Dear Sparks,

You don’t know me, my name is Eric and I’m one of your biggest fans. I’m not your biggest fan, I know there are individuals throughout the world, I’m thinking of a particular few from Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands, who have collections and live viewing numbers that put mine to shame. I’m a relatively new Sparks fan having only discovered you in 2004 thanks to a Morrissey-curated CD that came free with an issue of NME (Moz selected “Barbecutie.” Were you returning the favor four years later with “Lighten Up, Morrissey”?). A co-worker of mine at the time was already a fan, he lent me Interior Design as well as a collection of bootleg DVDs of Sparks videos and thus a [healthy] obsession was born.

In the event that this letter is happened upon by an unintended or uninitiated party, say in an estate sale or via a gust of wind, I’ll take a brief moment to provide the basics: Sparks are brothers Ronald and Russell Mael and they’ve released 23 albums since 1971 with their 24th arriving later this year (there are some fans [myself not included] that don’t count their most recent two outings for reasons of nitpicking, the musical/pop opera The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman and their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand dubbed FFS [btw, Franz Ferdinand was another band featured on that Morrissey comp]). Their lineup and sound have constantly evolved over the decades, to oversimplify: eccentric/adventurous glammy rock band that experiments in both genres and styles (1970s) eventually become pioneers of synth-based disco pop music with the help of Giorgio Moroder (late 70s/early 80s) then begin heading in a dancey…

…80s-single direction (1980s) that morphs into some serious electronic pop tracks (1990s) that…

…give way to operatic experiments in repetition and patience (2000s). Russell’s falsetto and…

…fashions are legendary, he is a front man like no other whose importance can’t be diminished even when they’re intentionally playing with role perceptions (see the video for “When I’m With You” [below] or the cover of Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat). It’s truly impossible to convey the…

…songwriting brilliance of Ronald Mael, the type of guy whose appearance and mannerisms serve as the antithesis to the machismo of tracks like “More Than A Sex Machine” and “All You Ever Think About Is Sex” thus knowingly allowing their humor to be lost amongst the unfamiliar. I could go on and on, but back to me.

I’ve met Sparks fans who choose to only listen to certain stages of your career, but I love it all (never mind the haters, Terminal Jive has some great stuff on it). I see your catalog as a natural and organic evolution that has successfully maintained what I find so attractive about your group: the dark humor, the light sadness, the niche appeal. I love the world of Sparks and the denizens who pass through it, most of which tend to cross over into my own interests. You’ve written songs for filmmakers as esteemed as Jacques Tati, Tsui Hark, and Guy Maddin. And…

…really, how many other rock bands even know who Tsui Hark is? Or Meiko Kaji? Your songs have appeared in films both great (Valley Girl, Fright Night) and not-so-great (Get Crazy, Bad Manners). You appeared in the 70s disaster flick Rollercoaster and, 30 years later, on an episode of Gilmore Girls.

Your songs have been covered by everyone from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Depeche Mode to Morrissey himself. And your musical collaborations have introduced me to so many incredible groups like Belgium’s Telex, France’s Les Rita Mitsuoko, and Lio, the Belgian who is loved in France.

You co-wrote one of the Go-Go’s best songs…

…and in recent years remixed Yoko Ono’s “Give Me Something” into an absolute masterpiece.

As for my Sparks-related accomplishments, I’ve made trips to see you perform live in Tokyo, Stockholm, London (twice), Los Angeles, and several other U.S. cities. A few years back I organized a Sparks-themed evening at the venue I run with Sparks art on the walls and bands covering Sparks songs all night, from an accordion player to a violin quartet (I sang “The Ghost of Liberace” that night, the only time I’ve sung in public; also of note that night was my fellow Sparks fan/friend Paul who recreated your Saturday Night Live appearance in a diorama with taxidermied mice).

When you performed in Philly during the Two Hands, One Mouth tour an attendee came up to me and said that he thought I was to thank for your choosing to perform here and it made me blush. In New York City the following night I was able to secure the “Ronald” sign from your keyboard, a prized possession. My wife and I spent a magical late night with some true Sparks fans after your first evening performing with the Heritage Orchestra at the Barbican in 2014, we sat in beanbag chairs above a bar while a real superfan DJ’d rare tracks for us and I left that night with a collection of Sparks newsletters that dated back far before my introduction to you, a kind gift from the bar’s owner who had seen you perform live that night for I believe he said the 97th time. I was hanging out with some friends after your performance of Ingmar Bergman at the L.A. Film Festival in 2011 when a married couple asked if I wanted to take their six-year-old daughter to try to get backstage and meet you guys. A strange arrangement that seemed fitting, my fake daughter and I took turns taking pictures with Ronald, “She just adores you” I told him.

That was really as close as I’ll ever want to get to meeting you guys in person though, I’ve learned from my 10+ years of curating and programming that it’s best to keep your distance from the people you admire, not necessarily because they’ll disappoint, but because they’ll incite some sort of change. And I like you guys just as you are now, as you were then, and as you will be. Thank you so much for everything you have given me over the years, you have been and will continue to be the soundtrack to my adult life.


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