Friday, July 13, 2007

Fan Letter Campaign

The few fan letters I’ve received as a writer have meant a lot to me. I’ve always enjoyed writing letters myself. And I admire so many people for their creativity, originality, and integrity. Why have I been so reticent to send them fan letters?

Why didn’t I send Beverly Sills anything like what was in that last post? And did I ever tell Ruth Gordon what Harold & Maude did to me at age 16? No. Did I write to Marlon Brando? Peter Sellers? Frank Zappa Janis Joplin Jimi Hendrix John Lennon Dizzy Gillespie? John Ford Robert Altman Francois Truffaut? Nestor Almendros? Gordon Parks? Eugene G. Smith? Saul Steinberg? Spalding Gray? No. And now they’re gone.

I didn’t even write to Stanley Kubrick, who actually let me infiltrate a scene in “Full Metal Jacket.” I never wrote to Samuel Barber to thank him for the sublime “Adagio for Strings,” which I’ve probably listened to more often than any other single piece of music—unless it might be the entire “Kind of Blue” album, for which I never thanked Miles Davis.

I did write to William Stafford, and got a lovely letter back. See? A good fan letter gets results.

So. I think it’s time for a campaign of correspondo. Many of the people I’d write to already get scads of fan mail, so if my letters are to cut through the pile and mean something instead of simply pre-empting my own imagined regret, they need to be good. I think it’s about offering specific context and being entertaining about it.

First, I’ll write the ones who are getting on in years--if I’m going to do it, I should do it now. My starter list:

Bob Dylan: I’ll be seeing him in concert on Monday, so maybe that’ll inspire the letter.

Paul Simon

Paul Newman

Clint Eastwood: Mostly for Unforgiven

Robert Duvall: I’ll tell about channeling him when I wrote my favorite speech in Big Bad Love—which Michael Parks kind of screwed up, so I wish Duvall had been available.

Sidney Poitier: Without whom there’d be no Morgan Freeman.

Morgan Freeman: He really is God.

Bernardo Bertolucci: Stealing Beauty, for one. The Sheltering Sky for another.

Woody Allen: Almost impossible to imagine my teens and twenties without him.

Jean-Luc Godard

Sir Ridley Scott

Sir (Lord?) Richard Attenborough: He put my daughter into a scene in “Shadowlands.” It got cut. Hmmm, maybe this isn't a fan letter...

William Goldman

Tom Wolfe

Norman Mailer

Robert Bly: Not just for the poems, but for Iron John. The guy changed my life. I met him once and was too tongue-tied by hero worship to say anything coherent.

Mark Strand: His poem “The Tunnel” made me want to be a poet.

Charles Simic: He’ll be 70 next year. Still writes like a wunderkind.

Ned Rorem: In college, the choir I sang in did his amazing settings of Shakespeare, Dryden, Blake, and Edmund Waller. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Elliott Carter: Ditto, except it was Dickinson, Spenser, and Stephen Vincent Benet.

Oscar Peterson: 1977, that double album with Joe Pass. Unbelievable.

Bill Cosby: My dad used to plug a reel-to-reel into the cigarette lighter of our car and we’d laugh at Why Is There Air? and Wonderfulness all the way across the country.

James Hillman: Thanks for the greatest insights into the human psyche since Jung.

Marie Louise von Franz: Ditto. I wonder if she's dead already. Update: My God, she died in 1998, the year after I went to the Jung Institute in Switzerland.

George McGovern: My first political hero, my first political rally. I think my fan letter will mention that I felt up my girlfriend while we were standing there in the crowd at Union Station, listening to soft-spoken George denounce the Vietnam war and Nixon’s corruption. Where is today’s McGovern? I want to feel that again (the hope, not the girlfriend...well, mostly the hope...).

A rather male list. My second wave of letters will go out to slightly younger cultural heroes:

Joni Mitchell: Wait, she should be on the first list. Her lungs aren’t likely to last another decade.
Stephen Stills: Ditto his liver and heart. Maybe I’ll send him my blog write-up of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” to display my keen sense of the obvious.
Sir Paul McCartney
Springsteen! (Thanks, Molly...)
Patti Smith
Laurie Anderson
Tom Waits: Thanks for writing two great songs for Big Bad Love. I’ll have to restrain myself to stay on message.
Nicolas Reyes: What do you say to the world’s most soulful singer?
Paco de Lucia: What do you say to the world’s greatest guitar player?
Mark Knopfler: Ditto?
Sting: What do you say that you didn’t already try and fail to say when you actually met the guy?
Peter Gabriel: We have a mutual friend, if he’s still friends with Rosanna A. He appeared in her music documentary, but he didn’t look happy about it. Might not be able to play that card.
Christopher Alexander: One of my top ten books is “A Pattern Language.”
Robert Redford
Katherine Ross
Warren Beatty: I won’t go on and on about his artistic integrity.
Julie Christie
Robert Downey, Jr.: Younger than me, but seems to have a good chance of not getting old.
Roberto Begnini
Robert Parker: Thanks for making a wino out of me.
Terrence Malick: He need never have made a movie besides “Days of Heaven” to be my fave writer/director of all time.
Jonathan Demme
Ang Lee
Ian McEwan: Thanks for three of my favorite novels
Mark Leyner: Thanks for "Smelling Esther Williams"
David Mitchell: Just to ask him how in the world he wrote “Cloud Atlas”
Campbell McGrath: Ditto, “Road Atlas.” I think he’s only in his forties. It can wait.
David Sedaris: Have I ever laughed harder? I don’t think so.
Camille Paglia: I did write her once, when she had that advice column in Spy magazine. It got published, but that's so impersonal. Even though it was about sex.
Annie Liebowitz
Al Gore
Bill Bradley
Steve Jobs

I'm sure the list will grow. A lot. I'll try to post a few photos to make all this text less tedious. Meanwhile, who do you truly admire? If you came home and found a letter in your mailbox from somebody you'd written a fan letter to, who's the person you'd most like it to be?


Mol the Doll said...

1. Springsteen
2. Natalie Maines
3. Jonah

Tina said...

'Kay, this is hard, so I'll just add a comment every time I think of one.

So the first person I would thank would not be due to my appreciation of their talent, but my sincere appreciation for their honesty:

I gotta go with Brooke Shields.

I myself didn't go through post-partum depression, but her coming forth and talking about it all went down about the same time I had a new baby and a very different new life to adjust to.

It was incredibly refreshing to see her put herself out there, be completely honest and, I think, make a whole lotta moms feel a little more normal. Me being one.

scotland said...

Hey James, Happy Birthday wished from me to you.

I find I feel much the same as you about sins of omission. In regard to inspirational people I'm far removed from,a little bit of shyness has always enforced a certain amount of distance. I did go up and speak with Dave Brubeck at a K.C. parks concert and told him that his Jazz was the first that really tuned me on to the scene. I mentioned the song 'Brother can you Spare a Dime' as the one that got me hooked. His next set opened with the tune.
There have been and are some very real people in my small life who figure in some remarkable ways. They are the ones who have me as a fan,even if they can't number me. I think I'm one of your fans. Which puts you in some good company.
When you get to the age of a jaded 50 it's easy to live in the past. I would like to have more living idols that have yet to collect the dust of years. Perhaps a testimony,a verse,or a song seems to suit my response level for hero worship. A slight of hand imitation, brought to a new level each time I'm deeply smitten by something totally righteous. Something from me to explain the way I'm relating myself to them and that they've become a part of me.

Thanks again for your friendship, SPH

djayt said...

C.S. Lewis. Most people that smart are not that creative, most people that creative...

Tina said...

Thought of some more:

Tina Fey, for being my working mom/writer/smartass/sharer-of-first-name role model.

Paul Simon and Ray Lamontagne, for singing the only two songs that make my stomach hurt, I love them so much ("The Only Living Boy in New York" and "Trouble").

Jim Carrey, because I just love him and I know he's not had much success lately, but I love him. And I won't stop.

Jason Brooks, who starred on "Days of Our Lives" when I was watching it in college and is the reason why I met my husband. (Google him. Marvel at the resemblance. Understand why I just had to approach this cute guy at the Bottleneck and tell him who he looked like.)

All the writers from "Arrested Development" and "Scrubs" who have never gotten the commercial success they so painfully deserve, but have earned spots in my favorite TV shows of all time.

Kate Winslet and Edie Falco and Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Griffin, just because I love them.

And lastly, of COURSE, whoever decided to pair one Jim Howard and Tina Neidlein together for "Writers on Tour." Doyyyyyyyy.

scotland said...

I know it's futile to be a enthralled of imaginary characters, but there are many I'm a fan of and would like to get that letter from.

Dr. Who is at the top of my list in his Tom Baker incarnation as Time Lord with the best sense of humor. I would have to include his companion Ramana, who I still love.

Puskin's Hajji Murad for his great morals which he practiced in the manner of the Sufi's

Divine-right Davenport (Whole Earth Catalog)for sheer cosmic luck and knowing a good thing when he found it.

Oh no!, I actually thought of a living someone I need to thank for something.

Jimmy Carter, for putting the squelch on deploying cruise missles with neutron warheads in Europe.

Melville's Starbuck for his ability to dream symbolicly and live with the pain in the ass of it.

Johnny Quest's, Race Banning, because he never let me down.

I'd have to include Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, who for all we know may be or have been a real person.

Old Fred from Pepperland, there aren't many around who are much good with sub-a-marines and some how having a knack for being at the right place at the right time without having a clue.

These are just a few, and I'm finding that this whole subject has more merit the closer one looks at it, it's kind of pleasant and fun too. I'd like to thank someone for inventing the board game.

Jasph said...

I'm going to post a post-vacation post pretty soon, so I thought I'd respond to some of this.

First, how weird that Dan would mention C.S. Lewis, because when he died, my mom expressed her sorrow that she'd never written him a fan letter. This, in fact, was the genesis for my thinking about this subject at all.

Second, Writers on Tour, doy. And for that, Tina, we can praise Lydia Steinberg. Fortunately, I can just have lunch with her and thank her to her cute little face.

As I mentioned to Molly already, the mention of Springsteen made me slap my forehead. 'Course, I did write an intro for him at a benefit concert, and it was kind of a love letter.

Scott, your range of references remains unmatched. Thanks for the birthday wishes....

Anonymous said...

Dear Jas P.,

I hope that you don't mind my writing to you here. I'm trying to contact you in regards to your amazing tribute to Beverly Sills which you posted in early July. Please, please write at
Thanks much!