“One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self.” ~Fred Rogers
In 1981, Mick Jagger invited Prince Rogers Nelson to warm-up the crowd of 94,000 Rolling Stones fans at their two-night concert in L.A. When the funky, androgynous artist took the stage, prior to the “real” opening guests George Thorogood and the J. Geils Band, Prince was not yet a household name. He arrived, in what would eventually become trademark Prince style, wearing thigh-high boots, fishnet tights, black bikini underwear and a see-through trench coat. He launched into some legendary guitar riffs, danced suggestively, winked at a few Hell’s Angels in the front row. He was booed off the stage within 15 minutes. The angry fans hurled racist and homophobic insults, as well as bottles and lit cigarettes. Prince threw back face-melting guitar jams and a sexy smile. A bag of fried chicken comically knocked bassist Mark Brown’s guitar out of tune, leading to the decision to vacate the premises.
The Rolling Stones, to their discredit, did not back Prince or scold their fans for the racist and homophobic slurs. Jagger told Prince to suck it up, that bottle throwing was part of the deal if you wanted to be a rock star. Stones guitarist Keith Richards was also derisive, suggesting Prince had chosen a name he hadn’t yet earned (Richards was unaware that Prince was his given birth name). “It was insulting to our audience,” Richards said, referring to Prince’s falsetto voice and sexually suggestive dancing. “You don’t try to knock off the headliner like that when you’re playing a Stones [concert]. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already.” The agent who booked him urged Prince to take note. He suggested Prince tone down his look, his overly sexual guitar playing, his volume.
What happened next? As Prince tells it, he left the stage and cried a little. Then he returned the next night and played again, as he’d promised Jagger he would. Then he walked off that stage, head held high and decided he would never again open for anyone. He decided that the opinions of those fans, of any fans, would never make him compromise his true self. He would not tone anything down. It wasn’t who he was.
I love this tale, and not only because I listened to far more Prince in the 80’s than the Stones. But what really makes me love Prince is the idea that he was unapologetically genuine. His genius challenged mediocrity, braved ridicule in order to remain true. And true is a rarity. I tell my daughter all the time that lions do not bother themselves with the opinions of sheep, but that’s an imperative that’s hard to bring into practice. The world is all too quick to tell us who we are, what we are allowed to become, and lo the heartache of anyone who challenges that status quo. It’s just easier to blend in, go along, even if it doesn’t feel true in our hearts. It’s scary to brave ridicule, feels too risky to express our opinions. We fear being visible.
For most of us, our true self is covered up with conditioned, fear-based thinking. We only meet ourselves when (and if) we let go of all of the stories, labels and expectations we have placed upon ourselves. Our real self is hiding from the naysayers and their judgment.
What we forget is that naysayers are only concerned with bringing us down to justify their own insecurities. Why would we allow our personal bottle throwers to cripple us? Other people’s opinions of us shouldn’t be any of our business.
And can’t we agree that the world is just more interesting with individuality and originality? Wouldn’t the world have been lesser without the presence of Prince? It would be just as reduced by the absence of any of us. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
What I’m saying is, you do you. Within reason, of course. If your you is judgmental, harmful or hateful, then you need to do a little soul searching and heart opening. Otherwise, be you loud, proud and in love. Do what you love and then spread that love. Being authentic means knowing you, being you and sharing you with the world.
Let’s stop assuming someone has nothing to share based on such limiting factors as skin tone, class, sexual preference, political leanings, music or clothing choices. I bet that the Hell’s Angels who shamed Prince for his skin color and clothing choices probably look back on that night now with giddy glee that they were there when Prince began his career. I hope that many of them treasure that evening and miss Prince’s authentic genius on this earth. I hope this is a cautionary tale for the rest of us to honor authenticity in ourselves and others.