An Open Apology to Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens in Los Angeles, California, photo from

Sufjan Stevens in Los Angeles, California, photo from

Dear Sufjan Stevens,

I hope you don’t remember me because that would mean one of several things. Either a) that I didn’t actually bother you by sweatily interrupting your conversation with that tall man in the camel jacket, or b) that I did bother you by deciding we should meet, but that you’re also a terribly forgiving person who is sympathetic to all the twenty-something Anglo-Saxon, Protestant dudes who think you’re a big effing deal, or c) that you’re forgetful, which works because then, hey—no harm no foul.

No matter which of these is true, the end result is the same: you don’t remember me, and the only one who could read back your side of the record would be the Lord. I understand that if you’re actually reading this I’m reminding you of the very thing I hope you have no recollection of, but, if you’re actually reading this, then I also have the unique opportunity to apologize. And I think, Sufjan, you’ll find that I’m actually an incredibly reasonable guy, and I see no reason why, at the end of all this, we can’t be good friends.

Just to jog your memory: it was the second night of your and Justin Peck’s ballet Everywhere We Go, late May, and you were standing with a glass of champagne in the foyer of the New York City Ballet just after your ballet had finished. At the perceived near-end of the intermission, my friend (short, obsidian curls, tortoise-shell glasses) and I (tall, blonde, black jacket a size too small) were walking back to our seats, talking about, guess who—you! She had just endured a brief litany on the balcony about your progression as an artist along with several sentimental stories about you and me and—sigh—life. You know, I bought a banjo because of “For the Widows in Paradise,” and I became friends with someone in my high school chemistry class because of that breathing you did at the end of “John Wayne Gacy.” We both were like, “How chilling is that!” and “Can you believe how Sufjan identifies with that guy?” You made us feel less alone, man. You said things that no one else in a position like yours was saying.

But, at any rate, she knew you were important to me. So when we were discussing some of your potentially homoerotic lyricism in The Age of Adz and we saw you, we both reacted—bodily. I nearly jumped, she made some noise, but neither of us broke our stride because how embarrassing is it to be star-struck? You were talking to Camel Jacket Guy and His Wife, and we noticed the other twenty-somethings in American Eagle chic walking past you with the same we-gotta-stay-cool-dude look. We were all heading to the same place—the three-floors-up nose-bleeds on the periphery of the balcony—the cheapest seats in the entire room. We’re all heading there because we’re all the kind of people who, when thirsty, notice there are no water fountains and walk up to the little concession tables with the women in sequin dresses standing behind them expecting a water bottle to cost less than what we paid for our dinner that night. We are also the kind of people who ask the coat check guy in the suit-tails if the coat check is free to find out, pitying-head-shake no, it’s not. And we’re just trying to keep it cool. So when you’re there, Sufjan, fifteen feet away from us, it really throws us for a loop. Even though you’re wearing a frayed baseball cap with a cartoon duck on it, laceless rubber boots, and that baggy jaguar t-shirt, and even though we’re all thinking, “That’s the same shirt from the Sisyphus video!” we know that we shouldn’t come talk to you. Not only would it be annoying, but those who are talking to you—old women wearing real pearls, old men with pins on their suit jackets—have some other connection, we’re sure, that would allow them to talk to you. Well, we have these anxieties until our friend tells us we should go talk to you. Then we say, “No way. He’s a person. I’d just be using him,” to which they respond with the most rallying question we’ve ever heard, “When will you ever get this chance again?”

Cutting through a crowd of people walking the opposite direction isn’t actually that difficult; as I salmon-ed myself your way I could feel my heartbeat in my ears. And I know I scared the living crap out of you. CJG was mid-sentence when I shouted, “Hi Sufjan,” while extending my hand around his back to your right hand. With that swift motion, I cut him out of conversation with you. He said he’d see you around the neighborhood so I guess you guys are friends. He didn’t seem too worried that you guys wouldn’t be able to catch up, but yeah it was still rude.

I remember very little of our conversation which makes sense seeing as I felt so close to vomiting, fainting, etc. You had me all in a tizzy, making me realize I’m that guy—the one who mocks others for losing their marbles in front of celebrities, but is just as much of an embarrassment when he is confronted with his own hero. And it is for this that I am sorry: being an idiot. Thinking we should meet because I wanted us to, thinking it made sense because when was I going to get this chance again. So here it is: I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again. Promise.

The worst is that I don’t really remember our conversation. I was so busy trying to not look stupid. At the time I was thinking, “Nah man you’re good. This is dope! Tell him about how you met his friends, Vito and Monique Aiuto. That’ll prove you’re not a self-obsessed imbecile.” I remember you did loosen up a little at my name drop. And then I told you that thing about listening to Seven Swans in eighth grade and was all look-at-where-you-are-now. To which you responded by leaning back and saying, “Yeah my current view of predestination is…” and then my memory goes blank. What’s your perspective on predestination?! Geez, I could had my nerdy Christian friends eating out my hand with that one. They’re always like Athanasius-this and Van-Til-that and I could have been all, ‘Well, Sufjan told me this!” But I guess that’s not the point of meeting your hero either, is it?

At any rate, thanks for reading, and I hope you can find it in that big heart of yours to forgive me.


Calvin Cummings

Read Liz Simakoff's follow-up article here.