As soon as I learned about my autism and being high functioning (or Asperger’s at the time), I started doing research to find out what it meant. I found out what tends to happen is high functioning autistics are either good at math, music, or both. I got both.
I have been told that I display savant like qualities towards music from a health professional and a musical friend. When I am told to get a job, it is like telling Beethoven to get a job. I have absolutely no intention at all to get a job. I know how to the play the drums, bass guitar, piano, harmonica, and hand percussion. I am still learning more musical instruments. From what I am already competent at, practicing those instruments and writing my own musical compositions needs to occupy my time; it is supposed to be my life, and it needs to be.
When I first picked up the bass guitar, playing for my church’s choir, and sight reading the music, the choir director told me that I played with such great feel for the music. I already had a musical background before I picked up that bass guitar to start sight reading its music. I got lessons for the bass guitar. My bass guitar teacher recently told my father that I am a rare bass player. I am a bass player that learned how to play the bass first, compared to bass players that started out as guitar players, switched to the bass because there are too many guitar players, and play the bass as if it is a guitar. Due to getting my bachelor’s degree in music, I am trained to understand how a bass is supposed to be used. Furthermore, the music theory I learned at University of California, Riverside (UCR) enables me to be able to be a jazz bassist if the opportunity presented itself.
I was getting drum lessons when I started learning that bass guitar. After I was done learning the drums and graduated because I was applying what I had learned, I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in music a few years later. My choir director knew for the longest time that I belonged in a music studio because I am a drummer, and I can read music. While I was at UCR being the hand percussionist and back up drummer for the university’s jazz ensemble, I remember hearing one of my peers saying, “I have never heard a back up drummer hold such good tempo,” during a summer practice session. When I perform at open mic or jam nights, I can play the drums with anybody, and compliment whoever the songwriter is.
I had to relearn the piano twice. On the last time, I translated the music theory I was learning from the bass guitar to the piano, and started writing my own original compositions on the piano. I have two songs where I was incorporating music theory I knew nothing about, but I was accomplishing it because I can hear it. When I got my bachelor’s degree in music, I learned the music theory to be able to fully understand what I am doing. The instrument I specialized in was the piano, which helped me tremendously because I am now classically trained to execute the techniques I needed to perform my own original compositions.
The harmonica just comes to me. I am really good at picking up the melody and improvise upon it. I pick up techniques that I had no idea I knew how to do just because I can hear it, and I just do it; which is how I can roll my tongue while playing the harmonica. When I finally listened to the Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra featuring Larry Adler, it dawned upon me that I am pulling off a technique that can enable me to perform what Larry Adler did as a harmonica virtuoso. I know I need to develop my skill to read music for the harmonica to incorporate that into my musical career.
As a hand percussionist, I was immediately recruited to become part of the Jazz Ensemble while I was a member of UCR’s music department. After my first quarter with that ensemble, we got more latin jazz to perform since I was playing the instrument that is key to that style. There wasn’t much music where I had to play something note-for-note, so I kept it simple and improvised as needed based upon listening to what I am playing to. I followed the road map from the same sheet music the drummer got. When we had a latin jazz number where we had a vocalist and I heard no soloist complimenting the singer in repeated gaps, I knew this was the void I could fill, getting my opportunity to solo, and do it in a way to go with the flow of the music and the singer.
I crossed paths with someone at my local Men’s Warehouse. While he was taking my measurements, we got to know each other and told him how many instruments I knew how to play. He told me I reminded him of Prince. I haven’t achieved my goals yet, but I am getting this comparison. Prince composed music beyond his own music and style he performed. He had a couple other bands performing music he wrote for those genres. I have a ton of music in my head from solo piano, percussion, blues, rock’n’roll, funk, big band swing, country, and now metal because my two closest friends love listening to that style and I know that style now. No matter where my musical career takes me, I know I do not have to be every single band. I just need to be like Prince, and hire other musicians to perform the music I compose. Where the music industry is today, I don’t even need to do that, but I will knowing it will helping a musician attain their musical dream too.
My goal is to become a working musician. I have no excuses when I competent in all these instruments. The reason why I am not one is because I am expected to work a job. Due to my autism and the psychological harm employment caused me from seeing everything and learning how much needs to be fixed in a work environment, I stimmed my life away instead due to my inability to compartmentalize. In order for me to create a living where my autism does not do that to my life, I know I have to become a working musician. What is stopping me is the need to make an income, and I need to devote a lot of my time to practicing all these instruments.
I am not getting enough support that I need. When I am told to get a job, I am being told to waste my time and my life; it is like telling Beethoven to get a job. I am 35 years old. It is time I start living my own life instead of the life someone else wants me to live. By being told to get a job, it motivates me to seek out whatever resources that might exist beyond the United States. Why? Out of the 32 developed countries in the world, the other 31 will provide me the disability benefits I will need so I can focus on becoming what I need to become: a working musician. Since I am living in the United States with its draconian stance to disability benefits and being told to get a job, I am not getting the support I need. I do not work on music when I am told to get a job, especially when the pandemic directly affects whether musicians get to work or not.
What does not help someone like me is the point of view that my motivation to get disability benefits means I want to be taken care of. I need it so I can redefine my life to where I won’t need it. Mathematically, I will make exceedingly far more money by becoming an in-demand session musician, recording songwriter, and performing musician. I will end up paying more back in taxes than I would if I worked a mundane 9-5 job, and the sooner I attain that the more I pay back in taxes in the course of my lifetime.
This is an arena where other countries should highly consider helping people with disabilities like me. Due to my country’s stance to disability benefits and my idea how disability benefits are a means to an end, which society do I end up paying my taxes to? Which society is going to enable me to invest in my musical savant like qualities my autism brings to the table? When I hire musicians to perform my music, I will be creating jobs for musicians in your society. I should be doing that in my country, and it would be a result of allowing me to attain full benefits so I can focus on music; but that does not exist for someone as high functioning as me.