Thursday, April 12, 2007

Be Decent to Each Other.

Kurt Vonnegut is gone. It saddens me deeply to know that there will not be any more to come from that wonderful mind.

I wrote this letter in 1995. I don't know why I never sent it, but I'm sorry now. I'd like to share it with you:

To Mr. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

I am a great admirer of your writings. I think I have read almost all of your published material, and I have a great deal of respect for the things you think about, and the way in which you tell others about them. That is not why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
One of the things I do with my time and my energy is write. I have completed a book, a collection of pieces which have been called things like “short stories” and “poetry.” I have no idea what to call them, but I do know that I now have almost enough material for a second book, perhaps even the makings of a (gulp) novel. That is not why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
One of the other things I do with my time and my energy is play music. In fact, I am entitled to call myself a professional musician, although it has never fully supported me financially for longer than several months at a time. (The rest of the time, I’m a carpenter and cabinetmaker). I have a little joke about other musicians who are especially good at what they do. Some of these masters are incredibly inspiring, and listening to them leaves me feeling like I want to play for hours, trying out all the things I’ve learned while listening to them. There are others that I can listen to relentlessly, hour after hour, day after day, and never grow tired of hearing their ideas and emotions expressed. These select few inspire me to something else. They make me want to go to plumbing school.
From the point of view of a writer, Mr. Vonnegut, you have inspired me to think very seriously about refrigerator repair. That is why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
You have an ability to see humor in the things which fill my writings with rage and pain. I, too, see the humor – I’ve done “spoken word” performances which border on standup comedy – but when I sit down to write about it, to really face it and think about it, the inherent stupidity and the lack of decency I see in humanity make me feel nothing but anger and sadness. When I’m not writing, I can laugh. With pen in hand, I scream and cry like a newborn with an automatic weapon. Go figure.
I have been on a Vonnegut binge recently, reading ten or twelve of your novels within the last few months. You can write a novel which is seething with anger, and yet, nowhere do you scream. Your insights have completely demolished my desire to write another word. I read myself, and call myself an angry young man with nothing new to say. Yet I know this not to be true. I want to break the spell and move on, this is getting terribly boring. Here is my request – I don’t know you personally, and so I don’t know if I am asking a small favor or an impossibility – I would like a word with you. I want to sit down and have a coffee with the man who has (temporarily, I hope) rendered even my favorite pen useful for taking phone messages and signing checks to Con Edison.
If I am indeed asking too much, I suppose this will pass like anything else, or at worst like a large kidney stone. I appreciate the time you may have taken to read this letter. I can be reached at the following address:


I thought about including a copy of my book, but I remembered a lesson I once learned. There was a brilliant jazz drummer I knew when I was living in Boston. He was somewhere between a mentor and a friend, a drinking buddy. Since he was also almost forty years my senior and I was playing loud music, I never asked him to come see my band. It just never crossed my mind, I assumed he wouldn’t be interested. Well, he went looking for the bar I was playing one night, and afterward, I asked him what brought him out to the show. He said, “you’ve never asked me to come and see you play. That could only mean one of two things – either you’re great, or you just plain suck.”
“Well?” I said.
“I was right about you all along.”

I never asked. Thanks again for listening.


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