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.
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.
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...
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...)
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.”
Warren Beatty: I won’t go on and on about his artistic integrity.
Robert Downey, Jr.: Younger than me, but seems to have a good chance of not getting old.
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.
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.
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?