The news of Prince’s death this past week hit me in the gut. Like many people my age, I grew up dancing my ass off to his music and generally getting titillated by his naughtiness. As someone who grew up in Minneapolis, in particular though, Prince ushered me into adulthood in ways more impactful than I ever possibly imagined at the time.
Minneapolis in the 80’s, when I was coming of age and Prince was coming into fame, was small enough to regularly feel individual cultural ripples making their way across neighborhoods and then the ripples of those ripples. Like most of us born and bred in Minneapolis at that time, this means I’ve got countless of those ancedotal-type stories of Minneapolis-born-and-bred Prince. Today I want to share one of them, the one that might appear to have the weakest association to Prince and his music, but the one that feels so uniquely Prince to me. In a nutshell:
9th grade, my parents’ basement, Super 8 camera rolling, a cassette blaring out of my boom box of the Replacements (also from Minneapolis), my friends and I break dancing.
Let me explain.
Long before I ever heard the term mashup (combining elements from different sources to create something new), just being in Prince’s immediate ripple-vicinity was giving me a taste of its potential. Lady-adoring man adorn in leggings, ruffles and make-up. Heavy guitar rock backing up funk and wit. An intelligent black man shamelessly taunting his sexuality in the land of 10,000 lakes and heaps of white polite. All of this directly touching and influencing the people and places I was in daily contact with.
Bear in mind, this is a time when Nancy Reagan kept telling us to say no – inspiring those commercials depicting brains literally as fried eggs. Our teachers were telling us sex kills – inspiring censorship of those Mapplethorpe photos that scared us as much as they mesmerized us. Prince though, he said to us, “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day, oh, but before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.” No brainer. We went with Prince and ran towards the images he inspired – Sheila E killing it on her drum kit, Morris and Jerome flapping across the stage, Prince himself doing unmentionables with his guitar.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was getting oriented to expand this beyond-boundaries-and-dogma perspective to beyond just music and into the rest of life. I was being trained in how to appreciate and recognize who was interesting and soulful regardless of genre and roots. I was learning to be open to ideas that came from unexpected sources and outward appearances. Prince confused the lines of race, gender and sexual orientation and couched it in wit and artistic genius, generously letting the rest of us in on it.
So when my friends and I were breakdancing in the basement to a Minneapolis punk band (and I’m being generous with the use of the verb breakdancing – we were, not shockingly, terrible), we didn’t give our mashup a second thought. Inside our adolescent brains we didn’t marry break dancing to rap, we just loved them both. We didn’t choose between R & B and punk. We formed crushes on anyone who would freely run down the tangent of their heart and be generous and brave enough to share it with us. We held no pretensions on where talent may rear its beautiful head and how many talents we could each have. We couldn’t get enough of the high born from creativity and mashup in action. That to me is Prince.
When Prince challenged record label practices, it wasn’t just about music legalities to those of us growing up with Prince, it’s what we thought it meant to be American, free in the land of the brave. When he time and time again propped up other artists on his big stage, we came to understand that this thing called life is not a competition, it’s something we’re here to get through together. What got dubbed, and rightfully credited to Prince, as the “Minneapolis Sound”, was not merely auditory for so many of us. It was a way of being self-aware, in awe of heart-driven gifts and understanding that we thrive by being inextricably connected.
I don’t make my living strutting across stages and just the idea of using a microphone gives me a panic attack. But Prince’s influence is in there. When I’m in the woods surrounded by others in silence on a meditation retreat just as much as when I’m on the dance floor. He’s with me when singing along to When Doves Cry for the umpteenth millionth time just as when I’m partnering with clients as they express their unique genius. With the Minneapolis Sound engrained in my being, I don’t feel that I have to choose between all these worlds being offered up. He helped me, without batting an eye, to embrace a path that mixes design, business and wisdom traditions, not necessarily an obvious mix but a mix and mash that can totally rock it nonetheless.
I love Prince’s music and am grateful for its presence in my life’s playlist. But what I’m particularly grateful for as I think about Prince and his passing is how his heart gave birth to a beautiful boundary-breaking approach to curiosity, art and life. That genius heart that was often beating just a handful of miles from mine during some rather pivotal years, rippling out into my life.
Dearly beloved Prince Rogers Nelson, I am so grateful for you and what your purple ripple effect have given me – the deeply seeded inspiration to continue to dance my life away.