When I met Prince

PrinceYesterday, when I heard about Prince having passed away, I reflected back on the day we met. It was at a party in La Crosse, WI. He came down from Minneapolis with a couple of his buddies to have the “college experience.” La Crosse was a college town with three universities and a mile long strip of bars.

Drinking started on Tuesdays with 99¢ beers. Wednesday nights were ladies nights. Thursdays were weekend pre-parties. And, Friday and Saturday were full blown party nights. Since Old Style Brewery was in town with the largest six-pack in the world (32,000 gallons per can), all bars served the same beer.

But on this night, there was a dorm party at Coate Hall at the University of Wisconsin. I had recently come off of a film shoot for CBS. I was hired as a cinematographer to shoot all location footage for a documentary titled The Chileda Institute. I was reviewing my up coming production schedule for The Wisconsin Television Network when a group of guys barged into my room.

The student had brought his new “friends” in to introduce me to Prince. He said we had to meet since we were both in entertainment. But, before the guy finished his introduction, the self-proclaimed head of Prince’s entourage introduced Prince as an up coming star that was putting an album together (For You) and it was destined to be a hit.

Prince was embarrassed by the over the top introduction. We shook hands, sat down and chatted. The other guys took off to find some “babes” to build excitement into the party.

It didn’t take long for our conversation to focus on art. Prince was a true artist and not much into the party scene in those days. Neither one of us had a drink in our hands, but we probably had more fun talking about art than anyone else did chugging the brew. A spontaneous conversation about art is far more appealing for artists than the overture any brew can make towards fun.

Our conversation was interrupted when his entourage returned with lots of women. One woman shoved a beer into his hand and pulled him toward the door. He told me that I should be a part of the music circuit during my production down time and he’d help make it happen. Then he disappeared into the crowd of women and that was the last time we’d meet.

Prince was true to his word. During that next week I received a call from the new venue in town and by the weekend I was a concert roadie. My tenure in the music industry was short lived, as I worked six days a week in television. But I did have the opportunity to work the John Denver World Tour and the Beach Boys Tour.

The experience opened my eyes to an entire world that I didn’t know existed. Some day I’ll take the time to share about it, but for now I’ll just say, “Thanks Prince, for our great chat and my intro into the music industry.”

Copyright 2016 by CJ Powers

 

The Rubber Band Man

Peter stretched his chewing gum and bit off a piece. He secured it to the corner of the sagging music poster and pushed it back onto his dark blue bedroom wall. The teen looked up to make sure the album covers were secure on the ceiling. A soft knock at the door signaled the hazel-eyed geek that it was time to impress. He swung the door open to see Lisa, a music-crazed cheerleader type that was way out of his league.

“Is that it,” Lisa asked as she pointed at the guitar hanging behind Peter’s back.

“Yeah, it is.” Peter swung the guitar around keeping the strap over his shoulder. He noticed a smudge and quickly polished the body of the electric guitar with his sleeve.

“Well, are you gonna play it for me?” asked Lisa.

“Sure, yeah.” Peter walked over to his mini amp, plugged the cord into the input jack and grabbed his pick. He nodded toward his ceiling display. “They’ve inspired this song.”

Lisa glanced up, but wasn’t impressed.

Peter started with a simple riff and then looked into Lisa’s eyes as he sang. “It is you … the reason why I live … it is me … that stays our happi…”

“Your too low,” Lisa interrupted. “You’ve got to take it up a full step.”

Peter stopped playing. He didn’t know what to do. He could only play the song in one key.

“If you can’t translate the chords, use a capo,” Lisa said.

“I don’t have one.”

“I thought you were a musician.” Lisa turned and left the room.

Peter’s heart sank. He glanced around the room and spotted his desk. He yanked the draw open and pulled out a pile of rubber bands. Stretching the bundle over the guitar neck, the bands snapped into position above the second fret. He swung his pick across the strings sounding the music two half steps higher.

Elated, Peter ran after Lisa, but the chord pulled taut. His shoulder felt the burn of the strap stopping his movement. He unplugged the guitar and took it off. Peter pulled the stack of rubber bands from the neck and stuffed them in his pocket.

The colorful leaves crunched beneath Peter’s running shoes as he entered the park. He saw Lisa walk into the underpass where the bicycle paths merged. Closing in, Peter heard violin music echoing from the tunnel. He picked up his pace, hoping Lisa stayed to listen to the soulful music.

Lindsey_StirlingPeter stopped to catch his breath at the entrance. After composing himself, he entered the tunnel. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he was surprised to see a homeless woman playing the fiddle with the skills of a master. The woman started to dance while playing. A couple of children from the small crowd dropped money into her worn cigar box lying on the gravel floor in front of her.

Scanning the crowd, Peter spotted Lisa leaving out the other end of the tunnel. He sprinted after her, but collided with the twirling musician. The fiddle crashed into the cement wall, sending pieces flying to the ground in all directions. Silence fell on the crowd as they watched Peter pick himself up and offer his hand to the musician.

“I’m sorry,” Peter said. “I was chasing after … my dreams.”

The woman watched the crowd dissipate. She bent over and picked up the cigar box that held a couple dollars and a few coins. “Looks like no lunch today.”

“I’ll buy you lunch,” Peter said with enthusiasm. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bundle of rubber bands. His face cringed with sorrow. “I’m sorry, I only have…”

“Listen kid, it was an honest mistake,” said the musician. “Was that cute brunette the dream you were chasing?”

Peter nodded with humility.

“You certainly have no trouble going after the gold.”

“I keep on messing up,” Peter whispered.

“Join the club,” said the musician. “I trusted a manager that was worthless.”

“Everything has value,” said Peter. “But not always the value we seek.”

Peter looked down at his rubber bands, and then glanced at the scattered pieces of the violin. Grabbing the neck and the cigar box, Peter used the rubber bands to form an instrument. After cutting a hole in the box and attaching the strings, Peter handed the homemade fiddle to the musician.

“Nice work!” the musician said. She raised the fiddle to her shoulder and drew her bow across the strings. The rich tones resounded through the tunnel. People gathered as she quickly tuned the instrument.

The crowd smiled and swayed with the newly manufactured sound. The musician had no fear and played more passionately than before. Peter took several remaining pieces of the broken violin and strapped it together with a couple rubber bands. He set it in the place where the musician’s cigar box once collected tips. People immediately dropped various denominations of paper money into the collection box.

Peter noticed Lisa returned to listen. She saw the unique instrument and pointed at Peter with a face contemplating a question. Peter sheepishly pointed to himself and nodded that the instrument was his handiwork. Lisa smiled and moved his direction. Applause erupted after the final draw of the bow, slowing Lisa’s approach.

A man stepped toward the musician with his hand holding a business card. “I’m Steven Kilpatrick from Maverick Records. Word of mouth put me on your scent and you didn’t disappoint. In fact, your creative approach to music is worth millions. I’ll give you a six figure advance to sign you to our label.”

“You’ll have to take it up with my manager,” the musician said, as she glanced at Peter.

“Well son, what’d ya say?” asked the businessman.

Peter looked to the musician who winked her approval. Lisa took his arm and wrapped it around her. With a sense of pride, Peter faced the businessman. “It’s a deal.”

Everyone in the tunnel cheered. Lisa kissed Peter’s cheek. “You might not be a great musician,” said Lisa. “But, you sure can see the value in the simple things, Mr. Rubber Band Man.”

© 2016 by CJ Powers

 

Finding Your Style

Social media requires branding to successfully promote a product (film) or person (director). The packaging of the brand comes from the artist’s style, which he or she might not understand. Style is the essence of who the person is professionally as displayed over the long haul of a career (or season, in the case of those who rebrand or reinvent themselves).

Last Friday, I bumped into two young people who were talking about their future from a sterile vantage point. The black man talked about rising above his blue-collar job to management and the white woman shared how she positioned herself with her B.S. and Masters degree to become a social worker.

It was as if two stereotypes sat in front of me, so I asked a few questions and was amazed at the answers. There was one specific truth that I learned in those shared minutes that continued to echo in my head every day since: Artists can find their style by participating in three part impromptu sharing sessions.

SHARE WORKS IN PROGRESS

The man revealed his real interest wasn’t in management, but in music. While he wasn’t classically trained, he was confident that his music rose from his soul and could touch the heart of others. I asked him to sing a sample and we were all amazed at the tone and quality of his voice.

My eyes saw an hourly wageworker trying to make ends meet, while my ears heard a professional singer waiting for his magical break. More importantly, it became very clear that he had a new style that hadn’t yet been exploited within the entertainment industry and it was worth the listen.

He didn’t realize that he had a style, but it was clear to all those who gathered around as his voice attracted passers by. Can you picture the tone of a Sinatra mixed with the passion of a JLo? His style broke all stereotypes and was refreshing.

CREATE OFF THE CUFF MATERIAL

I asked the man if he could create something on the fly. He asked me to give him an example. Not being a singer, I asked if I could share a story. He shared his love for stories and asked me to proceed. After getting from him who the main character was and where the story took place, I started the story.

It was more fun watching the growing audience’s expressions than it was making up a story on the fly. The man was so amazed that he participated with emotional responses, as the main character experienced various conflicts. The audience also started to gasp and cheer appropriately.

I’ll never forget the disappointment on the man’s face when my story was cut off due to the circumstance at hand. He wanted more and I learned a lot about myself in those few minutes, as I got a glimpse of the style in which I shared the adventure.

DISCUSS EVIDENT STYLES

The audience and the woman witnessed two men with two distinct styles emerge in a short conversation. While time didn’t allow for it, each person was capable of sharing and discussing the styles that were evident in the presentations. That type of feedback helps an artist to focus on whatever rises from their heart for a future performance.

Discussing the styles also helps the artist let go of preconceived misconceptions, which I’ve personally struggled with. But I’ve learned that it’s not the style that makes the artist, but the artist that gives rise to a style. In other words, I firmly believe that depending on where we are in life, our style will shift and sway to reveal our heart whenever we create or perform.

My experience last week proved that artists can find their style by participating in impromptu sharing sessions that are broken into the following three parts: Share works in progress; Create off the cuff material; and, Discuss evident styles. The acknowledgement of what comes from the experience drives the artists to find his or her personal style.

Copyright © 2015 CJ Powers