I don’t preface my writing with “As a musician”; rather, I’m very often in situations where I’m assumed to be one, and it carries over to the rest of my image. We all “have” an image, how others see and type us, the question is to what extent the image has us. Every bio is meant to deceive, and in making it one can easily deceive oneself; both deceptions are what the social order wants from us. Musician is a role claiming to be the essence of a person, an image of what one wants others to take most seriously, and it “owns” those who work for the title. If the title is merely ascribed to you then you don’t have to live up to it. You can try for an egalitarian upgrade (“everyone who plays an instrument”) but then there will be a separate category for the “real” musician, the recognized achiever, the virtuoso. Essence always excludes, causing suffering one brings on oneself. It is the disavowal of adventure for the sake of respect from others, on which self-respect is based. To be an adventurer, to love what you do rather than what you appear to be, is not a role, for it is universally possible…or should I say more realistically, not entirely impossible.

I write out of my own lived experience, just as fiction writers and actors are asked to do, and I observe myself and those I’m most in contact with as phenomena. These people play instruments, so I prefer to think of us as players, not necessarily musicians. All playing begins with those who want to play and admit it; that’s a hard step to take in a society where work that is self-sacrificing is the ultimate value. “Player” is not a cloak one wears to gain respect that requires social assent and credentials. We usually call ourselves musicians but are not terribly invested in it, for we have little to lose; we play equally on and off stage, with or without social approval. Though we don’t resist the musician title, it involves a certain fudging of the evidence, especially for Americans, since it implies that we earn a living from performing, similar to what “doctor” presumes. This is the case for only a minuscule number of those who call themselves musicians, the one percent–if that much. “Musician” doesn’t bring up an image of someone who, in the total accounting of one’s finances ends up paying to play. That is the case of myself and those I play with, along with the vast majority of American musicians. Since we don’t get paid more than our costs, our true economic function is consumers—amateurs, maybe hobbyists.

“Player” escapes the hypocrisy of “musician,” but also means we can do other things besides animating instruments—dancing (moving), speaking gibberish, yelling for the hell of it, building sand castles of ideas (such as I’m doing here), walking down the street funny, interrupting our lives, writing poetry for no one but ourselves—all these things are play we take seriously as play. We don’t have to take our expertise or lack of it too seriously, don’t have to prove that we have the recognized skills of the “real deal” musician. Our skill is to keep the play going, follow Eros wherever it goes. There is no tenure or tenure track for that; play only begins and lasts so long as we are playful.

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