Reference: Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience compiled by Shaun Usher.
This morning as I drank a blueberry smoothie and munched on a piece of toast, I read a letter from musician Nick Cave to MTV. In 1996, Nick and the Bad Seeds released an album that received critical acclaim and led to Nick’s nomination for an MTV award — category Best Male Artist.
The letter begins with a gracious thank you to MTV for the air play they gave to his songs, but goes on to decline consideration for the award. Following is an excerpt from Nick’s letter to MTV:
HAVING SAID THAT, I FEEL THAT IT’S NECESSARY FOR ME TO REQUEST THAT MY NOMINATION FOR BEST MALE ARTIST BE WITHDRAWN AND FUTHERMORE ANY AWARDS THAT MAY ARISE IN LATER YEARS BE PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THESE AWARD CEREMONIES. I MYSELF, DO NOT. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OF THE OPINION THAT MY MUSIC IS UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL AND EXISTS BEYOND THE REALMS INHABITED BY THOSE WHO WOULD REDUCE THINGS TO MERE MEASURING. I AM IN COMPETITION WITH NO ONE.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MUSE IS A DELICATE ONE AT THE BEST OF TIMES AND I FEEL THAT IT IS MY DUTY TO PROTECT HER FROM INFLUENCES THAT MAY OFFEND HER FRAGILE NATURE.
Before today, I’d never heard of Nick Cave or his album Murder Ballads. I did give one of his songs a listen and although outside of my preference, I’m impressed by the artist’s recognition that competing for an award was outside of his. How many artists would have had the awareness and internal strength to turn such an opportunity down?
Toast gone, I turned a couple of pages and came across a letter from Charles M. Schulz to Elizabeth Swaim. Schulz’s letter shows that he was a man concerned with his reader’s likes and dislikes. His letter reads:
Jan. 5, 1955
Dear Miss Swaim,
I am taking your suggestion regarding Charlotte Braun, and will eventually discard her. If she appears more it will be in strips that were already completed before I got your letter or because someone writes in saying that they like her. Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility?
Thanks for writing, and I hope that future releases will please you.
Charles M. Schultz
I admire the cartoonist for caring about what worked for his readers. I grew up watching Charlie Brown and company. Who didn’t love the Thanksgiving special where the gang feasted on popcorn and toast? Schultz cared to know what moved his audience.
And then on page 198, slurping the bottom of my smoothie through a striped straw, I read a hand written letter from Iggy Pop to one of his fans. The young adult had written him a twenty page letter nine months prior. In his short response, Pop manged to touch on bits and pieces referencing points from the full twenty pages. He closed the letter to Laurence with the following:
so hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going.
all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence.
Iggy Pop read, responded and uplifted a young woman he’d never met. This one letter is all I know of him, but it tells me a lot.
We’re all creators in this life — even those who proclaim they’re not. Our words — spoken silently or aloud, handwritten or typed, write the scripts of our lives. Give extra care to the words you tell yourself — they shape everything that follows.
William Faulkner once said a writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.”
Mr. Faulkner — I hear you.