Form a Band in November

Prince on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, flanked by two of his bandmates from The Revolution, guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboardist Lisa Coleman.

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.

Your Spiritual Journey Is a “Grand Progression”

Digital painting of Prince in the “Graffiti Bridge” era by NYAO.

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!