Letter of Introduction
Letter of Introduction is a letter Rivers Cuomo wrote in 2004 to introduce himself to a professor upon his return to Harvard. He shared the essay on his MySpace.com page in September 2004. Ellipses denoting redactions were contained in the original post.
Sunday, September 19, 2004 Letter of Introduction Dear Professor …, I am most excited about the prospect of taking your … writing class. I am actually a songwriter by trade but I feel that a lot of the same creative skills are necessary in both disciplines. Additionally, I have noticed that my songs are becoming less and less music-oriented and more and more lyric-oriented. Someday they may evolve into pure words without music. I feel that a study in … writing, at the very least, will bring a new dimension to my songwriting. First let me talk about lyrics, since that is where I am coming from. I am most influenced by writers who use simple language. John Lennon is a great example. Listening to him, I feel as if I am reading his thoughts directly, without them having gone through the filter of art. What he says is always clear and great-sounding. For example: “Imagine there's no heaven / It's easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky”. Neil Young is another great example, so simple, yet so extraordinarily powerful: “You keep me searching for a heart of gold / and I’m getting old”. Poets have also inspired me, lyrically, Hafiz, for example, in Daniel Ladinsky’s translations. I love the simplicity, playfulness, and breathtaking beauty of his words: Even after all this time The sun never says to the earth "You owe me." Look what happens with a love like that It lights the whole sky. Robert Bly’s translations of Kabir inspire me with their simplicity, clarity, and erotic ache: “Near your breast bone there is an open flower / drink the honey that is all around that flower”. I have also been inspired by comic illustrator/writers such as Joe Matt, Adrian Tomine and Chester Brown. They explore difficult autobiographical material with ruthless objectivity. Over a career spanning ten years, I have written hundreds of songs and sold about seven million albums. The songs that have been the most successful have tended to have a “quirky” element to them: “If you want to destroy my sweater / Hold this thread as I walk away”. However, the songs that have earned me a devoted audience over the long term, I believe, have had a more personal feel: “I’ve got an electric guitar, I play my stupid songs / I write these stupid words and I love every one”. As far as … writing goes, I have not done all that much. Songwriting has satisfied my creative urges. I have written essays for school, undisciplined journal entries and three articles for magazines (two for Details and one for a Canadian music trade publication, similar to America’s Billboard, called The Chart). As far as reading … goes, Annie Dillard amazed me with her very poetic sense of wonder. Frances Mayes inspired me to see more in the mundane with descriptions of her simple, quiet lifestyle in Under The Tuscan Sun. Dave Barry, a humor-columnist, left a big mark on me with his sense of timing. Nietzsche, one of my all-time favorite writers, inspired me with the intensity of his inner struggle and the way in which it bears fruit in his writing. Goethe’s Conversations with Eckermann also inspired me with its emphasis on classical values and an anti-Romantic approach to creativity. When I realized that I might be taking your class I bought and read your book, …. I loved it! Your style has so many of the qualities I admire: simplicity, directness, autobiography and a commitment to objectivity in the midst of the strongest emotions. I am also awestruck by how well the work holds together in spite of its large size. All the apparently insignificant details and incongruous-seeming tangents come together in a very tight statement. I feel there is so much that I could learn from you. Whether I do evolve into a pure prose writer, or whether I remain a songwriter with half my heart still tied to melody, I feel that this class would be hugely important for me. … My writing sample, “The Filling”, is one of the essays I wrote for Expos in 1995. I recently revised to take out some of the vitriol but it still is more negative than anything I would write now. I would never want to show it to anyone else. I included it here because I think it has a good balance of narration and reflection which, I believe, is what you’re looking for. Everything else I had on hand was more one or the other. In addition to my writing sample, I have included a piece I wrote for my dean, Thomas Dingman, at his request, for readmission to Harvard. It tells the story of what I have been up to since I left for a leave of absence in 1997. I included this piece only as optional reading, in case you are interested in knowing more about me. One more thing: Lately I have been worried about Plato’s argument that art is immoral. He says it stirs up dangerous passions in the audience. The Buddha might add that, at best, art serves as a crutch, supporting a wholesome state of mind, but preventing the audience from attaining that state with its own powers. Until the day I give up art entirely, however, I would like for mine, as humble as it may be, to be as wholesome as it can be, to instill nothing but the most wholesome feelings and thoughts in the audience, to bring them happiness, and to inspire them to move towards wholesomeness. Thank you so much and I look forward to the possibility of meeting you. Sincerely, Rivers Cuomo