Oct 25, 2006

Dharma and Weezer

Tricycle Magazine Editor's Pick

Tricycle is a great Buddhist magazine, and they provide some content for free on their Editor's Pick page.

I'm excerpting from ,

Rivers in the Stream (August 4, 2006)
By Amy Karafin
Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo cultivates lovingkindness, mindfulness, and a vow of celibacy amid the madness of superstardom.

The celibacy didn't impress me much, but his approach to mindfulness and creativity were pretty cool.

Following the initial letdown of low sales and poor reviews, Cuomo, dejected, left Harvard and in 1998–99 devoted himself to a rigorous study of creative methods. Secluded in his Los Angeles apartment, he set out to understand what defined great music and to devise techniques for making it. This drive to analyze and break down the creative process would eventually lead him to the dharma, but at the time it brought him to Nietzsche, Goethe, and Stravinsky, among others. He charted songs, studied artists’ methods, painted his room black, unplugged his phone, and reveled in discipline. Looking back on this period, in 2004 he wrote in his second Harvard application essay that “My goal was to purge myself of all weakness so that I could write ‘perfect’ songs as reliably as a machine.”

And then he discovered Rumi whom I call the Persian Tom Robbins-in-love and Hafiz the Persian Tom Robbins in-a-belly-laugh.

Cuomo set out once again to demystify the artistic process.

This time, his determination to harness and master his creativity brought him somewhere unexpected: love poetry. In 2003, the band’s producer Rick Rubin gave him a copy of The Gift, a collection of poems by Hafiz, and Cuomo was taken with the fourteenth-century Sufi poet’s odes to love. He started reading the Tao Te Ching and contemporary writers such as Dzogchen teacher Ken McLeod. He delved into the work of the mystic poets Rumi and Kabir, whose verses he used as a guide to spiritual communion—not with God, but with music. Cuomo’s previous songwriting aids had ranged from Tequila and Ritalin to physical pain and induced emotional states, all of which had complicated his life and eventually lost their potency. Now he began thinking about improving his concentration and eliminating ego as a means of making better songs. He gave away many of his possessions, made a vow of celibacy, sold his car, fasted, and started volunteering six days a week to prepare meals for people living with HIV. He had also just discovered Vipassana.

Rivers had a childhood right out of a Tom Robbins novel. His first word was Buddha. :-)

The ease with which Cuomo slid into meditation practice may have had a lot to do with his background. His parents had first met at the Rochester Zen center in New York, where Cuomo and his younger brother, Leaves, spent their first years. “From the time he was born, he was in the culture,” Shoenberger explains, remembering baby Rivers pointing to a picture in the communal home’s meditation room and saying one of his first words: “Buddha.” When Cuomo was six, Shoenberger, by then divorced, moved with the kids to the Yogaville ashram in northeastern Connecticut. They lived in the ashram itself for only a year but were part of the community for eight. Rivers and his brother attended the Yogaville school for three of those years, where they practiced mantra meditation as part of the curriculum. Shoenberger meditated with her kids at home, too. When Cuomo would miss his father, they would go into the meditation room, light a candle, and send his dad some love.

And it's all about creativity which I would say next to LSD is Tom's "Way". And I guess reading Robbins is part of my "Way." What's your "Way"?

As serious as Cuomo is about his spiritual path, though, he is quick to point out that he originally sought out meditation as a tool for songwriting. What he discovered was that his attachment to the creative process was part of the problem. “My compulsive creativity is very harmful and definitely doesn’t produce the best results. It’s a painful paradox, but the more you can let go of those compulsive urges to create, the better a creator you’ll become.” He credits his Vipassana practice with bringing a new sensitivity and better lyrics to his songs, qualities he felt he had lost after Pinkerton. But he has an ambivalent relationship with the creative urges that come up during retreats. “It’s getting more intense, actually. The last two courses I had so many creative impulses and was so tempted to indulge them and start developing my ideas. It’s just constant.” During his last course, song topics and hook lyrics kept popping up. “They’re just so juicy and enticing, and I want to dive into it and start working on it, but I have to wait.” At the end of courses, he busily scribbles down everything he can remember.

The song “Pardon Me,” one of the tracks on Make Believe, came to Cuomo during metta meditation. “Sometimes I hurt you so,” the lyrics go, “I know that I can be the meanest person in the world/ So I apologize to you/ And to anyone that I hurt too. . . . Pardon me.” Other lyrics, like those of “We Are All on Drugs,” seem to be about craving as a root of suffering: “We are all on drugs/Never getting enough. . . . I want to reach a higher plane.” In the end, though, the lyrical inspiration is just a fringe benefit. Cuomo’s in it for all the right reasons: “The material is better because you’re down in a deep place. But if you don’t cling to those ideas, then you’ll go to an even deeper place, and so on, and so on, and so on.”

As he put it in a recent blog post: “The purpose of the precepts is to make my mind calmer so that I can meditate better. The purpose of the meditation is to help my singing, songwriting, performing, and just about everything else in my life. See? It all makes sense. :)”

Yeah it does make sense...sensual, sensory, sense.

Rivers' blog