The Former Musician’s Blues

a former musician, surrounded by destroyed instruments, under a pink sky, photographed by William Eggleston

DALL-E 2 AI INPUT: “A former musician, surrounded by destroyed instruments, under a pink sky, photographed by William Eggleston” (2022)

Someone randomly came into one of my social feeds today with “former musician” in their bio, and the notion sent me, well, riffing…

What, exactly, constitutes a “former” musician?

Did they never “make it?”

Did they forget how to play?

Did their instrument walk out on them?

Did they build a bonfire made of their well-worn lead sheets?


“Former” is often reserved for describing states of being you’re happy to have escaped.

“Former member of [Boy Band]”?

“Former public defender”

“Former smoker”

“Former drinker”

“Former New York Knicks fan”

For some states of being you’re never a “former,” but rather, a “retired” or an “-ex.”

“Gary? He’s a retired doctor,” for instance, is a common refrain in Florida HOA pickle ball court bleacher seats. You’d only hear “He’s a former doctor,” if Gary had lost his license and turned in his stethoscope, never to practice again.

Once you earn that degree, you are always a doctor.

In the same vein, you may have been “the former principal ballerina for X Company,” but you’re always a ballerina.

Then again, this is dinosaur thinking. With the internet, it’s now next to impossible to become a “former” anything. Every phase of your life exists contemporaneous with the present.

Your past lives in real-time now.

All those past lives, in real-time, now.

Imagine that.

There’s no such thing as a “former YouTuber.” You can take down all your vids and delete your profile, and there will still be a record of your absence, if only a paper trail of invoices and payments between you and them, and whatever other services you shut off.

Do we really think, that when someone hits that “Delete Me!” button on that Facebook account, the fine folks at Meta hit the Master Delete button, too?

We need to accept that a “deleted” (read: “former”) online self will be invisible, but never erased. Every cookie and authorization placed in your name all around the net will not get yanked back to HQ when you decide to kill your avatars.

Hell, most people’s social profiles are today re-engineerable from 3rd-party data. Online, your habits are the gold. Everything else is the dirt that’s washed away to find the valuable stuff. Most people will pass away with their data trail having made more scratch for others than they ever made for themselves.

A future black market will offer fully-live past versions of the internet. For better or worse, your Geocities persona is still out there, waiting to be pinged anew.

There’s no “former,” on the internet. There’s only “on” and “off.” As long as the internet stays on, you’re never off.

In any event, in a related story, everyone is a former drinker at an AA meeting. But the introduction is always, “My name is [insert yourself here]. I am an alcoholic,” not “I was an alcoholic.”

Drinking is downstream from the alcoholic.

You keep constant watch over (and so also, company with) your addict-self as a means to control your self, protect your soul. “Not drinking” milestones are checkpoints on the way to “success,” and in some ways sobriety is the least difficult long-term battle. Disallowing the alcoholic in you control over you is where your strength is tested.

Every one of us walks astride our darkest self. Trick is to let it inform, rather than destroy you.

If there was, say, a “Musicians Anonymous,” where I might exorcise myself of the demon of creativity, I still couldn’t intro myself as a “former musician.” It would have to be, “My name’s Westy, and I am a musician.”

As to the “anonymous” part, it’s weird now how the opposite of anonymity became fame, when it’s really just celebrity. Everybody’s famous to at least 1 person. The internet cements “anonymous” as a pejorative as it flips “No one’s listening because your suck!” into “You suck because no one’s listening!”

There but for the grace of hype go I.

So, I understand why someone would want to declare themselves to be free of the stigma and judgment of being an unknown in an influencer’s world.

In the end, you’re never a “former” musician, because once you learn to play an instrument (this includes your own voice, sound software, silence, etc.), you change the way you listen to life. Once your acoustic POV on the world shifts to experiencing not only sound outputs, but sound inputs, you can’t erase the musician created inside you.

As John Cage says, “Everything we do is music.”


If the musician you makes you feel like The Creature instead of his creator Dr Frankenstein, that’s an acidic place. The POV to see yourself as a “former” requires drawing a line between some then and now, where there was a “not-musician to musician back to not-musician” transformation. That’s a lot of sonic whiplash.

I’m no closer to an answer here, unfortunately, as to why he called himself a “former musician.” I still can’t decide whether the declaration is designed to flatter “active” musicians, or to distance oneself from the dirty art of song? Either way, it rings apologetic and defensive, and a dash of bitters in a neat drink, as if music broke his heart.

“Music? Pfft, who needs it.”

“Don’t ask me to play.”

“Musician me silly. This serious me now.”

Yeah, “I’m a musician” is a tightrope walk over all sorts of emotional and social tar pits. The admission can suck the air out of a conversation in many situations. So, yeah, the cultural and social albatross you hang around your neck by professing music as your vocation is very real. Kinda arbitrary, but still real.

Maybe calling yourself a “former musician” makes you feel better about yourself than your music ever did. That’s a tough gig as a composer, indeed. Maybe the toughest. You take the POV of your worst critic.

You can never be your worst critic, however, only your loudest.

Revealing insecurities and doubts about yourself via art is a time-honored, and every once in a blue moon, audience-honored pursuit. The paradox is that revealing vulnerabilities, even to no one but yourself, takes a ton of courage. The most insecure people are often the ones who have the most trouble communicating their doubt. Confidence comes with not GAF what anyone thinks of your flaws.

In this way, “former musician” just comes across as “insecure musician.” Who knows to what standard this guy held himself that he never attained, or what hi-fidelity expectations of life went unfulfilled in his former state.

I’ve never known my creativity to be a zero sum game, however. My dreams of writing in a state of pure flow, for example, are most often interrupted by a laundry buzzer. But when the folding’s done, again I write.

Water always takes the shape of its vessel.

Creativity conforms to life.

lol, almost no one ever is a “former laundry folder.” The messiest people start out a mess, never start folding, and never change. Those that come to appreciate a well-organized sock drawer, by contrast, never go back.

Maybe it’s just best not to admit at all if you hold your music in such contempt and shame. If so, do yourself a favor, close your ears and soul to your base acoustic impulses, and live the sinless life. Or at least the sound-less life.