Dear Mr. GP,
First, I want to say thanks for swinging by Ashland Coffee and Tea & playing a great set. I hope you had as much fun as the rest of the audience did and that your stop in my home state was restful. I know the travel complications you had earlier in the day probably were tiring.
Second, I was thinking about fan letters. The little anecdote you mentioned on stage–about emailing the professor who hosted the Backstory podcast & getting an eager email back–made me think about what to say & what to ask when you came out into the crowd to talk and sign stuff. If only those exchanges could be as nice or easy as you made them sound.
I was very nervous to talk to you, for many reasons. Mainly because I’m a nervous person anyway. But I’ve listened to your music (with your band & on your own) since I was a teenager and many of those songs form a direct link to many intense memories, bringing distant points of my life closer together. I could go on & tell you how over the years I’ve copied your lyrics into many notebooks, that I’ve memorized some as personal mantras, that I’ve committed the frivolous sin of making your words my status updates on my online profile.
But I imagine that you’re aware of that, that many other fans have told you that such & such song influenced this & that decision, got them through a horrific time, was the song they played at their wedding. Or maybe you’ve experienced that yourself toward someone whose work means a lot to you. And so, when I waited my turn for an autograph & I saw that you were happy to chat & listen to the rest of the fans in a casual way, I didn’t want to blurt all the above out. I don’t believe anymore there can be a perfect moment of connection in this sort of fan/artist situation because I have to take you off the pedestal before I could have a legitimate conversation with you.
Which is why I rarely send fan letters as it is. Because I can’t find much to say past you-are-awesome-this-is-what-your work-means-to-me-let-me-praise-you-o-artist. Or at least any topic of interest. Lucky are those who can make small talk despite being starstruck. Because they probably don’t resort to writing imaginary letters to their idols on their blog, ha ha.
I can think of a few different images to end on in this letter/essay. One, I close my eyes & remember how it felt to sing along with you and the rest of the audience, all of us joined in song. One of the best moments, I think, to any show–the kind of communion that gives me chills. (One of the holiest moments of my life occurred at a Billy Bragg concert, singing “There Is A Power In a Union” with a hundred or so others.) Two, getting hung up on what I did or did not say, mentally replaying how I stuttered and tilted my head to peer crookedly through my glasses, breaking any direct eye contact. (A tactic I have perfected with the popular crowd since grade school. A less fond set of memories.) Finally, I remember the moment you came out into the crowd. You stopped by the table & caught my eye. I just smiled & said the music sounded great & that I couldn’t wait for the next set.
Next time, I’ll take one more second to introduce myself & ask how you are. It’s a start.