THE DICHOTOMY OF BEING A PRINCE FAN
There is a strange dichotomy in the relationship most of us have with Prince and his music. On one hand, most of us became fans because he created music, performances, and engaged with the media in ways that were new, refreshing, and unexpected. 30+ years later, his same independent spirit and creative approach to the world of music oftentimes yields frustration, disappointment, and even angst from life-long fans as many among us clamor for a new album, a bigger tour, tracks from The Vault and a growing list of wants from the very person we claim to respect for not listening to anyone in the first place. How can we be fans of the Artist without respecting the Art?
I, for one, have realized that Prince has remained amazingly consistent in his Artistry and vision of music, and it is we the fans who have changed.
EXPECT AND RESPECT THE ZAG
As early Prince fans, one thing we took great pride in was the eclectic behavior and unique character that he embodied: Never doing interviews. Androgynous personas. Elusive albums, tracks and after-shows that built a legend and mystique. He would Zag when everyone expected a Zig.†
We were proud to associate ourselves with the Artist who was too cool to promote himself and his music like other musicians. We were cool by association. Avant-garde. Rebels. Yet today, when he refuses to fall into the rabbit hole of the Internet or chooses to mount an ad-hoc tour of the West Coast or London, we somehow believe we know better than he, and we are full of recommendations and wishes; ultimately “wants” for ourselves, more Zigs that create a need for him to Zag. Should not we be celebrating his ability to relentlessly surprise us, his ardent supporters?
THE QUESTION OF US
Having connected with his music (and therefore the persona) we cannot be surprised by the relentless questions with which we are left. Why does he launch a website and then never update it? Why doesn’t he release Roadhouse Garden? Why would he perform an entire show and never pick up his guitar? None of this should surprise us, this is precisely the class we signed up for. Exactly as advertised. The mystique of Prince is woven within the unanswered questions and abstract career, and accepting this is a huge step towards a better understanding of the Art itself.
FOR ONE THING, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
One of the hardest lessons we humans have to learn in life is that money is merely a means to an end. If we understand the end, we can quantify the means. I believe Prince figured this out many years ago as he found himself with enough money to create Art on his terms and in perpetuity.
There is nothing that Prince could or would do differently for his Art if he had another $500,000,000. Period.
With Prince’s lifetime lease on Paisley Park in a suburb of Minneapolis (his private recording studio / rehearsal space / concert venue / film studio and more) he has built a private, self-contained world in which to play (it’s a park!) and explore, outside the rhythms and temptations of Hollywood, or New York or other metropolis. By reaching this rarified status of not needing money many decades ago, he has turned his attention solely to experiments and the pure joys of creating.
I contend that so much of the misunderstanding and frustration fans feel for the ways in which Prince has managed his work comes down to this fundamental flaw in ourselves: We believe Prince could make so much more money if he would just do X or Y (for us), a clear win-win, right? That assumes that he (like us) wants more money. When you remove that need/want from the equation, only purity of heart and Art remain as driving forces; powers that are so rare we cannot fathom them to truly be at the heart of a man’s being. I believe they are, and that alone should be a lesson of inspiration to us all.
NORMAL RULES DON’T APPLY
In the same vein as his disregard for accumulating money for money’s sake, Prince’s indifference to the powers that be have created an entire dynamic of operation foreign to business, marketing, and media minds alike. Contracts? No, thank you. Media blitz timed to an album release? Please. Social media managers tweeting on his behalf? Eye think not.
For two decades now he has been a truly independent artist, and the common refrain amongst pundits has been “he should make more stuff like he did…[when he was under contract]”. Didn’t anyone listen to his emancipation proclamation? He fought for his freedom precisely so he would have no one to answer to. We can’t have it both ways, and I for one will gladly roll the dice with the independent Artist over the formulaic tried and true any day.
MY ONLY AIM IS 2 PLEASE
At the core of the complexity of Prince is his nature as a true Artist. Unfortunately, the meaning of the word has been dumbed down in recent years as thinly talented musicians backed by conglomerate marketing Goliaths have attempted to label these talents as “artists”. Anyone who has seen Prince in concert knows there is Grand Canyon-sized chasm between these acts and the shows put on by him and his cadre of real musicians. In fact, the rarity of the talent which is Prince makes it harder to grasp; he is truly an outlier on the scale and skews the curve such that the terminology is truly comparing peaches to raspberries.
The nature of true Art is that it is created by and for the Artist, not the Audience. The Audience is privileged to enjoy and share in the Art but cannot make demands of it.
As such, we are fortunate that Prince enjoys creating and performing for the purity of the act, for it is in this sharing that we are included in a truly personal form of Art most rare in our world. At the same time we should understand and respect the decisions and liberty of the Artist to not release or share any Art which is not in a form or quality or time, which feels right to him. Where so many want to pull out of him songs, shows, and images which he does not condone, these individuals are missing the point that the Artist has the final say on what is his to share.
PRINCE DOES NOT OWE US
He gives and gives of his talents and artistry in ways large and small. He encourages other musicians and supports creativity as the highest of all arts. He shares music and words and energy and laughter while remaining completely true to his own principles and priorities. I find this lead-by-example approach to be the highest form of giving, as it illustrates to all of us a possibility of truth to ourselves, a truth so many of us fail to respect and suffer because of it.
For me, Prince has become an inspiration and a teacher in subjects ranging far wider than music. I hope that more of us who consider ourselves fans of his music will find inspiration in his leadership as an individual guided by truth and passionate purity. I know I still have a lot to learn on these fronts and it’s a pleasure to still be taking classes 30 years later from the same professor.
Jason Franzen is a designer driven by a passion for simple solutions.
I had the unexpected opportunity to work briefly at Paisley Park in early 2013 as 3rdEyeGirl was brewing. What I witnessed first-hand was an environment driven by joy, harmony and respect mixed with a work-ethic and passion beyond anything I could have imagined.
† credit to Marty Neumeier for this concept and language
[this piece was written while listening to a cobbled together “Camille” album. “We R here, where R U?”]