The Day Prince Died: Lessons in Why Experience Gifts, Not “Stuff,” Matter
I may get emotional writing this. I love Prince. Love in the present tense because we will always be lucky to have his music, which is a living part of him. I saw him live more times than I’d like to admit. His music is my go-to whenever I need to feel happy, or sad, or just connect with an emotion, or run further, or find a quiet space in my head. Was I Prince’s number-one fan? Probably not. But, easily like many people reading this, I was a person impacted by his art. I was a huge fan. We read an excerpt from a Prince song at my wedding. When he passed away unexpectedly, people were so concerned about how upset I might have been that they picked up the phone and called me. That’s how much I was a Prince fan. I was sad about his death in a very tangible way for weeks. Some days, I still hear a song and am sad about his death. People who are willing to be entirely true to themselves, especially in an industry that wants you to conform, are rare. He was rare.
But I had a surprising tool that helped me cope with Prince’s death. A tool that, despite working with Postconsumers and knowing very well the value of experience instead of “stuff,” still caught me off-guard about how much it helped me. It was a memory of a time that I gave an experience as a gift rather than a thing.
In 2004, Prince was touring in support of his album Musicology. The tour itself threw pie in the face of consumerism, particularly the mass consumerism of the music industry. Rather than selling the corresponding cd to the tour, Prince gave it away free to anybody who attended a show. This move away from “stuff” consumerism makes it even more apt that my story revolves around this tour.
In 2004 I had also just turned thirty. I had taken some time off from working to focus on “me” and do some travel and decide what my next career move would be. This meant that I had a bit of freedom, and it also meant that I could travel back to my hometown in April of that year to celebrate my younger brother’s twenty-seventh birthday with him. A few weeks before the trip, I was reviewing the dates of the Musicology tour trying to figure out when I’d be able to see it (because of course I was going to see it). And as if fate had intervened, the tour was playing in my hometown on the exact day of my brother’s birthday.
So I called my brother and told him I’d be in town for his birthday and not to make plans because I had something in the works. And then I used some of the last of my dwindling savings to buy us the best seats that I could find. They were still about fifteen rows back, but I’ll take that! And I didn’t tell my brother what we were doing. I kept it a total surprise.
First I took my younger brother out to dinner for his birthday. He made guesses as to what I had planned. A trip to a guitar store (he plays)? A trip to an art show to buy something for his new home? I just smiled. And then we got into the car and drove towards the arena concert venue, and about a block away he realized where we were going. The words “You’re kidding me, right? You’re kidding me? Oh my gosh!” were repeated more times than I can count in that last block of driving and the walk into the venue.
The show was amazing. Prince is one of those artists who can draw such a diverse crowd and there were people of all walks of life around us, united in enjoying his art. If you are a Prince fan, you know that the music was great and the dancing was great and the twenty-minute version of Purple Rain that he closed with, with three guitar solos, moved us all to tears. It was an experience that my brother and I still talk about to this day. It will be in our shared memories likely until we are old and grey and saying goodbye to each other as this journey melds into a new one.
And on the day that Prince died, as I sat at my desk running the memory over and over in my head, I kept thinking, “I wish people would listen to this advice from Postconsumers more often.” What if I had just bought my brother a guitar or a wall-hanging that year with his birthday money? We’d never have this memory that was important to me not only as a sibling memory but as a way to remember an artist who had such an impact on me. What if I’d just gotten my brother a sweater? None of this magical memory about not one but two people who impacted my life would exist.
I admit that even despite my work with Postconsumers, sometimes consciously walking away from the expected (and often easy) path of “stuff” gifts can be challenging. Mostly it’s a time famine challenge. Creating an event gift means time to plan, to coordinate schedules and then to go to the actual event. Sending “stuff” can take as little as five minutes if I do it online. But what is more obvious to me now than ever before is that you get what you pay for, and that doesn’t just mean money, it means time investment as well.
Since that concert with my brother in 2004, I’ve had a child. And right now I’m incredibly grateful for the lesson I learned about experience gifts. For her first birthday, instead of a big party with gifts, we took her to Costa Rica. She won’t remember it, but it sets a precedent for creating memories with her on her birthday instead of giving her a sweater. We’re actively trying for a second child right now (in fact, by the time this makes it to publication I’m hoping we already have one!). It will be the same priority with this child. Birthdays are for experience gifts. Winter holidays? Well, peer pressure may be harder to overcome there but we’re hoping to find a balance that will satisfy everybody.
I still miss Prince. But I’m not sad when I listen to his music. I’m happy that I got to experience it with somebody whom I love as much as my younger brother and that I still have the songs to remind me of that. Though I may be getting just a little teary-eyed thinking about it all as I write this blog entry!
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