So STEM folks don’t have a Plan B, huh?

Yet again, this whole don’t-have-a-Plan-B horseshit continues to stink just as much as it ever did.

If having a Plan B is good enough for an astronaut, then having a Plan B is good enough for you.

And here’s another one from Chris Hadfield, who went into the same career just as clear-eyed as Seddon about the need for a Plan B.

This bullshit belief among Ahtists that no one else has a Plan B in their lives, and that the constant exhortations to them to have a second choice in place reflects some kind of lack of confidence is … well, a bullshit belief. Every successful person, even in the most demanding STEM jobs, has a Plan B. They generally have Plans C, D, E, F, and so on.

The only people who don’t have Plan Bs are people with Grandpapa’s railroad investments behind them, or who married wealth — or both.

The next time someone exhorts you to “live your passion!” and “take a risk!” by not worrying about how you will pay your rent with your art, I want you to do the following thing:

Ask them how much money their parents are worth. Ask them their spouse’s net worth and annual salary.

Then, you wise up and you do what Rhea Seddon and Chris Hadfield did — you get yourself a Plan B. Never stop moving toward your goal, but make sure you can pay your bills and put food in your stomach on the way there.

I know I keep harping on this, but it is never pointed out anywhere else, and needs to be. I’m not saying there is anything morally wrong with being born on third base, but it sure does seem to make one fairly clueless about the value of the life lessons they can teach other people. The rest of us cannot learn how to hit a triple from listening to their earnest advice. And if you do not have family wealth as a safety net beneath you as you leap off that cliff, you will get destroyed if you try to apply their advice to yourself.

And possibly the worst part about this is the damage it does to art itself, by ensuring that only a very narrow and privileged slice of humanity will do it for any significant period of time. 😦 The rest of the world will end up having to sell their instruments and give up — and not because they didn’t have “passion” or “dedication,” but because they didn’t have someone else’s money to prop them up while things gelled.

What I want people to get from my music

I like it when people like my stuff, of course. But in the end, I don’t want you to just like my stuff.

I want you to go make your own stuff.

I want my music to prompt you to go buy that trumpet or keyboard, and to tell those dream-crushers who say things like, “You’ll never be any good anyway, you’re too old/poor/the wrong kind of person,” to go fuck themselves.

I want you to go dig up that thumb drive in the pocket of the coat you haven’t worn in two years, the one with the abandoned novel on it, and get that novel going again. Then, I want you to submit it or self-publish, and the second you do, you need to start the next one.

I want you to take that cooking class, and tell the person who laughs at you and says, “Look who thinks they’re the Iron Chef!” to piss right the hell off.

I want you to stop by the hobby store on the way home from work today and buy a couple tubes of acrylic paint and some blank canvases and just have at it.

And I don’t want you to stop. I don’t want you to listen to the little voices (internal or external) that tell you that it won’t matter, you aren’t any good, and no one will care what you have to say anyway. I want you to make a first meal/novel/painting/piece of music that stinks on ice, and then I want you to make another one that stinks less. And another, and another … until you step back and go, “Hey, that one was pretty good.”

I want you to spend the next twenty years doing this because, I have news for you, those twenty years are going to go by anyway so you might as well fill them up with something you enjoy and spend the time getting better at it.

I want you to do it no matter who tells you that you can’t. I want you to ignore the voices in your head and in other people’s mouths, the beliefs in culture at large, that tell you that you’ll never be any good, and that people like you don’t have anything worth saying or listening to anyway.

I want you to … well, okay, I guess I don’t want you to take people who smirk cutely at the idea that the wrong sort of people could possibly relate to or make worthwhile art and punch them in the face or shove the scroll of his cello up his ass. You’ll get in trouble. But at least shaking your fist at them menacingly and then telling them to drop dead won’t get you arrested. Chopping them out of your life is even better, because even the fist-shaking and drop-dead-telling wastes mental and physical energy that you could better spend pursuing your goals.

Anyhow, I want you to realize that even a non-conservatory schmuck who grew up in a financially struggling family, who started playing at the born-on-the-scrap-heap age of 10, who can’t afford a house and who has a digital piano (shock! horror! “Why I just can’t advise anyone to do that!“), and who works a very demanding 50-60 hour/week non-musical day job, can still make art.

You can even still make art in the most high-falutin’ art arenas. Classical music? Well, you have to start at the age of 6 months and play an $85,000 instrument, or else you’re worthless!

Fuck your “worthless.”

You have to be in a real gallery to be a real painter!


You’re never going to be a real novelist. Who do you think you are, John Steinbeck?

No, I think I’m ME. And ME has some stories to tell.

Ooooh, so you think you’re Wolfgang Puck now!

We all have to feed ourselves, and damn it, I’m going to do it well.

Go make your art. Start now.

That’s what I want you to do after listening to my music. Liking my stuff isn’t the endpoint I’m after. If I haven’t motivated you to make your own art, my art has failed.

More anti-anti-digital bitching

“I totally support the idea of composing, recording, and improv! Classical music is so much more than being a soloist, winning competitions, and playing other people’s music! And I think it’s very important that classical music reach out to The Underprivilegedâ„¢!”

“I can’t support any student buying a digital piano. Who cares if you can compose and record on it? You’ll never be a soloist or win competitions by finding the Delicate and Subtle Nuances of Colorâ„¢ in other people’s music with one of those. Besides, you can find a good grand for maybe ten thousand dollars, and that’s nothing! And the tuning, regulation, voicing, and upkeep of a grand piano doesn’t really amount to more than a few thousand a year. Just cut back on your lattes! And they’re not that big, really — you can fit one in your parlor or den very easily!”

If you claim to love the Hip, Cool, Trendy side of classical music (recording, improv, maybe even playing it while being poor) and refuse to support a technological innovation that enables this … then you’re either ignorant or a conscious hypocrite. (You’re also completely bullshitting yourself about the quality of the landfill uprights your students are playing.)

More on this “follow-your-passion” No-Plan-B nonsense

Okay, so take as an example the ever-useful-as-an-example Zoe Keating.

Went into music intending to be a professional.

Flamed out.

But she had a Plan B. Which kept her fed and housed for the ten years it took for her music career to begin to pay for itself and the rest of her life.

And now, here she is. A successful musician/composer with millions of people enjoying her music, and moreover making a living at it.

Why? She had a Plan B. And she has publicly gone on record during a long talk at MIDEM as saying, “It might all go away tomorrow, and if that happens, I’m perfectly prepared to go back to being an information architect.”

She is here, making her art and making millions of people happy.

And her Plan B is what made it all possible.

In truth, she (and I) are sort of the vanguard of the generation(s) that do not see a polarity between different parts of our lives. We need to eat. We need to make art. Maybe it will be one job that allows us to do these things. Maybe we will need one job that lets us eat, and one that lets us create.

For those born into more financial privilege, they have never really had to think about the “need to eat” part of things. That one will take care of itself for them. They can’t conceive of people for whom that really is a very real, very pressing need. (Well, they can imagine it for some people, mostly in the third world. The fact that it’s a very real consideration for other first-world folks is completely outside of their sphere of experience.)

I suppose you could say that they also have a Plan B. It’s called Daddy’s bank account. But explaining that to them is like explaining water to a fish.

You need to eat. You need to make art.

Plan B will make it possible for you to do both.

You’d goddamned well better have a Plan B.

This is utter bullshit.

All that this sort of “go for it” garbage accomplishes is to ensure that the only people in the arts are those with rich spouses or trust funds.

Doctors don’t have a Plan B? Bullshit. Doctors, engineers, plumbers, lawyers, and accountants all have Plans B, C, D, and even further. Every human being on Earth has a contingency plan, multiple ones if they are really successful. If I don’t get into that school, I need to apply to these ones. If I don’t get accepted at that firm, I need to line up these others. If this client doesn’t pony up on their check, I need a few more so that it balances out. And so on. These people — my people, as someone with a graduate degree in Physics — have Plans B through ZZ coming out their ears.

Goddamn it, this Hallmark-card “Live Your Passion!” horseshit condemns people from poor or working-class backgrounds to absolute exclusion from the arts. The truth is, the people who can romantically insist on their Passion and Commitment (and aren’t they just wonderful for it?) are the ones who have lived their entire lives with safety nets beneath them, to the point where they don’t even realize they’re there, or that other people don’t have them.

Any artistic career will take decades to bear fruit. If you want to be an artist of any kind, the entirety of your 20s and most of your 30s will be spent not making it. Funny enough, that also neatly encompasses the years during which you can expect to be pregnant and corralling young kids, something that Mr. Follow-Your-Passion doesn’t have to worry about personally, does he? Not like he will need insurance to cover well-woman or pre-natal care, will he? And if you don’t have a mommy and a daddy or a hubby (most often) to keep the bills paid in the meantime, you are royally fucked and will ultimately be forced to vanish from the scene without a trace. And Mr. Passion won’t even notice you’re gone.

I have seen far, far too many talented and gifted artists who lack those happy little safety nets become jaded, angry, and give the hell up, and not because they “lack passion” but because they lack food. Health insurance. A car. Many are forced to sell their instruments. Do you think they maybe needed a Plan B?

Plans B, C, D, and so one are absolute rock-solid necessities if you can expect to have to earn every single red cent you will ever spend on yourself. If someone else is keeping your lights on, then go Follow Your Passion and feel free to not to put on a financial seat belt first. You won’t need it anyway. Daddy/Hubby/Grandpapa already had an airbag pre-installed into the steering wheel of your life for you.

My god, this sort of horseshit destroys the arts. It also ensures that only the attitudes and mores of the white-collar upper-middle class and beyond are ever reflected in them. If you’ve always wondered why there are so many Lexuses and Infinitis parked in the lots outside of art galleries, now you know.

I’m sure he would make all the right concern noises about how he doesn’t really want the arts to be only the bailiwick of the trust fund set, but buddy, your entire attitude will bring that about. Going willingly into a profession that results in almost no money whatsoever for two fucking decades without preparing for it is suicide … unless you don’t need to prepare.

Man, does this steam me. Fuck this guy, and fuck his Passion.

“Call on God, but row away from the rocks.”

Advantages to being a middle-aged artist with a day career

Just a quick observation before I get to bed and awaken tomorrow ready to get back into the woodshed:

It occurs to me that there are more advantages to being an older artist — and having the Dreaded Day Job — than are often stated. Well, a set of advantages in particular that seem to get overlooked, anyhow.

If you are older, and you have had time in business with at least some executive-level responsibilities, you have a better awareness than most starry-eyed kids of what’s needed to get it done. You are aware that in every job, there is the Fun Work and the Crap Work, the exciting visionary stuff and the boring grind part of things. And you don’t get down over the grind — you just do it. You are used to having part of something (at least!) be boring crap that you need to force yourself to look in the face and get over with.

You are used to moving forward despite a distinct lack of Inspiration.

And you are not surprised by this. You don’t regard a bad day — or even a long string of them — as a sign that you should quit. You just gird your loins, put on your Big Person-of-Indeterminate-Gender Pants and get it done.

Voices of insecurity chattering in your head? You set your alarm, get up, and get the hell into work.

Not a morning person? Well too bad, the rest of the world wants you to be one. Set your alarm, and get the hell up.

Feeling stressed? Well, that progress report ain’t gonna write itself. Get the hell to work.

And that sort of don’t-wait-for-inspiration attitude is needed to complete a creative project.

I’m just thinking of how loud the chattering it-won’t-matter-no-one-will-care-anyway voices have gotten in my head lately, the closer I seem to get to things, and how I can still move forward.

Voices chattering telling me that the world won’t give a damn? Well, let them chatter while I buy that sound card.

The Ghost of Garbage Past moaning in my ear? Moan away, I’m going to hook up this thing to my computer in the meantime.

These voices can’t reach out and grab my hand to stop me from clicking on the “place order” link at Amazon to get that shielded cable I need to get a cleaner signal out of the Clav. Let them babble while I get the cable. I’ve spent more than a few nights in sweats worrying about some enormous pile of whatever that I’ve had to get done at work with too little time and too few resources. Compared to that — which sometimes can carry on for quite some time — a niggling voice in my head is effing small potatoes.

And I like my job, and I’ve got those voices. I’m not naive enough to imagine that if I have insecurity or fear related to my job, that that means I should get another one. Nor am I naive enough to imagine that if I have insecurity or fear about my music, that it means I shouldn’t do that, either. You get used to ignoring your fear when your paycheck is on the line. It builds a habit of getting to work no matter what.

And there’s the fact that I can bullet-list a project plan in my head at this point, especially one as dog-simple as putting out a collection of music (dog-simple compared to the crap I balance at work, anyhow). I’ve got the strategic and tactical plans for the whole evolution pretty much planned out, and I’m just going through it step by step by step.

There are a lot of ways in which the maturity *snerk* of middle-age and the experience that comes with almost twenty years in corporate life will make me a better artist, or at least one that realizes that:

1) it’s not all sipping ambrosia with the Muse,
2) the negative voices don’t actually mean very much,
3) it doesn’t matter if I don’t ship, and
4) how to bullet-point the shipping process and actually get it done.

This is another big part of why I think the “Get A Job” attitude is a good one for artists to have. It really helps you negotiate the world in which we live, as opposed to the gauzy Artistic Plane we can all too easily get lost on.

Growing up as a working-class scrabbler

Just thinking about this. As much as having been raised lower working-class was a serious obstacle sometimes, I think it does beat both a poor and a white-collar upbringing.

Poor because … hello, poor. Poverty sucks in every conceivable way.

But I think it beats a while collar upbringing just because it makes you thickheaded. The idea of giving up because something isn’t just so isn’t in your DNA if you grow up scrabbling. This is a big part of why I simply do not get music teachers who state, as if they are saying something so obvious, that if Little Johnny’s parents don’t buy at least a grand piano for him when he starts lessons that he won’t stick with it! If Little Jenny is forced to use a student violin in her lessons, she’ll give up! It really speaks volumes about their own upbringings and the people they tend to congregate with if the only human reaction to imperfections or obstacles that they can imagine is to sit down and give up.

If you have a working-class background, I think it helps you realize that well … you ain’t never gonna get that grand piano (not as a kid anyway) or high-quality violin, so you have no choice but to keep pounding and sawing on what you have. Nothing in your life will ever be perfect or just so, and giving up in the face of that would mean never getting out of bed.

So with a working-class hard-scrabble background, you end up in a way with the best of both worlds: rockheaded stubbornness and juuuuuuust enough strength to improve your situation. Too much privilege growing up, and you end up too prone to giving up. Too little money, and stubbornness may not be enough to overcome your situation. Being a scrabbler means that your reach exceeds your grasp … but not by so much that you stop reaching. And if your grasp exceeds your reach, you stop reaching as well, only out of boredom.

This is probably another instantiation of the old canard about practicing and improving that the best way to move ahead is to set goals that are just out of reach. Too easy, and you get bored. Too hard, and you stop trying.


A stable one. 9-to-5. With health insurance and a 401k. GET IT NOW.

Stop angsting over whether your Art or your Muse will survive Selling Out. Stop saying that your delicate artistic expressiveness can’t cope with an office job. Stop being allergic to money and then wondering why you can’t make rent and your lights are always being turned off.

Please understand that I’m not angry, and I’m not yelling. I’m Italian, and it’s how we talk when we get passionate. We get loud, and we curse, and it’s okay.

You can’t hack a “soul-killing” office job? You know what’s soul-killing? Having to sell your instrument or live out of your car. Believe me, the logic that office jobs and Working For The Man ruin one’s artistic creativity is a fiction created by idiotic trust fund kids with big ol’ safety nets beneath them, or people with rich spouses who bankroll their personal experimentation while they pat themselves on the back for taking pretend “risks.”

As for the rest of us? Get a damn job.

A stable one. 9-to-5. With health insurance and a 401k. GET IT NOW.

The thing about this is that it means your artistic life will take longer to germinate. You will need more of what the nuns used to call stick-to-it-iveness and what German Jews call sitzfleisch, the patience to just park your rump and work until something happens. You will need more determination, more patience, more stubbornness, more ability to balance free time, and more appetite for hard and seemingly fruitless work than you otherwise would if you could —

— hit the lottery and —

— do your art 24/7.

But here’s the thing. If you are in your 20s or 30s, I can guarantee you you will already need more of that than you currently think you’ll need. Young people are hideously impatient and completely unaware of just how long almost anything takes to come to fruition.

So … if this is going to take 15 to 20 years of unrelenting effort anyway, why the hell not have a stable, safe indoors office job that pays reliably for all that time? There’s a lot to be said for a good car, a grown-up sofa, and a real bed instead of a freakin futon, not to mention a savings account and a Roth IRA.

Just do it. Get a goddamned stable career-oriented job. Who cares if it has nothing to do with music, as long as you still have an instrument and free time in which to use it? Stop being allergic to and feeling guilty for making money and then being mystified at why you are always hanging by a thread. And stop using your art as an excuse for never getting your act together.

This has been building up for a while — it’s no one thing that brought it to mind, but … you just have to let things out eventually.

Funnily enough …

… when I imagine myself in an old-style opera house, I’m not in a box hobnobbing with the Countess and offering her my servants.

I’m in the pit, laughing and drinking with friends and looking up at the rich people in the boxes. Or I’m one of the proffered servants running from place to place too busy to even enjoy the music while the rich people complain about not having enough ice in their drinks.

It just struck me while I read this, and reminded me of all those upper-class girls in college who loved Jane Austen because they inevitably saw themselves as the good girls in ball gowns trading witticisms with Mr. Darcy. I just kept wondering who was doing the dishes when they all got up from the table.

When you are more likely to identify with the scullery maid than with Elizabeth and her sisters, it changes how you see Great Literature, and how you imagine Great Performances. It changes how you hear them in the present. It changes everything.

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I don’t think there is a wealthy person on Earth — not one born to money — who understands what it felt like for One Of Us to hold up a lighter during a power ballad, to be descended from family who could sing the quartet from “Rigoletto” around the dinner table, to cry while watching Steve Perry singing along to his own music on the Jumbotron, to have a mother who cries when she hears “O Sole Mio” and means it, to have grown up surrounded by minimum-wage kids who really got Styx’s “Blue Collar Man” and who didn’t think that “She Works Hard For The Money” was schlock but an anthem of badly needed empowerment. That sort of background and the lack of understanding of it in classical music is a big part of the problem of its bemoaned lack of relevance.

And yes, it bothers me to watch Western culture swallow the lie that my music, the music of my working-class people, has historically been the music of the Countess and her cronies, that tiny slice of humanity that seems to go through life with its ears stopped up and is continually behind the curve when it comes to anything innovative or revolutionary. What do they know about being a starving artist (La Bohème), or a crafty servant (The Barber of Seville), or working in a cigarette factory (Carmen)? Stories like that, just as much as the music video for the Donna Summer song I mentioned above, might as well be a minstrel show to them.

I don’t expect born-wealthy people to suddenly grasp all this, and I don’t think they’re evil because they can’t. But I do think that the overwhelming dominance of the culture of classical music by that one way of looking at everything is a big problem. Sure, there were and are expensive seats at rock concerts, some of which are preposterously overpriced compared to the matinee seats at any classical concert. But I think of John Lennon’s old 1964 crack — “the people in the cheaper seats can clap your hands … the rest of you just rattle your jewelry” — and I know that a big part of the appeal of popular music is that it truly is music for the people. A pop musician can get away with a crack like that; a classical musician would end his career if he said anything like it.

Classical music and opera has been seized upon and claimed by those born to wealth as Their Music. To a large extent, this was inevitable, since this music lives on big-ticket donations anymore, and only the children of wealth will have the Rich-Man’s Rolodex necessary to hit relatives and business partners up for big checks. They and their endowments keep it going month-to-month, but decade-to-decade they are killing it. Its short-term survival depends on the people in the boxes and their endowments … but if it’s going to be beloved generations from now, it’s the people in the pit that had better walk away smiling. The Countess was never really there for the music. The servant girl is the one who will be singing those arias to her grandchildren.