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Can't Play, Won't Play

How To Be A Non-Musician

An invaluable guide for the anti-instrumentalist.

Can there be anyone left in doubt that being a musician is last year's drug? I mean, who needs it? Who wants to sit down and "play" an instrument when they could be watching the video screw up a perfectly good copy of "Living Zombies Eat Tufnell Park"?

The last thing any of us needs now is some smart-arse guitarist hitting the right notes just because THE ESTABLISHMENT has told him that music is a sign of rebellion. HA! If I want to rebel, like, I'll just sew ALL the sleeves back on my shirts.

Nope, forget it. For the really hip out there, the people who know how to cop an attitude, we are about to show you how to become an Enem... a Non-Musician.

Differences between species


Have The Talking Heads on their Stowaways.
Are always looking for the next gig.
Use words like "tasteful", "MIDI interface" and "fret".
Dress in black leather.


Have traffic noise and don't wear the headphones.
Are always looking for the next pub.
Use words like "My name is Gary Numan".
Undress in black leather and consequently have more fun.

Listening to music

To be avoided at all costs. Every non-musician fears that he will, accidentally, hear a piece of music and actually like it. Music journalists live with this dark horror every waking hour of their days. Thankfully that figure rarely scales five and so they are safer than most.

Various organisations have formed to help the Enem, the best known being the A.A. and Tony Blackburn. The valiant efforts of the latter have been well documented and though many consider his aim of converting the entire world to non-musicianship as a hopeless dream, there's no doubt that his strategy of filling the airwaves with utter drivel is bearing fruit. Unfortunately his habit of putting on records in between is slowing the advance.

Less well reported is the A. A. or Acoustics Anonymous whose sworn intent is to help the poor souls who find themselves slipping down the snake of single, album and hi-fi towards eventual instrument ownership.

At regular meetings their members are encouraged to come to terms with their disease. "I was a musician," they choke through gritted teeth to the tears and applause of fellow sufferers.

If a member of the A.A. feels tempted at any time, he can call on an emergency counselling service. The Rod Squad will attend, hoping to put him off music for life, so upholding the ambition of their founder, Mr Stewart.

Not playing an instrument

There was an era when this straightforward ruse to avoid the horrors of music could be employed by Enems everywhere. These days it's virtually impossible.

You only have to share a room with certain Casios and they'll have composed, arranged and enacted a new number before you can say Performing Right Society. Advanced models will dedicate the song to the next nearest member of the family in the time it takes to pull out a mains plug.

Sadly, not learning to play an instrument requires more concentrated effort than (God forbid) learning to play one, and is a practice which caring parents should encourage in their children from school age. Five year olds who bear the curse of being potential musicians will exhibit certain danger signs... pressing a door bell more than once (or at all if they could batter the letter box in), singing the words to morning hymns instead of miming and putting pencils up the short trousers of the kid in front, waiting until the ice cream van turns off its Tonibell klaxon before ordering a 99 flake, and hiding well-thumbed photographs of descant recorders at the bottom of the wardrobe. Treatment should be immediate and preferably extremely painful. Prolonged exposure to Boney M is usually sufficient.

Joining a band

Surely not, I hear you croak, but do not judge so hastily. The truly smart Enem knows that the ideal place to hide from the rest of the world is in the middle of a band, where nobody would expect him to be.

There is always an outside risk that the remainder of the group may be closet Enems perpetrating the same trick, but the most you have to fear in this situation is a contract from Virgin.

It is quite amazing how many reasons you can come up with for not playing your instrument yet still retain the respect and unquestioning admiration of the poor, dumb musicians around you.

"I left the lead behind", "I'm not getting anything through the monitors", "shall I go down the off-licence for some cans?", these are only the beginner's get outs. With practice you can not only excuse yourself from doing any work but at the same time elevate yourself in the eyes of those fellow band members by demonstrating immense understanding and sensitivity.

"No, really, I don't mind, I genuinely think this one would be better without ANY guitar", must be one of the most perfectly formed bunk-off lines of all time.

Alternatively, tell them you're a drummer.


One of the worst mistakes an aspiring non-musician can make is to rehearse. Rehearsal indicates dedication, interest and a desire to improve — all elements as foreign to the non-musician as happiness is to Paul Weller.

Simple ways of avoiding this distressing bent towards practice are as follows:

Never walk past a church hall. They are well known dens of rehearsal and there is always the possibility that a sudden gust of wind from a passing cleric could blow you off course, through the door and hard against the Sunday School piano with the missing F sharp and a box of wax crayons down the back. At this stage of your development, even the discordant clang of a thumped lid could identify you as an apprentice musician, or, even worse, an accomplished jazz player.

Acquire a pet. They are a wonderful source of excuses. Should you be hailed in the street with the suggestion of "let's go through a couple of Depeche numbers at my place", the get-outs are legion. "It's the cat's night for hang gliding lessons", or, "we're having the hamster sprayed" are absolute lifesavers. The drawbacks are arriving home to find the tabby neck deep in the Azaleas with a ruptured kite and a bill for undercoat from next door's jerbils.

Pets are also a fine subject for conversation which has the twin benefits of (A) avoiding actually DOING anything and (B) with luck boring someone so rigid they'd rather challenge your kettle to a game of chess than risk playing music with you. Popular opening lines are "which way does a goldfish curl when it has gill fluke", "what's the best name for an ant" and "how old does a tortoise have to be before it makes a good ashtray".

Watching the television can be a handy parry when the threat of a rehearsal is raised. Used as in "I'm watching the television in case someone steals it" or, "I'm watching the television catch light and be slowly consumed by flames". Turning it on and sitting through a programme is patently an appalling error since it's certain to be accompanied by music which is the prime enemy of all non-musicians. (See "Listening to music".)

Spotting a musician

There cannot be many of us who have not, at some time, lost a dear friend to the dreadful infection of musicianship. Perhaps you feel that someone close to you might secretly be a musician, without even knowing it themselves.

Some ordinary members of the public can become carriers of this foul virus and while being completely and utterly unable to play an "instrument" they may pass on this urge to anyone they meet. Music shop assistants fall into this category.

How can we diagnose musicianship? What are the signs?

1. Ownership of a musical instrument. Not as easy to recognise as you might think. The thoroughly addicted musician might thwart any household ornament or object to his evil purpose. Be on the lookout for metal tins arranged in a seemingly random manner, strips of elastic stretched between light fitments or rolls of newspaper with suspicious holes cut down one side.

One family thought they had cured their son of "brass section" by introducing him to interior plumbing. Alas he was merely sneaking radiators back to his room to blow the stop cock. He was only found out when, after a particularly active curry, he managed to get the first bar of "Thriller" out of the U bend.

2. Cancelling a subscription to NME. As we all know, this is the first home for everyone without the slightest interest in music and people who abandon this forthright publication should be greeted with the utmost suspicion.

How to avoid a musician

Even the most meticulous plans and airtight security can break down, and you may one day be trapped alone with a musician.

Do not panic. They are not dangerous unless roused and are then so easily confused that many will bite their own hands if they spot them flapping about in front of their face. This is the reason most of them take up a musical instrument in the first place, so they can be at least 50 per cent sure where their fingers are and that the large pink object looming towards them is the manager's fist. Useful gambits here are to scream, shine bright lights in their eyes or stand very, very still when the musician will presume you are a lampost or dead. On no account reach for your wallet and never bring your hands within a metre of each other as this will be interpreted as applause.

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