The first fan letter I ever wrote was to Ricky Schroder. I told him all about my life in the suburbs of Seattle: bicycling on weekends down to Marymoor Park, how many goals I scored in soccer, getting cast as Narrator #1 in Three Ships, a play about Christopher Columbus. Mostly, I told him that I loved his show Silver Spoons and that I wished so much that we could meet. Alas, I never heard back from Ricky. But, not to worry, nothing was going to stop me from trying to impress young TV stars with tales of my soccer playing.
Desperate for an answer to my heartfelt six- to ten-page letters (which were more like diary entries that began "Dear Tommy Howell"), I downgraded to soap-opera stars in hopes of better results. And it worked! Soon, I was getting handwritten postcards back from the casts of The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives. Okay, not from the stars of those shows, but from the actors who were on a few days a week. Still, it was exciting. Is that a smiley face? Did he really use a purple pen? Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
In middle school, when music took the place of movies and TV as my primary love, I wrote letters to Madonna. My request was simple: Please be my best friend. No such luck, not even a form letter. I had to settle for my real friends, and for cats.
It wasn't until high school that I was listening to music played by people who might actually be receptive to fan mail, who might open the letters themselves. I wrote a note to 7 Year Bitch after their guitarist, Stefanie Sargent, died and they were looking for a replacement. I didn't get the job, but I did get a response. And I wrote to Hammerbox asking if I could interview singer Carrie Akre for my high-school newspaper. We didn't even have a school paper, but I was certain that I could get one off the ground. I conducted a 30-minute interview with Akre over the phone, my voice shaking the entire time, laughing before she even said anything. Example:
Me: Who are your influences as a singer?
Carrie Akre: Um...
Me: Ha ha ha ha, that's so funny!
What I really wanted from these musicians — and even from those teenage heartthrobs — was validation; not for them to tell me I was cool or special or loved, but that I was here, that I was alive and real and not alone. I can't say that ever really happened, and maybe it didn't need to; perhaps the life line I was sending out to a stranger was just a means of anchoring myself.
Over on the fabulous site Letters of Note, they posted a reply that Iggy Pop sent to a 21-year-old fan in Paris. It took him nine months to respond to the 20-page letter, but when he did, it arrived just in time. And it's beautiful. Here is the transcript:
thankyou for your gorgeous and charming letter, you brighten up my dim life. i read the whole f—-ing thing, dear. of course, i'd love to see you in your black dress and your white socks too. but most of all i want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. you're obviously a bright f—-ing chick, w/ a big heart too and i want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY 21st b'day and happy spirit. i was very miserable and fighting hard on my 21st b'day, too. people booed me on the stage, and i was staying in someone else's house and i was scared. it's been a long road since then, but pressure never ends in this life. 'perforation problems' by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. 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.
Please share your memories of fan letters in the comments section.