14 Times Prince Totally Blew Our Minds With His Princely Wisdom

Source: AP
Source: AP

When Prince walked onstage last Sunday at the Grammys, the crowd absolutely lost it. No other artist elicited a similar response, no artist was dressed as finely and no artist spoke such truth. While introducing the nominees for Album of the Year, he completely ignored the teleprompter to deliver what was without a doubt the most memorable line of the night: "Like books and black lives, albums matter, tonight and always."

It was Prince at his finest — playfully subversive and insightful. And it added one more brilliant line to the treasure trove of mind-blowing statements the artist has blessed us with over the years. Nearly 40 years into his career, Prince has still managed to maintain an air of mystery about him. He does few interviews. His reservations with the media are understandable, as his outlandish lifestyle (from his impeccable sense of feng shui to his incredible pick-up basketball skills) is so easy to sensationalize. But the few times he has spoken out have been glorious to witness. Prince is American music royalty, and his every word is a jewel. 

Here are 14 times he blew our minds:

1. "All people care about nowadays is getting paid, so they try to do just what the audience wants them to do. I'd rather give people what they need rather than just what they want."

– 1982 LA Times profile

The music industry has been recycling the same formulaic sounds and beating new musical trends to death for years. Prince was preaching the truth, way before he had the science to back him up. Back then, Prince was a listeners' savior.

2. "I used to tease a lot of journalists early on, because I wanted them to concentrate on the music and not so much on me coming from a broken home. ... I don't live in the past. I don't play my old records for that reason. I make a statement, then move on to the next."

Source: Getty Images

– 1985 Rolling Stone profile

From a young age, Prince suffered abuse at the hands of his peers (who would call him "Princess") and possibly at the hands of his father. He overcame poverty, and his story is one of the ultimate examples of creative resilience. But despite his compelling story, he never obsessed over his past, or glorified it as a central portion of his artistic identity.

3. "The most important thing is to be true to yourself, but I also like danger. That's what's missing from pop music today. There's no excitement or mystery"

– 1982 LA Times profile

It's nearly impossible to find pop music today that is as nasty, sensual and politically aware as Prince's classics — Purple Rain, Controversy, Sign 'O' the Times — that's reaching wide audiences. We're still missing that danger and substance, and artists as far-flung as Questlove, Hozier and Hurray for Riff Raff have all pointed out that our culture is coming up short on protest music.

4. "I'm not a woman. I'm not a man. I'm something you will never understand."

Source: Getty Images

– "I Would Die 4 U" lyrics

Throughout the '80s and '90s, the public and journalists were obsessed with trying to pin down Prince's sexuality. He stated on several occasions that he's not gay, but usually answers: "Who cares?" But that never stopped the rumors about him. Yet Prince's music and style showed the world how beautiful things could be if one stopped looking at everything only in rigid black-and-white definitions.

5. "A strong spirit transcends rules. ... As RZA of Wu-Tang said: 'I ain't commercial, it's y'all who tell me whether I'm commercial or not.'"

Source: Anonymous/AP

– as told to Barney Hoskyns in 1999, quoted in 2006 Guardian article

Prince's restlessly innovative albums weren't always well-received critically and commercially, which caused a lot of problems with his label. But through it all man stood by his craft, and because of that he will always be an icon, while the vast majority of the Top 40 pop darlings will fade into obscurity.

6. "Movies are real! Music is real! It affects people, it's real. ... The other night I went to a club and I watched a DJ control an entire room. Even politicians can't do that."

Notorious cover story

Prince has always been extremely conscious of the effect his music will have on his listeners. In this Notorious cover story he talks specifically about a new Biggie track that has violent or misogynistic lyrics. Music changes its listeners. And it's important to Prince that artists attempt to change them in the right ways.

7. "I am really an artist and musician at heart, that's what I do. Musicology has no boundaries or formats. It is long overdue to return to the art and craft of music — that's what this album is about."

Source: FanArt.tv

statement accompanying 2004's Musicology

Prince attempted to inspire a return to musicality and musicianship with 2004's Musicology. "Unfortunately a lot of kids didn't learn how to play music," Prince said on the Today show, as quoted by the magazine Jet. "We want to teach the kids and new musicians of the future the art of songwriting, the art of real musicianship." Given the many cognitive benefits that music lessons can provide to growing minds, it's unbelievable that all kids aren't encouraged to learn. Few artists would make a better mentor than Prince. He's self-taught, "adept at playing more than 20 instruments" and an absolute lyrical genius.

8. "The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can."

Source: YouTube

The View in 2010

This is the sage advice Prince offered the ladies on The View when informed that Justin Bieber aspired to be like him. "I hope he does pick up an instrument and gets a good teacher," he said. If anyone knows the key to musical immortality, it's Prince. Since the beginning of his career in 1978, Prince has released a total of 32 studio albums, adding two more in 2014. Listen to your elders, Bieber.

9. "Yeah, everybody's got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before I'll let that happen, I'll dance my life away."

Source: Getty Images

– "1999" lyrics

Few artists can turn depressing realities into life-affirming reasons to continue seeking joy as expertly as Prince. He also did it brilliantly on Purple Rain's opener "Let's Go Crazy": "Cause in this life / Things are much harder than in the afterworld / In this life / You're on your own / And if the elevator tries to bring you down / Go crazy, punch a higher floor."

10. "There are no accidents. And if there are, it's up to us to look at them as something else. And that bravery is what creates new flowers."

Source: Getty Images

– 1991 Details interview

It's gems like these that made Prince one of the most sought after and simultaneously most evasive interviewees throughout the '80s and '90s. He seems to have this rare ability to espouse Zen-like poetry off the top his head. This one sounds relatively standard until he gets to the "flower" part.

10. "Listen: Ain't no sense in voting, same song with a different name. Might not be in the back of the bus, but it sure feel just the same. Ain't nothing fair about welfare, ain't no assistance in aids. We ain't that affirmative about your actions till the people get paid."

– "Dear Mr. Man" lyrics

Prince has been dissecting the racial issues at stake in the #BlackLivesMatter matter movement long before it was the kind of hot topic artists could discuss openly at the Grammys. "Dear Mr. Man" came out 10 years ago, but the issues are still equally as pressing today. The only difference between then and now that a far greater majority of Americans are willing to admit that racism still exists.

11. "The new pushes the old out of the way and retains what it wants to."

– 2011 Guardian profile

The faith that Prince has in the power and potential of youth is extremely heartening. He clearly understands the way innovation works. It's never created in a vacuum; it takes proven concepts and remixes them with novel concepts into something new. It's what he and every other enduring musical revolutionary has always done.

12. "Don't let your children watch television until they know how to read, or else all they'll know how to do is cuss, fight and breed."

Source: Doug Pizac/AP

– "Sexuality" lyrics

On that same song, Prince asserts: "No child is bad from the beginning, they only imitate their atmosphere." Most parenting publications agree that creating a loving and intellectually stimulating atmosphere (with lots of books and limited TV) will go a long way in helping parents raise a bright and curious child.

13. "Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

– 2010 interview with Daily Mirror

Prince is suspicious of technology to a somewhat comical degree. He's repeated the fact he doesn't own a cell phone in several interviews, and a publicist once quoted him as saying, "We ban their usage anywhere around us because we're allergic to lithium and 'everybodyelsies'" — a Prince-ism for "selfies." In many ways though, Prince's hunch that the digital revolution may have unforeseen consequence might be right. According to some research, our obsession with the Internet may be making us shallower thinkers.

14. "When I became a symbol, all the writers were cracking funnies, but I was the one laughing. I knew I'd be here today, feeling each new album is my first."

Source: Getty Images

Newsweek interview, 2004

When Prince changed his name to an unpronounced "Love Symbol" (often represented as 0{+> or more simply The Artist Formerly Known as Prince), he became the laughing stock of the music industry for a time. But through the ridicule, he kept releasing solid albums and breaking new musical ground. His eccentricities now only add color to his legacy as one of the bravest and most uncompromising creative minds of our time.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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