The Number One Lesson Prince Taught Us
The Number One Lesson Prince Taught Us
Yesterday I watched and re-watched an interview with a 21-year-old Prince on American Bandstand.
“How many instruments do you play?” asks Dick Clark.
“A thousand,” Prince answers.
He’s joking, but he isn’t. He’s having fun, but he’s also serious. Prince, in that moment and forever, was being Prince: mysterious, interesting, unique, compelling, honest. Also one of the hardest working artists in the game. With “the game,” of course, being life in general.
The older I’ve gotten, the less I can handle being around people who don’t work hard. I’m irritated and annoyed by apathy. I’m embarrassed by laziness. The idea of someone strolling in with a sense of entitlement makes me want to walk into the ocean as a means of escape (from them). Even the music I listen to and movies and TV I watch needs to be defined by a freakish work ethic: Veep, How To Get Away With Murder, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — or series like Broad City and Catastrophe, where the stars are the writers and creators too, and their shows wouldn’t exist without hustling and hard work. (Plus: don’t get me started on the drive of Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of Hamilton, a play about people who work hard.)
And this obsession with work ethic isn’t about money. As someone who grew up blissfully unaware of how little money my family had (only to grow into a young adult with even less money — and eventually, a person who couldn’t afford to turn her heat on in the winter or groceries other than canned goods) (before losing her apartment altogether), hard work never equated financial bliss. Instead, it lent itself to dreams. As a two-time dropout and self-destruct button-pusher, hard work was the only thing I knew I could control. If I worked hard, I would still get to do what I wanted to do, even if it meant zero dollars. If I worked hard, I would maybe get to live my dream of making things the way Shonda Rhimes lives hers or Mindy Kaling or Samantha Bee lived theirs. So I began throwing myself into their series and their books and their interviews to keep me in line with my own goals, with each serving as a reminder that not giving up and working as hard as you possibly can may lead to a career that makes you excited to wake up every morning.
When I pitched this piece to my editor, I was basking in the glow of the Time 100, reading about Adele and Miranda and Nadia Murad and Nicki Minaj and using each as a reminder that in times of self-doubt or worry, my only option was to keep my head down with my eyes on my own paper and just keep writing.
And then Prince died. And doing anything but talking about him seemed like a massive waste of time.
But the thing about Prince was that he never wasted time. This year alone, he’d begun his memoirs, toured relentlessly, issued new albums, and seemed to always be doing. He didn’t stop. He never stopped. Prince played a thousand instruments. He performed harder and longer than any working musician on the planet. He spoke his mind in a way that ensured we all listened. He consistently created. He never stopped. He still hasn’t. While Prince may have left the physical planet, he certainly isn’t gone. He’s transcended, that’s all. And now we’ll re-discover his music and his legacy all over again.
Sometimes I feel weird about how in my 30s I’ve become so averse to wasting time, or how I don’t want to hear stories about friends drinking, or how my work has become something that simultaneously charges and calms me. Sometimes I feel like a freak for wanting to sit down to write as opposed to doing anything else. Sometimes I feel bad about judging people who do roll in with an apathetic sense of entitlement or who’d rather be lazy than make things. (But also: I am a work snob, and I’ve accepted this is who I am, so goodnight moon.)
But then I look at the people I admire most. The hustlers and the creators and the hardest workers of life. And obviously Prince. Prince, whose career spans so many years and incorporates so many things that we’re nowhere near the end of his retrospectives, nor will we ever be. Hard work is okay. It doesn’t make you a weirdo. Or, if it does, you are a wonderful, beautiful weirdo, who is simply being true to yourself.
Which is just one of the lessons Prince gave us. Lesson #1: Work hard. And then, only a million more lessons left.