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Is there life after work?

by Michael Jackson


Michael Jackson is an independent improvising guitarist living in Sparks, Nevada.

        After 13 years of working long hours at hard labor, I find myself with various feelings on the subject.
        The workplace is most destructive  to creativity and learning for an individual. The reason for the word "individual" is that work asks how do you plan to improve yourself this year, they mean this in a "corporate" way; ie. how do YOU plan on giving/putting out more of your energy/resources/time for the company.  This is called (sic) "bettering yourself"(???). They equate learning with taking on more responsibility at the job, risking one's well-being, marriage, and personal goals.  Perhaps this is due to the evidence that most people are consumed by night-time TV watching.  It seems by people I meet that work drains them so much that it feels good to vegetate.  For out of those 13 years I've worked, 8 years were 70-80 hours a week delivering office supplies and doing furniture deliveries.  This took a toll on my health, where I spent the whole weekend sleeping cause I was so exhausted.  This took a toll on my marriage cause I was never home.  I missed out on the first 8 years of my kids growing up.  The warehouse crew started doing speed to keep up with the demands for my performance. 
        Companies do not live on common sense but on charts & plans. Lately, the trend in my company has been to force more out of the people who have been there the longest, or to get rid of them. I've just seen a manager with 17 years of experience lose their job, because the company deemed the position was no longer needed.  He did nothing wrong. He was an exceptional employee putting out above the needed work.  The question in my mind is, "Am I next"? because I am now the longest there.

        The problem is that, as little children, we were told we have a right to be who we are and to express ourselves creatively.  The posters are on many walls of food stamp & social worker's offices. The sad truth is that is NOT a reality. As the child goes to jr. high and high school, popularity contests and cliches make the scene.  You enter the job force based on your value and worth to the company, not your worth as a human being. You are told you need to improve yourself so you make a better employee, by taking classes and programs that will raise your value for the company. You don't have to be a rockband to be a marketable product.  You are their product from their training!  When a company goes for new business, they also have to "sell" the customer that their employees can handle the workload, whether this is true or not.
       The problem is that personal growth is ignored, and this growth is true growth. I've learned to operate TV studio cameras and do my own editing.  If the company saw that I put a lot of improvised music on TV, it would be most negative. I have learned to repair computers on my own, but the company would discourage employees from using skills without proper training.  I have studied the physics of haircoloring, but I know that would be ignored, because these things have no market value to the company.  The company only wants us to invest our time in activities that benefit the company.  This way, if a company has to downsize its employees, it can have less employees doing more work and save money.   "Don't ask what the company can do for you; Rather, ask what you can do for the company(sic)."

This is just a job; This is NOT my life!

      With all the complaints & anger about the music industry, we have come full circle to nowhere.  We talk about how free improvisation is for the moment, yet we rehash out the same subjects over and over.  I basically hang on to those that are best writeen as a good piece on the subject, and then go on. There's a lot of musicians struggling, and we improvisors are part of that lot.  Perhaps we should be working on surviving instead of complaining.  We don't quit complaining, but we concentrate on preserving our tradition.  A lot of us are growing old.  What will we leave the next generation?  Will there be a next generation or will it be deteriorate?  How many improvisors we've known, or heard of, will have disappeared from the scene? How do we carry on our tradition of just playing? Unless we preserve the music that we've recorded in the past, our legacy will be lost.  How do we preserve our art while working a job that takes that time away?  And as the economy goes sour, how do we endure? 

     I think we need to work on survival skills that can be passed to present and future improvisors, instead of plugging our next cassette or CD.  Perhaps, we are all too busy competing for attention.  We have to admit we are all after money, too!  Who wouldn't rather make a living from one's art than work a job?  But, it is sad that we share the same value as the world does.   I'm surprised that some of us don't put a picture of a naked girl on our CD's just to sell it.  Hey, it works!  Use the right imagery and gimmicks and you can sell anything. It won't be anything of lasting quality, nor influence others, but it can sell!  

     So where am I going with all this?  I don't know.  Perhaps I'm looking for answers to a value system that has all the advantages.   We can't conquer it, so we have to work within it.  Why are so many independent labels now owned by major ones?  We thought we had the record industry on the run when all the indies labels came out, except for the ones that promote music that doesn't bring in the money, like improvisation. Get used to being ignored.   For them, you and your art have no value, not even your self-worth. 

     But you are a creative human being, and you do have value! Yes, with great worth to others, by sharing more than your latest CD! Your survival skills, how you play and interact with others, and how you work a job while pursueing your art, needs to be shared with others.   Without discussion, we are isolated one from another. We need to provoke one another to good works.  We need to adapt a new value system that has common-sense, but one with business-sense in dealing with the world.  Unless we provide the tools for the next generation while preserving our legacy, we will leave the future much poorer.

I am not entertainment with the same value as a video game.
I am not a marketable product valued like a piece of merchandise.
I am not a faceless number or valued only by my corporate "worth."
I am a statement beyond an incompetant system that produces insignificant results.



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