Mashing up some quotes from The Prisoner and the Principia Discordia with a bit of my own blather: of all the Pieces That Won't Fit in the world, the most frustrating one is the individual human being. A person cannot be neatly pigeonholed, generalized, categorized, stamped, filed, indexed, or summarized.
Unlike computer punch cards (remember those?), people don't come with a warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate – which is a pity when you think about it, because that is exactly what the world does to creative people. They're folded into neat little packages that always pop open and fall off the shelf. They’re spindled – or worse, they spindle themselves – on the words of people whose opinions are as plentiful as dog dirt and usually about as valuable. And they’re mutilated by all the little cuts and scrapes and poundings that the world uses to try to force them into places where they won't fit.
It's never been easy to be a creative person in our world; as time goes on, we exchange one set of limitations for another. A century ago, if you wrote a piece for orchestra, you would never get to hear it unless you had the cash and the connections to get an orchestra to play it. Today, you can use machinery to make the sounds of as many people as you want, but you're trying to be heard among millions of people with the exact same resources that you have. The end result is the same: music is created that may go unheard.
And that's even before you run up against the gatekeepers of this era or the ones that came before: royal censors, religious censors, pub patrons, music publishers, theater impresarios, stage backers, disc jockeys, record companies, A&R personnel, radio networks, television networks, cable networks, download services, streaming services, promoters, publicists, influencers... every single one of them deciding for you whether you will succeed or fail, depending on how your music will or won't help them get rich or famous.
This is, in a word, sucky. So the question is: what are you going to do about it?
I don't claim to have any global answers, but perhaps if I explain where I come from in respect to this problem, you'll see elements that mirror your own struggles and might prove useful when dealing with them. Or, to paraphrase Martin Buber: only that inside you that is me can hear what I am saying to you. (Ooooh, heav-VEE.)
A long time ago, I was sure that I was going to carve out a niche for myself in the world of electronic music. What that niche was, changed over time. At first I thought I would head up a band and get known like some of my idols at the time. Then I thought that I would make music as a soloist and create music based on my unique life experiences, like some of my idols at the time. Then I thought I'd create my own little tiny label and put out CDs from a selection of unknown but worthwhile artists, like some of my idols at the time, and also create tracks for existing little tiny labels, like some other of my idols at the time. "At the time" went from 1981 to roughly 2002, which is about the time that I figured out that aiming for a niche was getting me nowhere. However...
All the while I was doing this (and failing spectacularly every time, by the way), I was doing a lot more important stuff under the surface that I never even thought about at the time. I was honing my craft. I was building up a skill set that put me in a good place to get a session rolling in a studio… or edit a magazine. I was leveraging my mind’s strengths to turn me into an authority on certain topics, one that people came to respect. I was developing people skills. I was coming to understand what I genuinely valued. I was getting past the music of particular idols and starting, vaguely, to understand what they did that made me idolize them – in other words, I sought out that within them that was me and began to nurture it.
The process was organic and glacially slow. It took four decades and it's still going on now. I often took a step forward and two steps back amidst my slow progress. I gained knowledge, then discernment, and I am holding out hope that I might get somewhere near Wisdom toward the end.
Most importantly, and this is where I return to the topic at hand, I learned a few things over the years with respect to being a Piece That Won’t Fit.
Number One: someone can only try to make you Fit if you let them. Many successful people choose to let this happen. They get their interesting sharp edges and pointy bits filed off to make them smooth and safe. They set aside the things they want to do in favor of things that will make them rich and successful, which usually also involves lining the pockets of everyone making them fit long before they ever see a penny of profit themselves. They give up being dangerous and become boring. And you know what? 99% of the time, they still never get what they want. Or what they think they want.
Number Two: it’s the journey, not the destination, which is a cliché that nobody pays attention to unless it’s reworded in a way that cuts deep. So allow me to offer you the words of guitarist and author Steve Rapson:
“Years of deprivation and sacrifice to reach a place equals years of deprivation and sacrifice.”
Ouch. I mean, ouch.
He went on to say, ”The place is never enough compensation… Go ask anyone who is in the place you want to be.” In other words, getting somewhere and having fun along the way is way better than getting somewhere and being miserable along the way. It just is.
Number Three: at any given moment in your journey, you have arrived at a destination but there’s more of a journey ahead of you. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, but it’s also the last day of your life so far. Look around and ask yourself: am I headed in the right direction? Should I change course? Should I care?
That last one is the tough part. Should you care about your musical journey’s current direction, where you’ve been and where you’re going? And if so, how?
I think that the idea is that there is only today, that yesterday is nothing but regret and tomorrow is nothing but anxiety, is a load of crap. Sure, the only time you can waste is today, but no matter what the rainbows-and-unicorns types might say, you’re not a brand new person in a brand new world every time you wake up. You know where you’ve been and you know where you’re going. Use that.
Most particularly, ask yourself: “Do I still have a hold of the stuff that makes me not Fit? And is that a good thing or not?” This is where the mere act of trying to get people to listen to you starts to wear you down… so it’s vital to keep a close eye on yourself, ill-Fitting bits and all.
Where am I right now? My 40 years of wandering have led me to a place where I love what I create, and I have chosen to take joy from that rather than complain about how I can’t make a living at it.
I face a hard truth: that practically nobody can make a living playing music any more, certainly not enough to support a family. To some folks, this is crushing. To me, it’s irrelevant. I have an audience – a tiny one, that is loyal and supportive and spread out worldwide. I receive thanks for what I play, and a bit of spending money, but the thanks bring me a lot more joy than the money does.
I have found my own sound. There are elements of my idols in it, but also things that are mine, and one or two of those seem to be unusual enough to attract people’s attention in a good way. My sound has evolved, and it will evolve, and I am happy with where it is today. (But not content. Never content.)
I have been told in many ways over the years by many people that I am a Piece That Won’t Fit… but along the way, I’ve collected a bunch of other such Pieces, and discovered that I fit together with them. And that’s just plain glorious.
So when you wonder if the life of a Piece That Won’t Fit is worth pursuing, remember that you always have a choice. You can make yourself Fit and see where that takes you, or you can keep on refusing to Fit and see where that takes you.
As for me, I’ve made my choice… to quote Tesco Vee: “Will you be part of the problem or part of the solution? Be part of the problem, and make ‘em squirm!”