Living Like a Prince and wondering what might lie ahead.
Here’s what comes to mind when I consider Prince:
Health nut — Prince could be quite particular about his diet and explored being a vegan and vegetarian, along with fasting.
Hard work — The man could and would create for 20 hours a day. Enough said.
Focus — Prince set up his life to be focused on his music, including building Paisley Park, which not only protected him from the public at the height of his fame, but offered a self-contained universe for creating his music from start to finish.
Breaking paradigms — Prince was a breakthrough artist who cared nothing for rules. Nothing he did was expected, from the way he dressed, to his lyrics and musical styles.
Sustainability — Prince’s music has sustained over many years and shows little sign of abating.
There are many, many more — what would you add to this list?
This month, I’m voluntarily taking on the challenge to dress up daily — but how did I feel about dressing the part back when I was a toddler? I marvel at the fact that my mother had me all dressed up in white gloves and stockings with a knitted yellow scarf on my head (Mom tells me that my great-grandmother, a Swede, knitted these for me) — and as the cherry on the sundae, a yellow corsage pinned to my lapel. Whether or not I enjoyed dressing up is unclear as I have no memory of this moment, but what is clear is that I seem to think the handbag handle is designed for chewing.
While I may not have valued style back then, I certainly have come to appreciate it as an adult. My in-depth scientific research has unearthed a telling moment in Prince’s own fashion evolution — perhaps one of the first moments that demonstrated Prince’s own understanding of the value of style.
In Owen Husney’s memoir, Famous People Who’ve Met Me, he writes of the day when Prince unboxed his first album, For You. It happens to coincide with the moment when Husney notices that Prince’s style has begun to gel. Husney writes:
“I couldn’t help but notice the up-tick in Prince’s appearance when he walked into my office … Now his emerging look was less casual, augmented by a trimmed fro, black leather jacket, a pullover white V-neck linen shirt, dress pants, and high-heeled boots … I was opening a square box that was just delivered via UPS. It had a big WB logo on the side and was marked in block letters “Promo Copy – Not For Sale BSK-3150.” “Do you want the honors?” I said as soon as the box was pried open. “Sure” came Prince’s one word reply. He reached in and produced a single vinyl album from the box of twenty-five. On the top it said “PRINCE-FOR YOU.” … Prince then reached in the album jacket and pulled out the dust cover. “Let’s see if they got it right” he said, examining the superimposed shot of him naked on a bed, a guitar covering his private parts. “It’s perfect.”‘
Was it a coincidence that Prince stepped up his style at the same moment that his first album was released? I think not. But while this particular style worked during the For You era, Prince wasn’t married to it. By the time Allen Beaulieu photographed Prince for the cover of his next album, Dirty Mind, Prince taken his wardrobe game in a vastly different direction. He sported straight, spiky hair and wore a knotted red bandana around his neck, combined with a studded purple trench coat, a fedora and “rude boy” pin on the lapel (and not much else). Dirty Mind was heavy on new wave and punk elements and Prince dressed the part.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? If you did, chances are good that you’ve abandoned it by now, because 80% of resolutions fail by February. But if you managed to beat the odds and keep your resolution going, you might already be seeing the benefits of consistency and experience the subtle but powerful way that success compounds.
While I may not have achieved the creative output of Prince, I’m publishing a blog post every day and that feels like a brisk pace. It feels particularly brisk on a Sunday evening when I realize I don’t have enough posts to fill the coming week! Still, if I manage to keep up this pace for a year, I will have built something substantial. I am accumulating 400 words per blog post, five days a week, for 52 weeks. That comes to a grand total of 104,000 words, or precisely one 400-page book.
If I was a financially minded person, I’d make some comment about the time value of money here. My husband, a CPA and CFP, likes to remind me of the time value of money when I want to spend and he wants to save. Money, like the written word, also compounds over time.
While cranking out blog posts like a veritable content machine, I’ve continued to do Alternate Day Fasting, January’s challenge. (That means I’m eating 500 calories one day and whatever I want the next). Some days I mess up on my fasting days and eat too much, and sometimes on my eating days I eat too much sugar and get annoyed at myself (not to mention that I pay a steep price the next day because too much sugar on an eating day makes me hungrier on a fasting day). But so what? I pick myself up and try again. And I am seeing slow but incremental weight loss, in addition to feeling light and strong on fasting days. Surprisingly, the initial feeling of constant hunger dissipated and now that I have reached 51 days of Alternate Day Fasting I am over my habit of snacking and no longer suffer from cravings. The compounded effects of Alternate Day Fasting are liberating.
On top of those two endeavors, February saw me add a third ball to the juggling act in the form of dressing up daily. Today is a snow day and the kids are home from school but instead of cozying up in sweats, I’m wearing a sweater dress, tall boots and my beloved mirror heart bracelet, and I took a photo of it for posterity, which I do daily. While getting dressed up daily takes effort, I am motivated by the idea that at the end of the month, I will have photographed 28 outfits that I assembled from what was already hanging in my closet. I’ll have a handy reference guide when I don’t know what to wear.
What you do each day matters and builds on the rest.
Our family lost a home in the Great Recession of 2008. Eight years later, we were living a simpler life – one that was leaner, greener and richer. What I didn’t realize was that in order to take the final step in healing, I needed to add the color purple to my life’s palette.
Author’s Note: Happy Valentine’s Day! Today, I’m hitting “pause” on the regular schedule of “Living Like a Prince” blog posts to share a personal story. It’s my way of sharing some of my heart with you all on a day celebrating love, affection and friendship.
The bass is thumping,
the club is dark and concertgoers are jockeying for position in front of the
stage. As a young person, I would have felt right at home at Minneapolis’
legendary First Avenue, the nightclub where Purple
Rain was filmed. But tonight, I haven’t been drinking, I’m with my husband
of 15 years and our plans for later include making sure our kids get to bed at
a decent hour. In a word: I feel out of place.
As Prince’s former
band, The Revolution, takes the stage, a surge of energy lights up the crowd.
Some instinctive part of me, apparently having been in a Rip Van Winkle-esque
slumber for decades, comes to life. At first I tentatively clap on the two and
four. Then I’m lifting my arms to the sky to wave them. Is that me, cheering? Muscle
memory kicks in and soon I’m singing every lyric. I dance, and dance some more.
Halfway through the show, The Revolution launches into the searing ballad from Purple Rain, “The Beautiful Ones,” and whatever
discomfort I’d experienced has dissipated. What remains is the realization that
the former strangers surrounding me feel more like kin.
The next morning, bleary
eyed, I’m brewing coffee when something catches my eye. From our kitchen
window, I see a purple balloon tied to our neighbor’s deck railing, blowing
with the breeze. Hot tears pool in my eyes as I flash back to our family’s
recent experiences. One thing seems clear: God has brought our family to the
I didn’t always feel
that way. During the Great Recession of 2008, our family got caught in the
housing bust with a too-big mortgage on our dream house. We wound up selling at
a loss and moving into a rental down the street. What should have been a
tragedy for our family turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We started
living leaner, greener and richer. We cooked at home instead of going out, rode
bicycles around town and with the money that used to go to a big house payment,
take trips and do activities together as a family. Out of financial necessity,
I set aside my career as an author and went back to a full-time office job. In
2014, we were able to buy another home.
Mere months after we
moved into our new home, my husband came to me with news of a job offer in
Minneapolis. Before my brain could interject with concerns about the weather or
another major upheaval, my heart said, “Minneapolis sounds good.”
That was how, in March
2016, I landed in the purple state of Minnesota, much like Dorothy falling out
of the sky and crash-landing in Oz (this time, no witches were killed in the
process). What I didn’t realize was that three miles down the road, my musical
idol was living out the final days of his illustrious life.
In the 1980s, Prince Rogers
Nelson had risen to worldwide fame, in the process achieving arguably the
greatest run of creativity in the history of pop music. He took the proceeds
from his 1984 smash album and movie Purple
Rain and built a sprawling studio and recording complex in Chanhassen, a
suburb west of Minneapolis. He called it Paisley Park. He’d invested his
newfound riches in two things he held dear: his music and his home state.
On April 21, 2016,
Prince died of an opioid overdose. Yes, we lived only a few miles from Paisley
Park, but I had arrived too late to see Prince perform at his
legendary compound. (The cry of “but I just got here!” wasn’t my first
reaction to his death — although it may have been my second). Emotions came rushing
in like a purple tidal wave. I’ll admit it: I lost my mind that day, a day our
younger son recalls as “the day mom started crying and didn’t stop.”
stations played Prince’s music 24/7 in the wake of his death, and it became
apparent that I had missed a lot of Prince’s career. By “a lot,” I mean nearly
a thousand songs. While I’d been changing diapers and packing lunches, Prince had
continued to live a life full of creativity and audacity and dedication, and he
did it just down the road from me. What excuse did I have not to follow suit?
A persistent voice
inside me insisted that there must be a reason that I, a writer, had landed in
Chanhassen. Tearing open dozens of as-yet-unpacked cardboard moving boxes, I
emerged triumphant, grasping my copy of Possessed,
the one book I owned about Prince. I decided I should let the author know
that I was in Chanhassen, in case he wanted to do an update and needed research
assistance. Alex Hahn and I struck up a friendship, which grew into a
partnership, as we started out on a journey to tell the story of Prince’s rise
to fame. After having left my beloved writing career in favor of more practical
paying pursuits, I was back in the game. This time I would be a biographer, with
an insightful and generous writing partner. This was a small miracle as well as
a tremendous gift, and it wasn’t the last.
As I listened to Prince’s
early songs with their infamously provocative lyrics, I recalled my shock and
delight hearing them as a teenager hanging out in my friend’s paneled basement
rec room. Thirty years later, I was the parent of a teenager, and while “Purple
Rain” was still a song about a romantic break-up, the image of purple rain emerged
as a metaphor for the redemptive power of God. “I Would Die 4 U” could have
come directly from Jesus’ mouth. Some lyrics of “Diamonds and Pearls” sounded a
whole lot like God talking to Prince. And “When Doves Cry” was more than a
heartrending story of Prince’s family life. Crying doves symbolize hope. Prince
was sending us a message of hope. Could it be that all along, Prince was showing
us that yes, you can have all those feelings of growing up as a teenager, and
still love God?
As I explored Prince’s
catalog, it became clear that what I’d noticed was no aberration. Prince had moved
beyond the purely raunchy songs that had caused our parents to raise eyebrows
or worse, ban us from buying 1999 or Purple Rain. As the years progressed and
his fan base grew older along with him, Prince put on shows that fans could
bring their kids to without fear of what might happen on stage. The tremendous
adversity that Prince overcame in his dazzling rise to fame – including
obstacles such as the entrenched racism of a music industry that separated
artists onto either the “black charts” or “white charts,” and a difficult
childhood that had him leaving home at the tender age of 12 — Prince’s
personal and musical journey caused him to mature spiritually. He was still on
that journey when he died.
night, I stumbled upon a playlist for a monthly radio show that Prince had
launched in 2000 (Prince had a radio
show, in addition to recording 38 studio albums, rehearsing and touring? Did
this guy ever sleep?). This show, which aired on Sept. 18, 2001, seemed to have
special meaning and significance. In the wake of 9/11, many people were looking
to celebrities to make statements, and Prince’s was a God-centered message of
peace and positivity. The songs, largely unknown to mainstream audiences,
included “Eye No,” “Love …. Thy Will Be Done,” “The Plan,” “I Wish U Heaven”
and “Still Will Stand All Time.” Informed by his faith, Prince was sharing
messages of hope.
In those first months
after Prince’s death, you couldn’t go anywhere or do anything in Minneapolis
without being reminded of him. Bridges were lit purple, Purple Rain played at cinemas and artists painted his likeness on
restaurant walls or across buildings in gigantic murals. As brand-new
Chanhassen residents, wherever we went – the dry cleaner, the tailor,
restaurants, the grocery store — my husband and I made a hobby out of asking
locals if they had a Prince story. It turned out to be a remarkably effective
icebreaker as we explored our new town.
While Prince was widely
acknowledged as the epitome of cool, he was also a regular guy who shopped at the
hardware store, and who would get cravings for cherry pie from our local
grocery store. My hair stylist had been a server at Perkins and would wait on
Prince and his band when they’d come for pancakes on Sunday morning. A woman whose
property bordered Prince’s recounted how she was invited to a bonfire where
Prince played guitar with his back facing the fire. She had the impression that
he kept his back to the others because he was shy. Others said they’d see him
walking the shoreline of his beautiful, wild 180-acre property that ran between
two of Chanhassen’s nine lakes. A Verizon salesperson fixing my phone shared
that he’d appeared in “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” video as a boy. (Only
five years old at the time, he’d horrified his mother by boldly asking Prince,
“Why do you wear high heels?” Prince had smiled and replied, “Because I can,”
then spun on his heel and walked away).
Prince was more than a
neighbor. He was a loyal Minnesotan who’d given many locals the opportunity to
work at the highest levels of their profession, whether that was costume design
or sound engineering. In many ways, he’d put Minnesota on the musical map, pioneering
and promoting a style of music called “The Minneapolis Sound.” As a result, he
was dearly beloved in his home state. I reflected on the virtue of loyalty, and
Prince’s unusual choice to stay in Minnesota rather than decamp to a major
cultural capital of the world – a choice that most newly minted pop stars would
have made. It was a touching act of commitment and faith that made me feel an
immense swell of gratitude for the opportunity in my own life to put down roots
after a decade of upheaval and instability.
In the name of research, I struck out on my
own to attend book signings, browsed at Prince’s favorite record store and went
to concerts at a jazz club where they marked his former table with a purple
flower. I found myself eating chicken wings with one of Prince’s childhood
friends and then driving around their former neighborhood as he recounted
stories of forming Prince’s first band together. Friendships formed naturally
as I would bump into familiar faces at concerts or gallery openings, and I soon
had a solid circle of friends. The people I met at Prince-related events were
remarkably open and welcoming, and I quickly adopted the same attitude. One of
God’s gifts is community and connection, and I marveled at the richness and
diversity of my new friends, who were always up for seeing a show. Some say
that Prince’s greatest legacy is his music, but I think it’s his fans. Of all
of Prince’s talents, his greatest feat may have been bringing together people
of all races, ages, backgrounds and creeds, and my gut said he was doing that
with intention. Connecting with people who might be outside of my usual sphere
of lifted my spirits, brought joy and brought me closer still to God.
In February 2017, Alex
Hahn and I published The Rise of Prince:
1958-1988. I like to joke that Prince made me an author again, and on
publication day, my older son said he could imagine Prince calling to me: “It’s
your turn! Get up on stage!” Through Prince, I had been given the opportunity
to excel at my craft, as had many others before me.
Only God knows his
favorite color – and of course, like his children, all colors are his favorite –
but ask me what mine is, and I’ll tell you it’s purple.
With 13 days of dressing the part under my belt, I’m starting to feel like I’m becoming a more courageous dresser. Adhering to my rules about no jeans, no loungewear before 6 p.m. (even when working from home) and not leaving the house unless I had done hair and make-up was rugged for the first week of the challenge due to our wow-this-is-how-winters-used-to-be weather. I wanted to wear was jeans, long underwear and big fluffy fleece hoodies and shuffle around the house in fuzzy slippers. But NO! I held myself to a higher Princely standard. It was a pain in the ass, to be honest. But it’s produced at least one positive: I’ve cranked out more work in the first one and a half months of 2019 than I did in the last quarter of 2018, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
The more I dress up, the more courageous I get. Tonight, I’m going to the Minnesota Timberwolves game where Sheila E. is doing a halftime tribute to Prince. I’m wearing a sequined jacket. Why not! Maybe I’ll blind the opposing team!
This experience of Dressing the Part has placed me — sometimes uncomfortably — in the position of dressing outside the norm of my environment.
Beyond the fact that I am going about my day wearing a mirror heart bracelet, there’s the fact that I am dressed up to the nines. Living in Minnesota, the climate is extreme. We have hot, humid summers and bitterly cold winters. We have hail, sleet, snow, ice, and torrential downpours. Despite the climate, people here are hardy souls and many are outdoor-sy. They love Minnesota’s lakes and they dress for the outdoors and head out in all kinds of weather. I admire that! That means that in the winter, it’s puffer coats and big snowboots and in summer, it’s shorts and a t-shir.
I’m not bothered that I’m dressing outside the norm. I like the way it feels to dress like this, and if it’s a bit more effort than wearing jeans, well, it’s worth it for the difference it makes in how I feel. I’ve been wearing dresses (no jeans allowed! #BecausePrince), vibrant colors, texture in the form of faux fur and suede, and shine in the form of metallic colored handbags and of course, the mirror heart. In the past, I’ve been guilty of “saving” nice things for a special occasion. But now I notice that my spirits rise when I take my nice things off their hangers and wear them. My closet isn’t a museum, after all.
One of my favorite parts of the Paisley Park museum is the hallway of photos of Prince and the evolution of his image. You see the 1970s era when he was photographed naked playing guitar on a bed (shot at Macy’s in San Francisco, according to Owen Husney’s memoir) to the 90s, when a lip-licking Prince covered in glitter is photographed wearing a gold Versace tank and sporting cropped hair, to the early 2000s, when Prince went glam rock with long flowing locks and huge hoop earrings.
Daring and extraordinary, Prince was never afraid to show the world who he was. I may not be as daring as Prince, but every baby step gets me a little closer.
Prince was a bold and daring dresser. Witness his choice of costume for his 25th birthday celebration performance at First Avenue in Minneapolis: He had no problem combining burnt out velvet and mesh with a leopard print guitar strap and topping off the ensemble with a dramatic gold necklace.
Prince’s style evolved over the years, but his love of dramatic lines, bold color and complex fabrics never changed. His clothing was integral to his rock star persona and helped him achieve his status as pop icon. If ever someone had fun with fashion, it was Prince.
Prince loved symbols and wore dove, guitar, heart, peace and flower icons as part of his stage costumes before he evolved into using the Love Symbol in 1993. I love that Prince communicated through his accessories or through the fabrics of his clothes themselves, such as the Lovesexy blazers that had “Minneapolis” emblazoned on the lengths of the sleeves. Every day, as I put on either the mirror heart bracelet or mirror heart earrings to my outfits, I am surprised at how my spirits life. The heart emblem is now part of my own signature style.
After spending time in January stressing about fasting when things were rocky, I’ve resolved lighten up and have fun with dressing the part. After all, while Prince was a serious musician with the highest of standards, he flaunted butt-less yellow lace “Gett Off” pants and tunics from 20Ten printed with Debbie Guan’s sketches of him. He had fun experimenting with his style — and we should too.
Fasting saw me fumbling around at the beginning of the January, catching a stomach virus and getting tripped up by The Devil (also known as blueberry pie). But I strode confidently into February, feeling that I was born to Dress The Part. I feel confident that this is one challenge I will own.
I’ve launched into the first Monday of February wearing a blue dress with a long, dramatic cardigan and a wide belt tied in a bow. I love the color blue and after a month of Alternate Day Fasting, I’m at least a few pounds lighter. I can feel myself walking a little taller today.
Wearing my heart on my sleeve is proving a tiny bit cumbersome, however. I’ve worn the mirror heart bracelet while writing, cooking, driving — you name it. Conclusion: This is definitely a “stage prop” accessory that was not designed to wear for everyday use! Fortunately, Michelle Streitz makes fabulous mirror heart earrings, so when I stabbed myself in the hand with the point of the heart for the third time in a day, I decided that was my cue to switch to earrings. Even the earrings are quite eye-catching, and I noticed a few people doing a double-take at Costco while I was going about my appointed errands.
However, I was secretly bummed when this past weekend while shopping for groceries at Byerlys, two Prince fans walked by me (identifiable by their purple love symbol scarves) without noticing my earrings.
I bet they would have noticed the heart bracelet.
That’s when it occurred to me that wearing the mirror heart bracelet all day long would be quite a conversation starter. And to be honest, aside from the practicality questions, I’ve limited myself by my fear of looking outside of the norm. I don’t know any suburban moms driving carpool while wearing a heart mirror bracelet, but why not try it! I need to push myself to step into this.
Although I’m not going to the lengths Prince went to draw attention (I will most definitely not be going onstage in my underwear), I pushed myself to think long and hard about my reticence, and I realized that I feel awkward wearing an item in my everyday life that calls out, “notice me.” Purposely drawing attention to myself is one strange sensation. We Midwesterners are taught not to show off. But the particular Midwesterner I’m emulating never cared about blending in. So therein lies the rub!
I assumed this would be an easy month. Ha! After four days of Dressing the Part, I’ve learned another thing from Prince — never make assumptions.
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