On Thursday, CNN reported that when Eric Clapton was once asked how it felt to be the greatest guitar player in the world, he said, "I don't know. Ask Prince."
Wikipedia has Prince listed as playing every one of the twenty-eight instruments -- a combination of guitars, pianos, strings and drums -- on his first album, over which Warner Bros granted him full creative control at the age of nineteen. Prince's talent was legendary, widely referred to as genius.
What much of the world has not heard is that Prince's extraordinary gifts were matched by his compassion, which extended to all beings. He was a committed animal rights activist. Almost two decades before veganism was even vaguely cool, on his 1997 album, The Truth, Prince took on the "Milk. It does a body good" campaign with his song, "Animal Kingdom." He made typically raunchy comments about sucking on breasts but then explained his feelings further:
No member of the animal kingdom nurses past maturity
No member of the animal kingdom ever did a thing to me
It's why I don't eat red meat or white fish
Don't give me no blue cheese
We're all members of the animal kingdom
Leave your brothers and sisters in the sea
On the day of his death, as people shared memories of Prince on the Los Angeles NPR station KPCC, a caller noted that Prince was famously litigious when it came to protecting his image, and quick to make people remove from web sites and media anything by him that he had not approved. That information made my own experience seem salient:
As I gathered celebrity photos and quotes for Thanking the Monkey, my handbook on animal rights issues, I often dealt with celebrities and "their people," who could take months to respond to an easy request, and could not be relied on to be pleasant. When I approached Prince's team to ask for permission to reprint liner notes from his album, Rave UN2 The Joy Fantastic, in which he detailed the cruelty behind wool, the affirmative response from the star came back quickly. But he wanted payment -- two copies of the book when it came out.
Prince did indeed carefully control his image, and he wanted animal rights activism to be part of it.
He had received a Genesis Award in the year 2000 for those liner notes. His acceptance speech, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, is one of the highlights in the history of that awards show. He looked out across the room at all of the activists in attendance and said he was humbled just to be there. He said he had received many awards but, "This has been a moving experience, just being in the room with all of you."
Humility and genius are a wonderful combination.
I have posted a copy of those liner notes on Facebook and Twitter and will share the text here, with a reminder that it was written before the common use of phone texts and the resulting, now familiar, shorthand. Prince was ahead of his time in every way:
If this jacket were real wool it would have taken 7 lambs whose lives would have begun like this...
Within weeks of their birth, their ears would have been hole-punched, their tails chopped off, and the males would have been castrated while fully conscious. Xtremely high rates of mortality r considered normal. 20 2 40% of lambs die b4 the age of 8 weeks. 8 million mature sheep die every year from disease, xposure, or neglect. Many people believe shearing helps animals who would otherwise be 2 hot. But in order 2 avoid losing any wool, ranchers shear sheep b4 they would naturally shed their coats, resulting in millions of sheep deaths from xposure 2 the cold.
Respect all of God's creatures.
"2 my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being." - Mahandas Gandhi
CHERISH THE GIFT OF LIFE & RAVE UN2 THE JOY FANTASTIC
Prince, we cherish the gift that was your life. And, as you clearly desired, we will do what we can to make sure that your deep respect for all life is part of your image forever.