Since his untimely passing on April 21, 2016, speculation behind Prince's death has created two divided camps - the "It's none of your damn business, stop judging" camp versus the "See! It was drugs" hand-wringing set. Neither really matters in the wake of a true musical and artistic genius being unceremoniously taken from the material world, but the lessons that can be taken from his death could push his legacy to even greater heights.
Until now, Prince's only real flaw was arguably his greatest asset - his undaunted and unbridled artistic exploration. It was the the core of everything he did. Where some artists pull PR stunts, Prince always had a greater artistic motive - whether changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol and tattooing "slave" across his face to protest his record contract or pushing the boundaries of storytelling (re: Darling Nikki) which inspired a landmark battle over censorship before Congress. There was always a deeper purpose.
It's the reason he qualifies as a "true" genius. Superlatives are often tagged on artists fatuously or prematurely, but in the case of Prince there were not words to qualify his impact. When hits like "Oh, Sheila" (Ready for the World) and "Wishing Well" (Terence Trent D'Arby) graced the airwaves, the melting of genres and fashion sensibilities - down to the hair - were stamped with Prince through and through. Whenever a singer grew to multi-instrumentalist and producer they were emulating Prince. Just ask Romeo Blue, a Prince-like hopeful who eventually went into a Hoboken, NJ studio in the late 80s to self-produce and perform "Let Love Rule". By then, Blue had reverted back to his given, and now better known moniker, Lenny Kravitz.
Prince once told a renowned music exec, "Don't make me black." Shocking to hear, but his reasoning aimed to exceed barriers. He wanted to break all boundaries and styles, not just one chart type or boxed-in genre. It may sound politically incorrect, but he was determined to outmaneuver every stereotype, and quickly succeeded in ways no artist had before. Purple Rain became a blockbuster hit movie, celebrating style and diversity. His band exemplified that diversity, not only in appearance, but in sexual orientation.
It was also no surprise that Prince then built the New Power Generation heading into the 90s, a band filled with horns, organs and next-level R&B players. By the early 00s he was touring with Larry Graham, the man who invented slap bass (re: think of the Seinfeld intro) and powered Sly & the Family Stone. His 2004 Musicology Tour took matters one step further, by celebrating funk, soul and R&B through the ages. His last gift, enthralling a new generation with classic sounds in the wake of dying musical culture.
Prince tackled politics with songs like "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" and "1999" where he warned of nuclear holocaust - in an upbeat, danceable format to boot. He was among the first artists to speak of AIDS in his music, as the title track of "Sign of the Times" opened with the lines "In France a skinny man dies of a big disease with a little name, by chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same".
He was the original gender bender, rocking a thong and high-heeled boots while wailing on his guitar like Hendrix. There was an openness to his sexuality that was empowering in a time that was less accepting. Songs like Anna Stesia (from LoveSexy) featured proudly homoerotic lines, "Gregory looks just like a ghost and then a beautiful girl the most, wets her lips to say maybe we can live for a little while" or the exploratory, "Maybe I could learn to love I mean the right way, I mean the only way, Perhaps you could show me."
Prince did it all. Everything one could imagine from entrepreneur to movie star, but his biggest lessons come from his personal challenges. When pushing every boundary became passé, he turned back to his most core proposition - religion.
Religiousness was nothing new. He sought a journey and a purity that he had not yet explored in his life. He had been the eternal rock star, but now he sought to a different type of perfection.
Over time he purified himself by converting to Jehovah's witness, swore off drugs, alcohol and meat, amplified his charitable works and brought a renewed discipline into his life. This became the unbearable weight of impossible expectations, but he was sworn to fulfill them.
For all his perfection he had never sought the type of support system that could break the pressure he had put himself under. Per the New York Times, Prince was incredibly self-sufficient, to the point where he was able to cover both the chronic pain from which he suffered and the opioid remedies that had him addicted until his final fatal, self-administered dose. He missed one show in his entire career.
Bear in mind, Prince's shows often involved a pre-show and an after show. For those lucky enough to experience his after show performances, they were four hour jams, often alongside musical icons, on levels that will likely never again be attained. He pushed himself to past every limit and have his body on par with the greatest athletes.
There is no use in rehashing the health scares or failed intervention a week prior to his death. Simply Google. This is about lessons learned. Prince taught fans the pursuit of greatness, the strength to be introspective, the power to reinvent one's self, artistic exploration, knowing history, pushing boundaries, the vision to build any enterprise, the importance of storytelling, the influence of music on fashion and culture, and the ownership to take on great expectations.
"You said the devil told you that another mountain would appear
Every time somebody broke your heart
He said the sea would one day overflow with all your tears
And love will always leave you lonely
I say it's only mountains and the sea
Love will conquer if you just believe"
- Prince, Moutains from the album Parade
But there was one take away that Prince himself did not overcome, because it takes a village to achieve greatness. There is no genius without the support system that makes genius possible. Everyone of us, overtly or unwittingly, contributes to each other's success. Expressing ourselves to one another, our connectedness, is the way we thrive, especially in times of need.
Some part of Prince prevented him from expressing his need. Whether it was pride, ego, shame or a sense of invincibility is irrelevant. Addiction is ugly. Chronic pain insurmountable. He had his mountains.
"Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last
All good things, they say, never last
And love, it isn't love until it's past"
- Prince, Sometimes It Snows in April from the album Parade
Prince may not have found the answer to all his April snow, but dreaming of heaven, he is there. His music and everything he stood for forever remains.
Always remember the words, "May U live 2 see the Dawn".
Good night, sweet Prince.