Sunday, January 6, 2008

This Smirk Is What I've Worked For; a bit of a warning to aspiring musicians and artists.

I’m vaguely recalling that there was once an individual with a vanity license-plate featuring a reference to a song by a band that I was in. There had, to the best of my recollection, never been an official studio-recording of that song.

I think that it’s a good idea to always bear in mind (particularly for musicians, artists, and public personalities of various sorts) that with a change in time-period, time-zone, or both, these sort of reflections quickly change from accolades and rungs on an imaginary ladder to “success,” into mere anecdotes, tales, and quips fun to tell at parties that part of you is always sincerely doubting that the listener completely believes.

As soon as I hung up conscious attempts at musical “success,” my persona apparently changed from “musician” to “eccentric storyteller” nearly overnight. I feel, in many regards, that both are valid, and are skins that I’m fairly comfortable in. From a critical perspective, I am often immensely pleased that, more often than not, most of my listeners, when I begin to ramble about my experiences, don’t seem to care in the least whether what I’m telling them is true or not. The entertainment-level of the perceiver is fixed prior to any question of the probability of the account is registered.

From a more personal level, however, this can be a bit frustrating. As much as my critical stance involves a disintegration of the separation between fact and fiction and the past assumptions of the “necessity” of trying to define one, in the less academic and quixotic parts of my mind I still find myself categorizing things in more structured terms of “reality.” “These things have actually happened to me,” “I’m making this story up on the fly,” etc; These are boxes to place various anecdotes in, that I still make some effort to get across to people that I’m relating stories to.

As I think about this, and reflect on my current balance of amusement and frustration, my mind can’t help but turn as well to what was running through it back when I was accruing the tales that I now relate to nonchalantly disbelieving listeners. As I said before, these things did, at the time, feel like stepping-stones. These were genuine accomplishments that were (hypothetically) to lead to continually larger and more notable accomplishments. We were climbing the ladders. In fact, at one point or another, I feel that I’ve climbed these ladders in just about every slightly-sideways, not-quite-completely up (but definitely not down) direction that “music” has to offer. And in retrospect, many of the rungs along the way WERE, in fact, quite notable, and emblematic of what other versions of the ladder, at other times in my life, would have been happy to call “success.” My “bragging-rights,” if this was at all the purpose of my story-telling (which it is not), are vivid and diverse. I was legitimately, “truthfully,” and passionately engaged in procuring the next rung as soon as I had leapt over the last, and believed in the validity and purpose of doing so with rarely a flinch.

After my flinches at the climb and its purpose became drastic enough that I felt like I was having a seizure, however, these anecdotes and accolades look very different. For all the work put in, for all the “success” achieved that I (and so many others) believed was worth fighting for, what was truly purchased? What remains in the end?

Stories. Tales. A medium that blurs fact and fiction, and demonstrates that, in a larger scheme, the reasons for making the distinction aren’t terribly compelling or necessary.

The thorn, however, is that the story bears a very different sort of substance and grit if it’s being related as truth, no matter how skilled the constructor of a blatant fiction may be. Therefore, what I gain from my past attempts, earnestness, and success is the irony of being able to tell a compelling tale with the confidence of the legitimate memory that can only truly come from having physical experience with the substance of the story, to more effectively point out that the storyteller’s truthfulness is not, at the end of the day, terribly relevant.

What I have seen with my eyes in the physical aspects of my life (what I will refrain from calling “reality” in admission of the problematic nature of that term) has made possible the confident smirk that plays on my face when I tell you that it pleases me that you don’t care at all whether the license-plate that I speak of was ever actually stamped out of physical metal. In truth, much like all of our past ambitions, it really doesn’t matter. It does, however, shape the way we tell our stories, and that is the largest “success” that we could ever hope to achieve.

In other news, I suddenly realized that, sitting behind a laptop by myself in a crowded pub in Manchester, NH, presenting an out-of-state ID for my drinks, a couple days prior to the first-in-the-nation primary, I am probably assumed to be a young campaign-worker, a traveling politico of some sort, as I gather that everyone else in the room is. I also realize, that if I'm asked, saying "I'm a writer," or even worse, "blogger," doesn't exactly get me off the hook. I can't say that this doesn't amuse me immensely, as it couldn't be farther from the "truth"... but in some ways, it's at the same time as "true" as any other identity I could choose to tout at the moment. So, sure, I'm a traveling politico. My politics and reasons to travel are just a bit skewed from those of the rest of the crowd.

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