“Prince’s muse … contained multitudes”

Nick IngramThinking3 Comments

(Photo above – Prince in Brussels in 1986 By Yves Lorson from Kapellen, Belgium – Prince, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4171922)

Psychologists describe the years between 15 and 25 as the “reminiscence bulge”. These are the years we will go to when asked to tell stories about ourselves. Between the ages of 15 and 25 you become the person you will be for the rest of your life (usually!). Maybe this is why Prince’s death is playing on my mind more than perhaps it should. My decade between 15 and 25 corresponded with some of his most famous work: “1999”, “Little Red Corvette”, “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain”, “Raspberry Beret”, “Diamonds and Pearls”. He was part of the sonic background as I grew up.

He’s remembered as one of the most creative pop artists of his time. As Randall Roberts said in the LA Times, Prince was a “crafter of melodies and lyrics whose early work connected disco and synthetic funk and whose fruitful mid-period merged rock, soul, R&B and synth-pop, Prince’s muse as it matured contained multitudes.”

Why was he so good?

Well, I’m not qualified to answer that. And it would be presumptuous to pretend that I can. But two aspects of his work style have been consistently reported in the media over the last weeks and they’ve got me thinking.

Firstly, it seems he worked damn hard and pushed himself to grow. There is apparently a trove of unpublished work that he’s produced over the years. Not to mention the volume of work that is published. He started young and he kept working hard throughout his career. At the same time he kept pushing himself and trying new stuff. And it’s that combination – volume of work combined with pushing outside of your comfort zone – that psychologist K. Anders Ericsson would say is the secret to getting better and better.

Secondly, he crossed genres. As Randall Roberts says, his muse “contained multitudes”. All the reports I’ve heard and read describe how Prince would not be defined by one genre. But instead experimented with multiple genres, as well as new technologies, often combining different genres in the one song. This reminds me of one of the classic definitions of creativity – creativity consists in the combining of pre-existing ideas in new ways. There is very little creation “ex nihilo”. Rather, human creativity takes different things from different contexts and puts them together in new ways – to create something truly new. It seems this is what Prince did all the time.

Anyway, enough from me for this week. To end, here is something truly special, David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd fame) last week combining the guitar solo from “Purple Rain” into the incredible guitar of “Comfortably Numb”.

3 Comments on ““Prince’s muse … contained multitudes””

  1. Nice post. It sent me off on a trail of reading more about the 10,000 hours rule and I was interested to discover that Ericsson was unhappy with Gladwell citing his research but failing to mention that the practice had to be deliberate. Apparently Ericsson didn’t think that talent was at all important, but Gladwell did. According to this article http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26384712 he wrote a rebuttal in 2012 entitled “The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists”. The title alone made me laugh.
    The deeper question in your post is important though. Do you keep practicing something for which you have clearly no talent, or do you just move on to something new and hope that one day you’ll discover your secret power?

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