What Prince Taught us about Defying Labels

More celebration than mourning

Mourning & Celebrating PrinceI’m not typically much of a celebrity fan, which is why I’ve been surprised at just how rattled I’ve felt since hearing about Prince’s death. I can’t think of many other passings that would bring me into a mourning of sweet memories like this one, so I’ve been pondering about what’s going on here. For me, it comes to down to this:  He brought much more to me than his wide range of original music . . . he taught me (and all of us open to his message) the value of defying labels, and I’m celebrating these days.

It’s O.K. to be different

So yes, Prince’s music got me and my pals through the FORMATIVE years with so many memorable, meaningful firsts. But far beyond that, he helped teach us about self-value, autonomy . . . that we’re freer when we don’t fit into any particular boxes or labels. He showed us all it’s not only O.K. to be different, we just have to give ourselves full permission to embrace all of who we are, have fun in this short life, and care less about “the establishment.”


How did he do this? Well for starters, he thoroughly lived his passion, which was all about being true to himself, originality and caring for others (as a fierce philanthropist). He refused record labels’ power to own his music (among the very few who dared to defy them). You couldn’t call him any one kind of musician—not pop, jazz, blues, soul, rock, because he was all of those things. He didn’t follow race or gender “rules.” For me (living in the prudish Bible Belt of the US), he helped naturalize sex by associating it strongly with love, expressed through his deep respect for both his religion and women. And perhaps above all, he wasn’t afraid to be present with and express his emotions. Wow, a man who could do that so openly—for me a real label-buster.

So what do I have against labels?

Sure, sometimes it’s the “conditions” that bring a group of people together. I’ve just never been a “club” kind of person. And I know that a psychological diagnosis can help us understand the symptoms, bringing clarity, even relief to finally know . . . “what’s wrong.” And that’s the part the bothers me. I find labels off-putting, if not dangerous for our happiness. They come with too many good vs. bad, or right vs. wrong assumptions and expectations.

For example

My nine-year-old daughter is currently learning this hard lesson at school. For a while the label “BFF” (best friends forever) was worn proudly like a badge of honor. I guess it puts her and her BFFs in the “good,” or “right” category. But by now, she’s earned about three of them along with all the “should’s” and “should not’s.” When she misses the mark, there’s disappointment, frustration, jealousy, anger. You’d think these girls had entered into matrimony! After breaking it down together, my daughter is pretty clear now about the “BFF” expectations she’s struggling to live up to, and is choosing to drop it.

In gratitude

Thank you Prince. You have long been an important, positive influence in my life. Not only have I steered away from most Prince's signlabels, I’ve sought out who the “real me” is in order to live in freedom and choice. And as a result of my learnings, I’m more capable than ever of being curious, wanting to understand, feeling compassion and love for others. I think you summed it up nicely here:

If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand.  (“Starfish and Coffee,” Prince, 1987)

Listen to Prince put it into his own words (first TV interview, MTV, 1985):


I TRIED EMBEDDING IT:  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbENboiR7fU&w=854&h=480]
Cara Crisler
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