Dear Kendrick,

I got no game. Supporting points:

  • Grew up in the suburbs
  • Thought Rosecrans was a person
  • Regularly browse toddler clothing in stores & online (in my defense, my daughter is a toddler)
  • Work from home

At the same time, I find myself disproportionately drawn to your music. My interest in rap waxes and wanes – Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Blackalicious, Clipse – and with the exception of Beasties the romances have been fleeting.

What is it about you? The beats get me, no denying that. In 2012, I happily bobbed my head and recited lyrics about “the women, weed and weather” of Los Angeles and swimming pools full of liquor. A lack of personal identification with the topics never phased me.

Then something changed. TPAB was released and its lyrics were so heavily thematic that I felt kind of guilty listening to it. The struggles you wrote about seemed so much more visceral and urgent than my own, and a voice deep down in my gut said “This is not for you.”

I stopped listening. You released Untitled Unmastered, I had a baby and the entire focal point of my life changed. My brain changed. And yet I find myself, two years later, intensely listening to DAMN. on a daily basis. Songs about “real nigger conditions” and hypothetical sexy fights do not apply to me, my family or friends.

Or do they? Themes of anger, frustration, inequality and injustice are (somewhat) universal. Women are by nature subjected to various forms of inequality — some subtle, others less so. Comments can be brushed off, glances ignored, but the double standards are hard or impossible to shake. [Insert vast amounts of supporting evidence from the current US political catastrophe here.]

Despite personal reflection on the topic, overt feminist stances and literature never interest me. Endless torment from female peers throughout my formative years left a bad taste in my mouth. (A little chub and lot of introversion go a long way toward making one an outcast.) Decades later, I still find myself unwilling to rally with many who share my gender yet worry that my daughter will endure similar struggles and wonder what I can do about it.

At minimum I will make sure my quietly simmering fire never burns out, and your music stokes it like kindling. 10–15 years from now, when my baby has trouble with the mean girls at school, I will assure her that they’re jealous of the ambition and flow inside her DNA.

I’m unabashedly appropriating your lyrics to fit my lifestyle am certain that, despite my previous uncertainty, your music is. for. me.

Much respect,
Christine

Time Travel: Record Store Day circa the 1990s

First things first, a big thank you to the Palace Inn for hosting the 1990’s equivalent of record store day.

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My friends and I looked forward to spending our parent’s hard earned cash inside your walls on an annual basis. The record conventions you housed were our musical holiday, and conveniently presented us with one of the only opportunities to eat at a Taco Bell during the year. For this one day out of the year we excitedly left our cozy suburb north of Pittsburgh to make the 45-minute trek to Monroeville (a different, lesser known-to us-suburb) that had one of the few Taco Bells in the greater Pittsburgh area and was also home to you.

All praise and glory to The Palace Inn aside, let’s get bootleg. Real bootleg.

The Palace Inn was a hotel that appeared stuck in time (1960s/70s). It was as if it had been teleported from the “off off” strip in Las Vegas and landed in Pittsburgh missing a casino and most of the glitz and glamour. Despite having no casino, there was a lot of gambling that occurred during the record conventions we attended inside it’s unmemorable ballroom. At these events, music fans could purchase a wide array of items including, KISS picture discs, overpriced rock n’ roll memorabilia, and most importantly bootlegs. Straight. Up. Bootlegs.

These bootlegs came in an array of shapes and sizes. Some were on silver CDs and looked like semi-official releases as evidenced by being on “labels” such as Kiss the Stone (KTS) and Blind Pig. Before committing to a purchase you had no idea what the sound quality was going to be, or if they were even going to be “real” concert recordings. Sometimes you would drop $30 only to own a CD of studio recordings with fake crowd noise mixed in. I quickly learned that one way to reduce the odds of a big burn was to purchase bootlegs dubbed onto cassettes. This roll of the dice typically only cost $5 to $8 and came complete with hand-written labels. As a grungy and odd 14-15 year old, I had become fascinated and fixated with MTV and “alternative” radio’s newest misfit, Beck.

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I felt a strong connection to him as he appeared to embrace his low self-esteem and poor self-image all the while managing to run it through a drum machine, a casio keyboard, a broken guitar, and finally, into a tape machine to create powerful and otherworldly sounds. I bought everything I could find in the record stores of my local mall that had his name on it (Mellow Gold, Loser EP, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, One Foot in the Grave).

As a result, whenever I went to the convention I scoured each and every table with the sole mission of finding any and all Beck bootlegs. I bought the cassette Beck: 1st Ave Minneapolis 6.29.94.

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My late adolescent eyes opened wide as I saw song titles that I did not recognize (“Colour Coordinated,” “Asskizz Powergrudge,” “Takes one to know one,” etc.). You see, I have always had reoccurring dreams about seeing, hearing, or experiencing things that did not exist in real life, but wished that they did (e.g., different flavors of Kool-Aid, a proper sequel to Rocky IV). This seemed like one of those dreams, but it wasn’t. This was reality. I could take this cassette with me out of this dream!!!! I also purchased the I’m a Schmoozer Baby bootleg and the Melkweg, Amsterdam show on cassette all from the Mellow Gold tour (1994).

As I collected more shows I began to realize that an album of unreleased music was forming (e.g., “Casio (Good Stuff),” “Brother,” “Convalescent,” etc.). Could this be the follow-up to Mellow Gold? Beck fueled my excitement for the follow-up as he introduces “It’s All in Your Mind” from the Amsterdam Show. “It’s gonna be on the next record” he drawls before launching into the song. Readers need to remember that this was pre-(mass)internet, so information about upcoming releases was often limited to Kurt Loder reports on MTV and a few magazines. I took Beck at his word and my hope continued to grow…

Unfortunately, most of these songs have not been released or recorded/released with the same energy or feel as the Mellow Gold era tour or Beck’s previous records (e.g., “Convalescent” released as “Glut” and the version of “Minus” on Odelay (both bullshit in my opinion)).

And so, to celebrate the spirit of Record Store Day pre the actual formation of Record Store Day, I encourage you to walk around any corner in America and grab some Taco Bell. Here is my record store day gift to you passed down through the hands and ears of cassette dubbing peddlers and pseudo-record labels from Europe. Here is part of what the follow up to Mellow Gold might have sounded like before Beck leaped off the bold and prolific cliff of lo-fi noise rock and folked-up hip-hop and left us in a puff of polished and contrived dust.

Enjoy,
Matt

Casio (Good Stuff)

It’s All In Your Mind (Single Version)

It’s Not Easy

Sandman

Dear Rock ‘n’ Roll,

I’m prompted to write you in preparation for record store day, hence the timing of my letter. While I’m not overly keen on records as vinyl production is a highly toxic endeavour, I imagine the ideal behind the day is celebrating independent sellers, music listeners and moreover the celebration of passing on the legacy of fucking good music. This may hearken back to before my time – in the heyday of rock and roll – when every man, woman, group or guitarist was out there cutting records, seeking fame in a response letter from some radio personality somewhere. Back when a 45 could tell a tale of heartache, produce a foot-stompin’ joy, or just start faraway hips a-shakin’. In those earlier days it was local, it was word-of-mouth and it was airplay that sold records, that made legends and that kept coffers full. So my letter today is a telling you about my side of the rekindling of our romance, about that local word-of-mouth and airplay led to falling in love with you, my dearest rock and roll, all over again.

It starts, as many a romantic tale, in lean years. I was lost, confused, unable to be inspired by the options in front of me. When I settled into Melbourne town I came to the conclusion that people of my generation must have grown up, made money, were an easily definable advertising demographic, and were calling the pop-culture shots. They who wistfully view the 90’s as music’s heyday were supported in that faux love affair by every mid 90s alt-rock/grunge/nu metal act and their roadie getting lots of mainstream airplay and opportunities to tour extensively. A cultural dearth. In those times I consoled myself with electro, drum and bass and the white stripes like a hermit surviving on squirrel, trout and moss. And then something really weird happened. I started listening to the radio. Yes, the RADIO. And soon I discovered that here in Melbourne, radio unexpectedly but thoroughly KICKS ASS.

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Now this isn’t mainstream commercial radio. Unapologetically, top 40 radio still sucks. Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea and FUN! do not sound better the more they are pounded into your brain ad nauseam with witty disc jockeys spouting about their parenting and travel foibles in between. And the classic in “classic rock” wears off when you hear “Smoke on the Water” for the fifth time in one day. My only previous half-decent experience with radio was listening to the local PBS/NPR station based on Lancaster, PA. That station has daytime programming of classical music (which I appreciate is beautiful and takes amazing skill to sounds the way it does, I just don’t like it) and the evenings had Syndicated NPR, where you could hear decent mainstream ‘indie’ music. The kind of music the rest of the world outside of Lancaster County listens to, city music.

But I digress.

Here in Melbourne we have the perfect confluence of factors for such a wondrous manifestation of musical luck. We have an amazing live music scene which, when you live here, sounds really cliché because everyone says it. But the fact of the matter is you have a choice of at least 10 bands plus other places with DJs on a WEEKNIGHT. Music of all sorts and lots of venue to hear it in.

We are also lucky enough to have a national radio station to do news, coherent conversation radio (the anti-thesis of Fox-style talkback) and classical, as well as several radio stations in people’s native language. This isn’t in itself great, but it means is that there’s room for just independent music-playing radio stations out there.

And so, this maelstrom of resonant circumstance has meant we in Melbourne are lucky enough to have not just one but two swinging, soulful, eclectic and totally independent radio stations. And they were that the catalyst that cleared the scales from my eyes and drove the humdrum out of our rekindled love affair.

They have a variety of programming, usually in one to two hour blocks that have a weekly schedule. One has lots of talking current events programs about film, the arts, music culture, politics, indigenous issues, LGBTIQ issues, your whole gamut of your left-wing leaning, learned if not somewhat middle-class bourgeois programming. The other just plays music, but all over the shop programming. Acid country. An hour of old school hip hop. Two hours of eclectic beats. A program of a cappella, gospel and early fifties guy and girl group smoothness. Tune in at any one time and you just don’t get it, but taking it on the whole you appreciate all that it can offer.

The highlight of the programming day came in Soultime. Two hours of northern soul on a Wednesday afternoon. I was again smitten. I looked into your eyes, and felt that teenage crush that kept my hips swinging and my feet tapping. Here was music that slapped me in the face with freshness that was had lasted fifty+ years. Fast, upbeat, you could dance to it and hot damn if it didn’t plaster a giant smile all up over my gob. Yes, the gods smiled and saw that it was good.

So I started listening regularly, devoutly. And on either side of the show I started listening to the radio in general. When I got home at night, cooking dinner, in the morning on my commute. I stopped listening to mp3s, cds and the like in the car and listened to what was on. Great part about two stations is that when one isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always an alternative.

And the more I listened the deeper and more meaningful our relationship grew. New music, new styles. I learned new and deeper levels of our love. Like experimenting with different lovers and lovemaking techniques, I found my legs wrapped around disco, rocksteady, psych-rock fuzz and all kinds of completely random shit. Did I mention fuzz – slow, drony psychedelic-sweet fuzz? Oh yeah, baby, you know how to make me shoulders shiver and mah leg a-quiver.

One day I heard my friend’s band on the radio. WOW thought I. I had seen them live, which was one thing, but to hear them on the RADIO? Surely only big names get played there. And so, the more I listened, the more I started getting in touch with my local music scene. Each program has a space for a gig guide. Bands could contact the show that related most to them/their fans, and ask them to read off their gigs. I can go and dance to this awesome music? Fuck Yeah! The fact you can hear a band on the radio, go see them at a local venue for a couple of bucks, buy their music (records and CDs) and it’s all in your own city, how great is that?

Local radio turned me onto music, turned me onto local bands, gets me out to see local bands, keeps me awash with new music. And able to actually find something I LIKE, something I LOVE, not just the best of a bad lot, or more sadly the exact same something I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Pearl Jam and I saw Ben Harper and The Cure last year who are all awesome, but they are but just one part of my Rock & Roll Universe.

Without local independent radio I wouldn’t have experienced the driving, frenetic, kick-ass Rock and Roll(!) of King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard live and in person. I would have never heard the screaming GRLL angst in ‘Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams’, laughed at the wry, sardonic drone of modern day life as waxed by Teeth & Tongue. I wouldn’t have felt the inviting warmth as Seedy Jeezus and Wolf & Cub wrapped me in their bear-coat of heavy fuzz as it effused through the PA. I wouldn’t have made such good international pen pals with Sharon Jones, Fela Kuti, or William Onyeabor, Sergent Garcia and Moondog.

So on this record store day, Rock and Roll, I would like to thank you not for your records, but for you being you, reaching out and touching people making new friends, relighting old flames, and adding so much to my life. Thank you for PBS and RRR.

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I love music. I love dancing. Music and Dancing truly make me happy. You make me happy. You make me smile to myself thinking of how gorgeous you are, smiling with the knowledge that you’ve made a special place for me, invited me in your world, and I am so thankful for you continuing to keep our love fresh, strong, and beautiful.

Love,
Jeff

[Now all you voyeurs out there reading this get out the house, find some music that makes you move, and boogaloo till ya puke! x -j]

Jason…I can’t do this anymore,

“No matter how dark the storm gets overhead…”

Somewhere between the peak-self-involvement of my early twenties and losing myself in some desperate search for direction and stability, I found you.

“Help does not just walk up to you…”

But you did…your album appeared in my hands, forced a pause, bowed my head and emptied my lungs so i could breathe again with purpose and intention. My hands moved like your hands, my head rocked to your great lake waves and rust belt beats. I saw my hometown in your songs the way people would see my late mother in my face as I aged. Familiar tones and undeniable relationship droned on and on. Your journey became our journey and we walked hand in hand.

“Think about what’s darkening my life…”

I explored your back catalog and thought I knew how dark it could get. I saw you play these songs for a few dozen folks and then disappear out back with that bottle you had before the show. I followed your next albums, you grew, you changed, and i held you even closer for those facts. I always came back to that black and white collection of songs, though, the origin of “us.”

“When i die, put my bones in an empty street…”

It’s been three years now. I tried to write this on the anniversary of your demise, but i couldn’t handle the grief. I realized then that this has to end. I can’t hang on to the past. You left, Jason. I found you. I came to you. I followed and listened and both your words and your chords carried me over the biggest life changes i ever made – BUT YOU LEFT.

“Paralyzed by the emptiness…”

Grief doesn’t fill the space. Special edition anniversary vinyl doesn’t either. My hands move like your hands, I play your chords and hear your words in my head, but this will not sustain us. It’s time for me to move on. Yes, I know you weren’t well. Yes, I know your journey was your journey and mine was mine – but we started out so close and crossed paths at such an important time. You never sounded the same. I left so much behind. You slowly unraveled. I put myself back together. The monument of “Didn’t it Rain” still stands in black and white on my shelf, waiting to be played yet again.

“I will help you try to beat it…”

I tried that bottle. My hands moved like your hands. I played your chords and used your words. I took a drink and tried the songs again. I wanted to understand your addiction and emptiness but only found my own. I took a drink and played the songs again. I looked for you in every minor keyed strum. I took a drink again.

“Don’t write my name on a stone…”

My journey is mine and your journey has ended. It’s time we had some space. The record is going back on the shelf. I don’t live in your rust belt anymore and i haven’t for some time now. I raise my drink to you, though. Cheers, and goodbye, old friend.

-anonymous

Dear antibodies that are attacking my thyroid,

I’ve been aware of your activity in my body since approximately 2011. So, that’s around 6 years of knowing you. I can’t say that it’s been enjoyable getting to know you. In fact, I would say that it has been a most unpleasant experience.

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Initially, I had no clue that you existed and/or that you were systematically trying to take down my thyroid. To be honest, I don’t know that I even really knew I had a thyroid. Until, I started to feel really really shitty. By shitty I mean that I couldn’t get through a day without breaking into a post-5-mile-run-type-sweat after doing a simple task like walking through a store or walking up a flight of stairs in my house. By shitty I mean that there was this one point where I was trying to eat soup and my hand was shaking so badly and I was seriously concerned that I might have Parkinson’s like Freddie Roach (no disrespect intended). By shitty I mean I had these experiences of waking up around 3 or 4 a.m. drenched in sweat with my heart pounding in my ears and out of my chest. I had no clue what was happening. They fitted me with a heart monitor despite the fact I was in my early 30s. I would sometimes feel slightly better after I ate something and so I wondered, did I have diabetes? Luckily, the first doctor that I saw, who did not know me from Adam (since I generally avoid doctors), recognized that these symptoms weren’t due to mental health (which they certainly could have considered based off of my symptoms) and ran some blood work. Diagnosis: Thyrotoxicosis a.k.a. Hyperthyroidism a.k.a. Grave’s Disease.

Now, at this point dear reader you’re probably wondering, am I on the wrong site? I thought this was a blog about music, not medical issues. And you are correct! This is a blog dedicated to music. This is NOT a medical blog. Please, be patient and bear with me. I’ll get to the music part eventually. Can I give you some advice? Whatever you do, do not google Grave’s Disease. Okay, you’ve probably already done it. And you’ve probably already looked at some of the same images I also viewed initially. You know what I’m talking about. The ones of people with eyes popping out of their heads like some sort of novelty squeeze toy you would find at Spencer’s Gifts in your local mall.

The good news is that my eyes haven’t popped out like that (yet). Additional good news includes the fact that there is a medicine for Grave’s Disease and my body tolerates it (Yay!). The bad news is that gland doctors (who are more politely referred to as endocrinologists) have a real thing about keeping people on this medication. They like to wean you off of it to see if you will go into remission or relapse. Then, when you relapse they try to convince you to take one of two more permanent routes of treatment which are (1) swallow radioactive material which will be absorbed into your thyroid which theoretically nukes it into oblivion (crazy…right?) or (2) allow some stranger with a scalpel and credentials to slit your throat and take the darn thing out.

BUT WAIT!!!!!! This is a letter to those vicious antibodies. Back to you, you confused and nasty little suckers.

After a great deal of research I have learned that this thing that you’re hell bent on attacking in body, my thyroid, is not so much like an organ (such as the heart, liver, lungs) but is much more like something from the deep sea that just happens to be attached to the inside of my throat. Apparently it’s squishy, not unlike a jelly fish. Continuing on with this deep sea creature analogy, it also seems important to note that like a starfish that loses an arm, the thyroid can indeed grow back even if you try to blast it into some nuclear oblivion and/or scrape it away like a blob of grape jelly that leaked out of your PB&J sandwich and onto your rug. To be clear, I don’t plan to remove it with nuclear warfare or via surgery.

Okay, finally, here’s where the music part comes into play. All of my life I have loved music. As a little kid I was exposed to “Solid Gold Saturday Night” via the radio during weekend outings to restaurants and shopping plazas with my family. I can still remember the phone number jingle that you could use to call in requests. 1-800…..634-5789 doo da doo doo da doo, 634-5789!!!!!

My Dad had the American Graffiti soundtrack on 8-track. I may have been the only girl in elementary school in the mid to late 1980s who knew about Wolfman Jack, let alone actually cared about him. I. loved. music. My senior year I had a (pretty severely belated) revelation that despite the fact that I had only really exerted any effort in my preferred classes in high school (English & Art) that I probably should figure out what I wanted to do with my life/time post-graduation. As I remember it, I made the the decision to go to college (something my parents were not pressuring me to do) after laying on my bed and listening to numerous Beatles albums back to back. Paul and John had faith in me. They would approve of me studying writing. Even if it wasn’t guaranteed to yield a “real” job. If the lads believe in you, you can accomplish anything.

So here’s the deal antibodies; every time you launch another round of attacks on that gelatinous starfish wrapped around my vocal chords and I don’t have the proper medication to keep you at bay I know things are going seriously south when I stop wanting to listen to music. That is indicator numero uno that I need to call up that gland doctor in Beverly Hills (Prince reference).

From November 2016 to Januaryish of 2017 things got really bad. I knew they were bad because I had zero desire to listen to pretty much anything. No doowop. No Beatles. No girl groups. No demos. No live Replacements bootlegs. Nothing (except maybe a little Tom Petty and a little Neil Young). My turntable got dusty. I wondered why Weird Al never did a spoof of the Aerosmith song “Livin’ On The Edge” with the title “Livin’ On The Couch” because it required a great of effort for me to do anything but spend time on the couch. Proposed lyric, “You can’t stop yourself from sleeeeeeping.”

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Mid-January I finally convinced my endocrinologist, who reminds me of the main bad Nazi whose face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (I say this with affection), to put me back on medication. Within a week I was like one of those elderly people featured in that documentary Alive Inside. One minute sitting listlessly in a chair, eyes glazed. The next minute tapping my feet to the beat, waving my hands in the air and crying.

The first letter I wrote for this blog was focused on Jens Lekman. Suspiciously he has a new album out approximately 1 year later. The opening track “To Know Your Mission”* manages to encapsulate everything I love about music. Most specifically, it highlights and simultaneously captures joy and transcendence.

In short; continue to wage your war antibodies. I won’t give up! I will drive to Philadelphia in March to see Jens Lekman live. You can’t stop me!

Eat my dust,
April

* I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody, but Jens is totally on top of his game on this new album. He’s doing all the classic Jens stuff (beautiful singing, clever/witty lyrics, referencing himself in songs, sampling things so well you don’t even know that he’s using samples, making you cry in your car etc. etc.) and he’s doing it PERFECTLY.

Things We Love (Our 1 year Anniversary)

A Valentine for Tom Petty, from April

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2017 seems like a good year as any to send you a Valentine being that I’ve been enjoying your music for at least 3/4 of my lifetime. You see, throughout 2016 and continuing now into 2017 I have noticed that I never skip over any of your songs when I’ve got my music library set on shuffle (and believe you me, I do a good deal of skipping).

I’ve also noticed something else, and that is, your tendency to make noises in your songs. What do I mean by noises? Sometimes it’s a “shhhing” or “chhhhhhing” sort of sound, like during the opening of “American Girl.” Other times it’s a bit more of a whine/wail/sort of annunciation of a word as evidenced at the tail end of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Your “Ohs” in “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” are always enjoyable. I guess you were feeling pretty enthusiastic throughout the recording of “Damn the Torpedos” because you get some good “Heys” (or are they “Ays”?) in on “Even the Losers” (this seems to be a song of which I somehow never tire). You and Jeff really nailed it by starting out with those “Ahs” on “Yer So Bad.” Finally, there’s a hearty “Oh!” at the start of “Change of Heart” following that nifty riff.

The thing is Tom, when you added all those little noises (which I want to believe you did completely unconsciously) it makes the music feel real, live, true, spontaneous, and maybe most importantly….uncontrollable. I’m sure you’re well aware that all of those aspects can be lost in a studio recording. But, you didn’t let that happen (or maybe you couldn’t? Yes! Please let that be the case!). To my ears you just seem so genuinely caught up in what you’re doing. I can’t help but admire and appreciate your enthusiasm each and every time one of your songs floats to the surface of the digital pool of sounds trapped inside all 4.87 ounces of my magical musical device.

So, in this month of February in the year 2017 I decided now is probably the best time to let you know that I love you and I really do appreciate your enthusiasm.

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Ah ah ah ah ohhhhhhhhh (to be read in style of Mr. Petty).

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, after watching the (4 hour long!) documentary about you and the Heartbreakers, “Running Down a Dream” I am thoroughly convinced that it was Del Shannon who set your house on fire. But, that’s another topic for another time.

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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.

Best,
Eric