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On Being Undeniably Good

The video opens, showing a glimpse of the lineup: Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, nondescript white guy, nondescript white guy, black guy in what appeared to be a purple suit and red hat. Was that Prince? It had to be, right? Who else could that be?

But the viewer had only a split second before the next camera angle showed the stage but eclipsed that person on the far right. After all, a lot of people were typically crowded on the stage of a Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame tribute performance. This one was 2004’s nod to the late George Harrison, who was inducted into the hall that year.

As the group followed the paces respectfully through While My Guitar Gently Weeps, the camera cut to Marc Mann, a member of Lynne’s band, who performed a faithful rendition of Eric Clapton’s guitar lead. At two minutes and 10 seconds into the video, finally a camera angle showed that it was in fact Prince over there strumming along.

So, the group proceeded perfectly, ploddingly, respectfully, until three minutes and 30 seconds when Prince stepped forward and took the final solo. And it’s as if the solo took a psychedelic drug and channeled Jimi Hendrix along with everything that came after him into this sublime few minutes that refined the mundane into the magnificent.

He edged out to center stage, wowed the band, fell back into the audience, where someone caught him and pushed him back all while he still played.

When he finished, he unbuckled his guitar, threw it straight up over his head, turned and walked away. People on the stage have since said they had no idea where that thing went.

The performance is still dumbfounding 12 years later. Prince did not rehearse the solo because Mann had taken all three solos in rehearsal, even though Prince was asked to do them. Prince wasn’t angry. He simply told the producer that he would take the final solo and it would work out just fine. By the end of the video, by the way, Mann isn’t to be seen. One can only speculate that he quietly unplugged his guitar, slunk off stage and threw his instrument into the dumpster out back.

That was Prince. It didn’t matter where you put him, he was going to excel. When you think of the prospects of a short, slight, African-American born in late 1950s Minnesota, rock god doesn’t come to mind. Then again, that could be said of another irrepressible Minnesotan, Robert Zimmerman. But he had to leave Minnesota to become Bob Dylan.

Prince stayed in the Minneapolis area. Prince took the spotlight this month in our annual feature of celebrity estate-planning failures because he died at age 57 without a will. It was a notable exception to his lauded attention to detail. In truth, it’s difficult imagining him sitting down to do estate planning. Especially because of the way some advisors approach the subject, like a dentist with a drill.

A few advisors in the article appeal to something greater that certainly would have spoken to Prince — the dream. We had an inkling that he was generous to young musicians, but we found out about his constant gifts to charity only after his death.

But he could have given so much more. Because he didn’t do any planning, his estate will be giving up 50 percent of its $200 million in federal and state estate tax. That is an enormous pile of money that could have gone to what Prince valued. It is difficult to imagine that he would not have wanted that.

I interviewed an excellent group of advisors and attorneys for the article but could use only a sliver of the wisdom they passed along. That story could have filled the magazine.

One of them was Tom Fanning, who is the founder of an estate-planning insurance and financial services agency that serves multimillionaires and billionaires. How did he break into that market? He acted as though he was already there.

Make no mistake. He did the work first. When Fanning was coming up in CIGNA, he was the only one out of 20 trainees to last three years. That was through knowing the stuff. But it was also due to scrappy resilience. When he ran into an objection that he couldn’t surmount, he didn’t slump over the phone. He asked senior people how they would have answered it and took what worked.

He’s also a scrapper, going to toe to toe, challenge to challenge. But, hey, he’s a New Yorker. When dealing with other fast-talking type As who want things done right with a minimum of fuss, he makes it clear he’s their guy.

That might not be everybody’s market, but the point is to mirror the client. These are people who feel like they’re a mark for everybody who sees them as a huge commission check. Trust is hard-won.

Just like Prince, Fanning wants to achieve a level of excellence that appears to unfold in front of his audience effortlessly. It’s like one of the comedian Steve Martin’s best lines: Be so good they can’t ignore you.

This was Martin’s full quote from a 2007 interview with Charlie Rose:

When people ask me, ‘How do you make it in show business?,’ I’ve said this many years and no one ever takes note of it because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this, here’s how you do that. What I always say is be so good they can’t ignore you. And if someone is thinking, ‘How can I be really good?,’ people are going to come to you. I think it’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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