Prince an icon who stayed close to his roots

Editor’s Note: Adam Young is a Minnesota-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, and mastermind behind the certified multi-platinum electro-pop Owl City. The views expressed are his own.

Story highlights

Music icon Prince died Thursday at age 57

Adam Young: Where many embraced conformity, Prince embraced individuality

CNN  — 

I experience an immediate feeling of disbelief following the passing of a legendary cultural icon, a borderline inability to accept that something unthinkable has indeed occurred.

I have to pinch myself and remember how strange it is that Robin Williams, David Bowie and Merle Haggard are no longer with us. The shadows they cast were so influential to so many people around the world that it’s hard to believe such renowned symbols of expression are gone.

“This can’t be real, it has to be some sort of rumor,” I’ve thought to myself. Then reality sets in.

Such was my reaction to the news of Prince’s sudden death.

Adam Young

A tragic report is never easy to stomach, but Prince’s passing on Thursday was perhaps a bit more difficult to digest for me, as a fellow Minnesota musician who values artistic integrity and character far more than the lure of fame or fortune. Because of this, I feel a small, albeit indirect connection to the legacy Prince left behind.

From my vantage point, the mainstream music industry has a tendency to cling to anachronistic, antiquated rules in an always-evolving, ever-adapting game. And it has a way of pushing those rules onto you. It’s like there’s a silent voice in everybody’s ear that whispers. “If you want to be successful in the music business, you can’t lead, you have to follow, you have to do the same exact thing people have been doing for years and years.”

This is clearly not an ideology Prince had any stock in, instead choosing to march to the beat of his own drum. Where many embraced conformity, Prince embraced individuality, something I, too, strive to personify. Be real, be yourself, be your own person, ignore the naysayers and haters, stick to your guns and do the right thing. None of these are ideals I learned from the mainstream music space. In fact, the industry challenged those ideals, sometimes savagely. But I stayed true to myself and am stronger because of it.

But why Minnesota? Why so far off the grid? I get asked questions like these a lot and I’m sure they were not unusual for Prince, either. I’ve kept close ties to my home state for no reason more important than because it’s where my heart lies, the Midwest is where I belong.

People in the industry throw you an odd look when you say you live anywhere but L.A., New York or Nashville. In their view, it labels you as something of an oddball, a maverick. You’re off doing your own thing, you’re not following the herd, you’re living according to the dictates of your own conscience, and not dropping everything and moving to Los Angeles and selling your soul because an A&R person said you have to if you really want to be a star. Like Prince, I chose to stay connected to my roots instead of following the crowd, and I am proud to appear on the list of Minnesota artists such as Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du, among others.

Though it’s strange to suddenly realize the world has lost yet another creative icon, a virtuoso instrumentalist and an electrifying performer, the thing I take with me is the realization that we are all human beings with numbered days and none of us can decide when our time is up. While the universe of art and music is a place without boundaries – where man is limited only by his own imagination – each of us has a finite amount of time on this planet. The ways in which we decide to play out that time are decisions only we can make.

In the wake of a soul who has just passed from this world into eternity, I hope when my time is up, whenever that may be, people will remember me and perhaps have reason to say: “He knew who he was. He stayed true to himself, he was honest, he tried to do the right thing, and he never wavered.”

To me, that’s a legacy worth leaving behind.

Join us on
Read CNNOpinion’s Flipboard magazine.