Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Thank you for not hitting me

Rolling Stone, April 25th, 1974 (Click for full article)

John Lennon was already drunk when he arrived at L.A.'s Troubador nightclub on March 11th, 1974. A few Brandy Alexanders later and he was even heckling the main act, the Smothers Brothers, whilst being egged on by his friend, Harry Nilsson. A subsequent call for quiet by the Brothers' manager saw the situation quickly deteriorate and before long, following a flurry of punches, Lennon, Nilsson and a number of their friends were being forcibly ejected from the premises. It was then, outside the venue, that Lennon allegedly slapped a female photographer.

Below: One of many apology notes written the next day and sent to those involved along with expensive bunches of flowers. This particular note reached actress Pam Grier. Having met Lennon that night for the first time, she had inadvertently become involved in the commotion and was later asked to leave.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Grio.

Image: The Grio

Dear Pam,

I apologize for being so rude and thank you for not hitting me.

John Lennon

P.S. Harry Nilsson feels the same way.

Friday, 27 May 2011

I'm 82 and hate it!

Despite suffering quite heavily from emphysema and Parkinson's disease during his final years, horror legend Vincent Price still kept up with his correspondence. Below are three postcards written by Price in the early-'90s to friend Bob Miller. Each touch on the declining health of both himself and his wife, Coral, who died in May of 1991 after a battle with breast cancer. Vincent passed away in October of 1993.

On a slightly more upbeat note, today marks the 100th anniversary of Vincent Price's birth. In celebration, tonight sees Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria Price, presenting a remembrance of her father at Missouri History Museum; tomorrow (the 28th) she will introduce an outdoor screening of Edward Scissorhands, the movie containing his last screen performance, at Forest Park, St. Louis. Admission is free at both events.

Transcripts follow each image, all of which are courtesy of the Movie Monster Museum.

24 MAY 1991

Dear Bob —

It's good to hear from you after so long and good to know you like your new location — I love Oregon and think you must have tired of Hawaii beautiful as it is. I'm 80 on Monday and in fairly frail condition after 4 years of something like Parkinsons disease and a year and a half housebound by Coral's cancer and chemotherapy treatments — I don't expect her to survive the Summer —

Do keep in touch — Thanks!


5 JUL 1991

Dear Bob

Your invitation to visit sounds so tempting but I'm bewildered by the complications of death duties etc and utterly exhausted — not at all well for 4 years but determined to put my house in order before I give up!

All love —


30 JUN 1993

Dear Bob

Somewhat limited writing so this is to say thanks for your newsy letter — sounds a little as if you have plenty of places to go but don't know which to choose. So keep in touch. I too remember great times in St Louis — miss travel as much as anything — I'm 82 and hate it!

All best


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Me

If you had the opportunity to write to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?

That was the question put to a number of celebrities in 2009 when, in an effort to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, a book filled with such letters was planned. The end product, Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self, soon arrived and is a wonderful book of correspondence that manages to touch on every emotion possible as a result of the diverse range of characters who kindly contributed.

Below is a small selection of the many letters featured in Dear Me, these six written by Jonathan RossDebbie HarryEmma Thompson; Danny Wallace; Alan Carr; and Patsy Kensit. Additionally, Elton John's letter to himself, which has been featured on Letters of Note previously, can be read here.

Transcripts follow each image. All images courtesy of the book's editor, Joseph Galliano.

Jonathan Ross

Hello young me!

I have no real wisdom to pass on — only to tell you to stop panicing! You are not cool, I know, but it is a quality that is vastly over-rated. Stop worrying about the opinion of others and be yourself! You will eventually lose your virginity and go to Disneyworld (though not on the same day). Try to avoid gossips & gossiping. Value your friends. Eat less chocolate. Read more! You will be happy!!

You will be blessed with a great family!

Things you will never be very good at: Dancing; playing piano; kissing.

Things you will always love: Comics; punk rock; masturbation (although sex is better).

If I may quote a band who will not have a hit until you are 23...

© Frankie Goes to Hollywood 1983

Debbie Harry

Dear Debbie, Moon, Debeel, or Deb,

Just because you have a lot of different names, and maybe feel like there's a lot of different yous, don't be confused. Give yourself some time and all the ideas and possibilities that these names conjure up for you will become clear to you. The pieces of the puzzle will reveal themselves and all you have to do is keep finding out what makes you feel happiest and this oftentimes will be the easiest thing for you to do. This is remarkable in itself. That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.

In simpler words, go for it girl. 'Nothing to fear but fear itself' is such an old saying but if it helps you take a flying leap and if it's the only thing that happens, you will have the lasting, lifelong satisfaction of having made a leap. That you have the courage of your convictions and the strength within yourself to do anything, will be your core and your future can be enjoyed even when things get tough. They will get tough and they will get easy and when you look back at those times, the rough ones will often be the ones you remember best.

Dreams Do Come True. Keep Dreaming,

Love, D

Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson

May 29th 2009

Dear Em (16)

I realise that you are young and in love and that nothing much that anyone old says seems relevant, but seeing as it's me — that is, you; that is, us, I think it's worth a go.

Two Top Tips from 50 to 16:

1) Don't EVER EVER EVER bother to go on a diet. I know you're obsessed and have that awful thing of standing in the 6th form canteen trying to choose between a yoghourt & a breathe of fresh air (whilst wanting chips & a cheese salad). Don't sweat it. Eat regularly, try & avoid rubbish and never diet. You'll end up the same size anyway, so drop it girl, & drop it NOW. Believe me — nobody cares. Diets are the best way of confusing your metabolism for the rest of your life. Just be you & get on with it, I cannot tell you how much time & energy you'll save & how much happier you'll be.

2) When he says he doesn't love you, believe him. He doesn't.

That's it. All the other mistakes you make are worth their weight in gold.

I love you — Em (50)

Danny Wallace

Dear Daniel

Hello there! It's me! You! Us!

I am writing to you from the future. It is great here. My robot butler says hello, and once I've landed this jetpack on my iHome I'll say hello back.

I am 32 now, which is twice your age. This means I have twice your experience! Twice your knowledge! I've kissed twice as many girls! (2!!!)

Sadly, I am also twice your size.

But on the subject of girls, I am writing to warn you. You know that girl you kissed recently near the leisure centre in town? Your first? In a few months time, it will become apparent that she plays for her own team. Do not panic. Despite what Alec and Chris will tell you, you did not do this.

Anyway, after you turn that girl into a lesbian (sorry), you will encounter what you will come to know as an extended dry patch. Again, do not panic. After that, you will be fighting them off. (This may be a lie).

One thing: can I suggest you start learning the guitar now, as that will make us seem a lot cooler at university, when we end up sharing a flat with some musicians, and all we can really do to join in of an evening is bang a toaster with a spoon. This will do your extended dry patch absolutely no good whatsoever. But don't just learn the stuff you're into now. No one's going to be interested in acoustic versions of Proclaimers tracks, or Dancin' On The Ceiling. You're going to have to start pretending you're interested in Jeff Buckley, and Bob Dylan.

Google them.

Oh hang on, you can't.

Actually, buy shares in Google. That should sort just about everything out.





Alan Carr

Dear Me,

You probably can't read this because you won't have your glasses on. I know you don't like wearing them but believe me — you'll grow into them. I'll be honest with you — that isn't puppy fat!! It stays with you for the next 20 years looking a bit sorry for itself, hanging over the top of your jeans and wobbling when you giggle. ,

Now I know bodyslamming your face on a caravan hook in Great Yarmouth whilst on holiday wasn't on your 'to do' list, but funnily enough the crooked, gappy, crooked, chipped toothy smile might actually be a good thing. Look!! Don't shoot the messenger — I'm trying to be positive. Anyway, I've got jokes to write, presenting to do etc so will leave you to it. Keep your chin up.



P.S. By the way, your voice doesn't break either.

Patsy Kensit

16th July 2009

Dear 16 year old Patsy,

You adore music more than anything in the world, you have a great passion for rock and roll ..... but that doesn't mean you have to marry the lead singer of every band you ever had a poster of, on your bedroom wall.


Your older you!

Patsy x

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

It can never be as bad in fiction as it is in real life

On January 7th of 1964, having held his tongue for two months despite a steady stream of criticism, author Ken Kesey wrote the following letter to The New York Times in defence of the Broadway adaptation of his novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest; a stage show which had attracted a fair amount of bad press, chiefly due to its supposedly unrealistic storyline, characters, and setting. Clearly Kesey — a man who found inspiration for the asylum-based novel whilst working in a veteran's hospital for a year — had heard enough.

A brilliant read.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research.)


January 7, 1964

From: Ken Kesey, [Redacted]

Drama Mailbag:

The answering of one's critics has always struck me as doing about as much good as fighting crabgrass with manure. Critics generally thrive on the knowledge that their barbs are being felt; best to keep silent and starve them of such attention, let them shrivel and dry, spines turned in. So I have tried to keep this silence during the attacks on the Wasserman play of my novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest...figuring that the people who saw the play as being about a mental hospital, because it is set in a mental ward, are the sort that would fault Moby Dick for being an "exaggerated" story about a boat, also figuring that such simplemindedness is relatively harmless. And even keeping silent when the play was condemned because the subject of mental health as a whole was treated disrespectfully, or irresponsibly, or--god forbid!--humorously.

But when the defenders of "Cuckoo's Nest" begin to show signs of suffering some of the same misconceptions as the critics, I feel I must speak out.

Mr. Friedman's letter last Sunday was as good an argument as I've read for judging a work on it's own terms. Still, by comparing the reality of the setting of "Cuckoo's Nest" with "1984" or "The Trial," he does injustice to a number of people connected with the research that went into that setting. First, the director, Alex Segel, who created an atmosphere so faithful to the wacky-weird world of a nuthouse ward (faithful to the real wards, not the public conception of what a hospital should be like) that a friend of mine, (a Speech Therapist in a V.A. Hospital who took time off to fly back to the opening), remarked after the final curtain, "I feel as though I just put in a hard day at the office."

Second, the actors. Who capture that nuthouse feeling so completely with their characterizations that I found myself wondering where some of them had been sprung from. Just, for a small example, their movement: inmates have a way of walking that is both piticully random and terribly purposeful, and peculiar to no other place I know of save the mental ward. The cast has this peculiar movement. Watch Ruckly when he shuffles onto stage; he's been shuffling that same path in those same slippers for centuries. Or watch Billy Bibbit's neck contortions, or the caged-squirell frolicking of Marini's madness. And Kirk Douglas..after watching his performance, in which the usual Douglas' gestures and gyrations were secondary, to subtler actions (the way he will playfully punch another character's arm as he passes, a gesture barely noticible, familiar, reinforcing..) I asked if he had visited any hospital in preparing for the part. "Spent a lot of time in Camarillo," he told me. "Got to know a lot of the guys. I still correspond with one. "Quite a place. And different, you know? then you think it'll be..."

And last, the notion that this setting is only a fictional and fantastic one does an injustice to thousands of patients in hundreds of wards almost identical to that ward on the stage of the Cort. While Cuckoo's Nest is, as Mr. Friedman rightly points out, about more than just a mental hospital, it is also an attack on tyranny of the sort that is perhaps more predominant in mental hospitals then any place else in our land. It is by no accident that the acute ward was picked for the setting; after working for close to a year as an aide in two hospitals in California I could imagine no better backdrop for my parable. I only needed describe what I had seen and heard, what I had felt after endless swing shift hours talking with the broken and defeated men of our society, and what I concluded to be the stress thar broke them. McMurphy is, of course, fictional--a dream, a wild hope fabricated out of need in defeat--but the men he comes to save, and the menace he battles, these are real, live human being. While this world may be fantastic, it is not mere fantasy. Neither is it an exaggeration; when I hear of someone accusing the book, or the play, of "exaggerating the bad" I think of my last days at the hospital: the first draft of the book almost finished, I had handed in my letter of resignation (a day before, incidently, I received a letter from the superior nurse advising me I was being discharged for "a lack of interest in the hospital...") and I had only one bit of research left: I wished to try shock treatment to get some idea why the patients thought it so bad. And I did. And I found out. And to those who think it is fictionally exaggerated I only say try it first and see.

Because it can never be as bad in fiction as it is in real life.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

People are more interested in Apocalypse Now than the Holy Ghost

Bob Dylan — Slow Train (Live at Massey Hall, April 20th 1980)

The following letter of support was handwritten by Bob Dylan in April of 1980 to a friend who had just joined the U.S. Military, and highlights a period in his life when he attracted much derision as a result of his religious leanings. A few months previous, having recently converted to Christianity, Dylan had begun travelling North America to promote his new album of gospel music, Slow Train Coming. His new direction wasn't taken well by many fans, and Dylan's resolute refusal to play any of his old tracks during the tour  not to mention his occasional preaching from the stage  caused further ripples of discontent among his audience. Despite the reaction however, he soldiered on.

This particular missive was penned by Dylan on the third leg of his Gospel Tour, in between playing four shows at Massey Hall in Toronto.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of RR Auction, who sold the letter in 2006.

Image: RR Auction


Dear Steve —

We are up in Toronto singing and playing for about 3000 people a night in a downtown theatre — the Spirit of the Lord is calling people here in this beautiful and clean city but they are more interested in lining up for Apocalypse Now than to be baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost —

Wanna thank you for that Bible as it is helpful in discerning a few phrases from and shedding some light on what the King James version reads —

God will lift up your head as you begin to realize that "... He thru Christ has reconsiled man unto Himself" (II Corinthians) You are in basic training and bootcamp and I thank God you are and your commitment runs deep and you will be used to minister and break the hold of darkness on those you become face to face with — "Study to show thyself approved"

You will be strong in the Lord and seeing that looks are deceiving, you will work miracles that way — He has called you to be a saint and your responsibility is to Him and Him alone —

Be praying and not look back no more — press on toward what is ahead — I send love to you and will pray for strength and more strength for you — Always

In the name of Jesus Christ
Son of God, manifest in the flesh

Bob Dylan

Monday, 23 May 2011

John Denver's Nightmare

According to this illustrated letter to Seattle-based band Aerobic Death in 1984, Dave Grohl was compiling and selling mixtapes with his friends at the age of 15 — this particular compilation bearing the name "John Denver's Nightmare." Two years later, 17-year-old Grohl dropped out of school to become the drummer for punk band Scream. A few years after that, he was a member of Nirvana.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Matador Records.







Friday, 20 May 2011

Take the world by the tail

In June of 2006, the legend that is Tom Waits wrote the following endearing letter to a 15-year-old named Colin, in response to a piece of fan mail written by the teenager a few months previous. It was accompanied by a signed photo, also seen below. The opening joke of Waits' charming letter can be explained by Colin's hometown of Palestine, Illinois.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Colin; Image above, via.)

Jun 6, 2006


You're from Palestine? How did you find the time to write....given all the trouble you are having with Israel? Good to hear from you, your sister has good taste, so do you. Allow me to formally encourage to write things down, so when you make it you can say, and I can say, I was in your corner all along. Thanks for all your kind words, always good to hear from the younger generation telling me I have value and relevance. Stay at it Colin. Lots of great people come from Illinois because it's so flat you have to dream up everything, that's what my wife says....she's from there, & lots of Presidents are from Illinois. OK Colin go out there and take the world by the tail, pull it down, wrap it around and put it in your pocket.


(Signed, 'Tom Waits')

Thursday, 19 May 2011

It wasn't a rip off; it was a love in

An inflammatory article in The New York Times provoked the following letter from John Lennon in 1971, defensively penned on a couple of sheets of in-flight stationery as the Beatle crossed the Atlantic. Journalist Craig McGregor's piece, entitled 'The Beatles Betrayal,' was clear in its accusation: that a number of white bands — The Beatles in particular — were "ripping off" black music without so much as a nod to the original artists, many of whom were struggling to make ends meet whilst the Fab Four accumulated a fortune off the back of their efforts.

Clearly the charge stung.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Image: Bonhams

American Airlines

In Flight... yes
Altitude... puzzled
Location... yes

14th Sep. 71.

Dear Craig McGregor

'Money', 'Twist 'n' Shout', 'You really got a hold on me' etc, were all numbers we (the Beatles) used to sing in the dancehalls around Britain, mainly Liverpool. It was only natural that we tried to do it as near to the record as we could - i always wished we could have done them even closer to the original. We didn't sing our own songs in the early days - they weren't good enough - the one thing we always did was to make it known that there were black originals, we loved the music and wanted to spread it in any way we could. in the '50s there were few people listening to blues - R + B - rock and roll, in America as well as Britain. People like - Eric Burdons Animals - Micks Stones - and us drank ate and slept the music, and also recorded it, many kids were turned on to black music by us.

It wasnt a rip off.
it was a love in,

John + Yennon

P.S. what about the 'B' side of Money?
P.P.S. even the black kids didn't dig blues etc it wasn't 'sharp' or something.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Permission to Synchronise

Tom West, c.1966 | Image: Jessamyn West, at Flickr

When he wasn't designing incredibly precise clocks at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the 1960s, Tom West could often be found travelling the world with one in his possession, on his way to accurately set the time at a foreign satellite observatory. Unsurprisingly, suspicions were sometimes aroused during his trips to far-flung areas; one particular visit to synchronise the clocks at a Colombian observatory even resulting in his imprisonment as a result of what was thought to be a secret weapon in his luggage.

Advances in technology have since negated the need for such journeys, and letters like the one below now serve as a reminder of a time when the very keeping of time itself was, quite charmingly, an incredibly time-consuming business.

(Update, 22/05/11: Tom West sadly passed away on the 19th of May, just a day after this letter was featured. My thoughts are with Jessamyn and her family.)

Transcript follows. Huge thanks to Mr. West's daughter, Jessamyn West, for allowing me to use these images.


2 March, 1966

Victor Sanchez-Mesas
Consul General of Spain
Consulate of Spain
326 Dartmouth Street
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Sir:

Mr. J. Thomas West, member of the staff of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, has been assigned to travel to Spain on official business to install and synchronize an electronic clock at our Astrophysical Observing Station at San Fernando, Spain.

Mr. West will be handcarrying a portable clock which he will use to set the clock at the station in synchronism with those at the National Bureau of Standards. He will arrive in Spain at Madrid via Ethiopian Airlines on or about April 15 and will leave on or about April 25 via Iberia Airlines. Would you kindly issue a consular certificate to allow the temporary importation of the portable clock in and out of Spain.

Your assistance in this matter is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely yours,


P. R. Clark, Manager
Administrative Support
Satellite Tracking and Data
Acquisition Department


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

I have no interest in you or your life

Back in 1994, then aged 14, Tom Stuart wrote a letter to Lee and Herring — the British comedy duo behind one of his favourite shows, Fist of Fun — and, after introducing himself as a young fan of their work, asked a few questions. A fairly lengthy reply soon arrived, the vast majority of which had been written very kindly by Stewart Lee and which answered many of Tom's questions. Below, in all its glory, is the beautifully crafted response from the other half of the partnership, Richard Herring; found in the corner of the last page underneath Lee's thoughtful reply.

A delight.

UPDATE: Richard Herring responds.

Transcript follows. Huge thanks to Tom for supplying the image. Unfortunately this is all that remains of the since-misplaced letter, along with another section (see here) in which Stewart Lee discusses both the Pixies and Chris Morris' face.

Image: Tom Stuart

Dear Tom,

I have no interest in you or your life.


Richard Herring

Monday, 16 May 2011

Your happiness means my happiness

On August 6th of 1962, a day after 36-year-old Marilyn Monroe passed away, the following unsent letter, addressed to ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, was discovered at her desk, folded up in her address book. It is thought they were planning to remarry.

Transcript follows.

(Source: MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe; Image: Joe DiMaggio & Marilyn Monroe, via.)

Dear Joe,

If I can only succeed in making you happy — I will have succeeded in the bigest and most difficult thing there is — that is to make one person completely happy. Your happiness means my happiness.

I would like to point out...

The following note was written by Eric Idle to fellow-Python Graham Chapman in the late-1970s.

I apologise for providing an intro so lacking in context but I, and the person who submitted it for inclusion, know nothing else of it. If you can add some background, please do so in the comments below. That said, even without context I find it incredibly charming.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Daniel Wilson.

Image: Daniel Wilson


I would like to point out...

that you never write to me

Signature Eric Idle

Room No. 127
(late 119)


Friday, 13 May 2011

The links between science fiction & science are well established

The following stirring open letter was written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1980, and was essentially a rare public endorsement of the then-newly formed Planetary Society, an organisation started as a means to support the exploration of the Solar System and search for extraterrestrial life. Founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman in 1980, the organisation famously saved SETI from cancellation just a year later; more recently — in fact just weeks ago — SETI was in the news again following the announcement that the program's Allen Telescope Array was to be placed in "operational hibernation" due to lack of funding.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of iCollector.

Image: iCollector

Dear STAR TREK Friends:

You probably know that the STAR TREK following is one of the largest groups of its kind in the country. As such, I have frequently been asked to endorse many worthwhile causes. What you may not know is that I have never done so, nor have I ever made available any STAR TREK mailing list for these purposes.

But now I am breaking with that tradition to tell you of The Planetary Society, an organization formed by Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray to encourage and popularize our exploration of the solar system and the search for extraterrestrial life. Let me tell you why. The essence of the STAR TREK missions are to discover, to learn more about our universe and to apply that knowledge to the benefit of mankind. STAR TREK is, of course, fiction. But its idea is very real and very important. It is this idea which The Planetary Society is devoted to and I believe they can help turn into a reality. If we humans are to continue our exploration of the solar system on a peaceful, rational and scientific basis, then it is important to demonstrate to the decision makers in our country that millions of us want our space programs to continue. To prove our point, all of us must join together in a focused effort, scientists and non-scientists alike, to insist that our elected leaders reflect our support of space exploration.

In addition to Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, many other distinguished people have helped in the formation of the Society. They include James Michener, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Paul Newman, and Johnny Carson, just to name a few. Their presence underlies the significance of this not being a strictly scientific effort but a truly cultural one. The Planetary Society will support both manned and unmanned exploration of the solar system. The Planetary Society is also encouraging the development of the solar sail, of missions to asteroids and comets (in particular to Halley's Comet at this next apparition), the development and ultimate utilization of extraterrestrial resources such as might be found on asteroids or on the moon, the continued exploration of Mars by robot rovers and from returned samples and, I believe in our lifetime, by man establishing a permanent presence on neighbor planets. They will also promote the development of the search for extraterrestrial life -- by radio searches in this galaxy and of nearby galaxies, by the search for other planetary systems and by analyses from probes in this solar system to possible places where life may have once been or may yet still have a chance of forming -- Mars, Titan, the interior of asteroids or the upper layers of the Jovian atmosphere.

The links between science fiction and science are well established and I am very pleased to associate myself with the Planetary Society. If you are interested in supporting those goals by joining The Planetary Society too, write for information to: Carl Sagan, c/o Jet Propulsion Laboratories, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, California, 91103.



Gene Roddenberry

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

It’s better to burn out than to fade away

On April 8th of 1994, an electrician discovered the body of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain at the musician's home in Lake Washington with a shotgun resting on his chest, a bullet wound to his head, and the following handwritten letter on a nearby table. Addressed to "Boddah"—apparently the name of Cobain's imaginary childhood friend—the letter is generally believed to be a suicide note, however countless alternative theories as to its meaning, and his death in general, have since surfaced.

Transcript follows.

(Source: KurtCobain.com.)

To Boddah pronounced

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven't felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guity beyond words about these things. For example when we're back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can't fool you. Any one of you. It simply isn't fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do,God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. It must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child.

On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know!

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.

I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess.

Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Peace, love, empathy.
Kurt Cobain

Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter.
Please keep going Courtney, for Frances.
For her life, which will be so much happier without me.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Rock on Sarah!!

In 1996, two years after the release of Pulp Fiction, a 13-year-old film fanatic named Sarah wrote to her idol, Quentin Tarantino, and told him of her dream to one day become a filmmaker. She also praised his work on the recently released From Dusk till Dawn, and spoke of her love of horror movies. Below is the lovely, enthusiastic, handwritten reply she soon received, along with two signed photographs—one of Tarantino; the other of his partner at the time, Mira Sorvino.

Sarah's love of movies continued, and she eventually went to film school to study screenwriting. She finished her first script in 2011.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Sarah; Image of Tarantino via Penny Arcade.)

Hi Sarah

Thank you for your very lovley letter. It's the best letter I've gotten all year long. I'm glad you loved "Dusk", it was one of my favrote times making a movie. And I feel my best performance so far. It's cool to hear a girl into horror flicks.

Rock on Sarah!!

Do you know about Itallion horror film maker Mario Bava? He did Blood and Black Lace, Black Sunday and Black Sabbith. He's one of my favrotes. I read your letter to Mira, she loved it too. Write me anytime. I can't wait for you to get your hands on a camera too.

With all my love


P.S. Sarah, since you liked Dusk so much, coming out soon is a movie we did about the making of "Dusk" called "Full Tilt Boogie". It shows how much fun we had. I hope you like it.


[Photo of Quentin Tarantino]

To Sarah

With all my love

Richie Gecko (wait, I'm dead)



[Photo of Mira Sorvino]

Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for writing me & Q. Well you sound like an amazing person., I have no doubt you have what it takes to be a filmmaker — isn't it the most exciting artistic medium of the 20th century? Anyway, good luck — we believe in you.


Monday, 9 May 2011

I write for myself and I'll say anything I damn well please

Back in December of 1996, worried about the influence of Green Day's "explicit" fourth album, Insomniac, on her 8-year-old son, an angry mother decided to write a slightly aggressive letter of complaint to the band. It clearly hit a nerve, and she soon received a handwritten response from then-24-year-old frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Both letters can be seen below.

Apparently this exchange inspired the song "Reject," as found on Green Day's next album, Nimrod.

Transcripts follow.

(Source: Dexter; Image above, via NME.)

December 2, 1996
Green Day
P.O. Box 710
Berkeley, Ca 94701-0710

Re: Insomniac

To whom it may concern:

I am a parent, and I am very disturbed by the cassette tape my 8 year old son was listening to. His 60 year old grandmother bought it for him as a birthday present and was totally unaware of its explicit content. The store in which she bought it did not have any ticket or color on it to warn parents of the content within. A issue I plan to pursue with the right people.

Isn't it possible to make music anymore? That tape is not something any singer/songwriter should take any pride in at all. It is horrifying and has got to be one of the worst interpretations of an 'artform' that I have ever had the misfortune to hear. I know it is possible for the group to make 'good music' because I have heard them sing before. For example, the song entitled "When I Come Around" is one of my son's favorites. It's a song that he and his Dad sang together whenever it was on MTV or they were driving in the car together.

Unfortunately, one doesn't have to sing trash to have a following. And if that creates such a following one would do well to wonder exactly what type of people he wants following him! This may do nothing to change the type of music performed or change your views on the art of making music but it helps me to know that there is one less family who will be buying such rubbish and I have a big mouth so I'll make everyone I know aware. That tape is trash, as you can plainly see, and you'll find it enclosed.

Why don't you do something positive and clean up your act!!!! Isn't there enough garbage in the world? All the thoughts you are helping to put in the minds of our youth is scary. You have so much influence why not use it for something GOOD?





I just received your letter and this is my response.

I don't write music for parents, grandparents, or eight year olds. I write for myself and I'll say anything I damn well please. That's the difference between you and me. I do what I want.... You do what you're told.

Obviously, we're not on the same planet, let alone the same ball park. I find people like you offensive and it "helps me" to know you wont be buying anymore of our records. Next time, I suggest you do a little research before you purchase such "rubbish" for your little boy. It might save you a few extra bucks.

Billie Joe and the rest of Green Day


P.S. You're right about one thing... You do have a big mouth.

Friday, 6 May 2011

A library is many things

Early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children's librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a library were explained.

Below are five of the wonderful responses she received, from the following people: Neil ArmstrongIsaac AsimovHardie Gramatky; Dr Seuss; and E. B. White.

Transcripts follow.

(Source:Troy Public Library; Image: Oberlausitz Library, Germany, via.)


APR 13 1971

The Young Citizens of Troy, Michigan
c/o/ Mrs. Marguerite A. Hart
Young People's Librarian
5044 Rochester Road
Troy, MI 48084

Dear Friends:

Congratulations on the opening of the City of Troy's first public library, a facility that will serve and benefit you and your community. I urge each of you to visit it often and explore the books that line its shelves by reading them; for reading is a unique form of exploration that will enrich your lives. It is a special way to discovery and knowledge.

Each book holds an experience and an adventure. Your guide is the author. Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking. It is something you will have always and that will grow in sharing.

Knowledge is fundamental to all human achievements and progress. It is both the key and the quest that advances mankind. The search for knowledge is what brought men to the moon; but it took knowledge already acquired to make it possible to get there.

How we use the knowledge we gain determines our progress on earth, in space or on the moon. Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.



Neil A. Armstrong
Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics

16 March 1971

Dear Boys and Girls,

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn't just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you---and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.

(Signed, 'Isaac Asimov')

Isaac Asimov

Hardie Gramatky
60 Roseville Road
Westport, Conn.

April 26, 1971

To the Young People of
The Troy Public Library
Troy, Michigan.

Dear Boys and Girls:

I have just heard the good news about your having your own Public Library. How can anyone be so lucky. You must be proud and happy, indeed.

You already know, I am sure, of the wonderful new worlds this immediately opens to you. The chance to meet the most interesting people and the chance to make many new friends. What a choice you will have.

And how many of us likes to travel? We all do! The joy of it all is that through reading books we can visit the most exciting far-away places. Then when we actually go there we will have enough knowledge to make that place ten times as interesting.

How I envy you, boys and girls. Your new library brings you more joy than you can have in a life time. Be sure to use it.

All my love,

(Signed, 'Hardie Gramatky')


Dr. Seuss
7301 Encelia Drive
La Jolla, California 92037

Dear Children of Troy:


That's the advice of your good friend, Dr. Seuss


April 14, 1971

Dear Children of Troy:

Your librarian has asked me to write, telling you what a library can mean to you.

A library is many things. It's a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It's a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books---the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together---just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people---people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

(Signed, 'EB White')

Thursday, 5 May 2011

I am volunteering for the "Man in Space" program

On May 5th of 1961, Alan Shepard became the second person — and first American — to enter space, just three weeks after Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth. The following amazing letter was written by Shepard to his parents two years before, and marks the very first announcement of his plans to volunteer for the "Man in Space" program. In fact the very same day, just hours after penning it, Shepard and a group of other specially selected pilots travelled to Washington, where they were briefed about Project Mercury by NASA for the first time. He was chosen as one of the Mercury Seven just over two months later, at which point he began the training that would ultimately see him take the Freedom 7 spacecraft to an altitude of 187 kilometres.

A decade after that, Shepard became the fifth person to walk on the Moon.

Transcript follows.

(Source: RRAuction; Image above: Alan Shepard on May 5th, 1971, preparing for launch, via NASA.)


Dear Mother and Daddy —

Thanks so much for your recent note, Daddy. I appreciate also you sharing the commission on my insurance premium.

We are enjoying our time here very much and like the new addition to our house. It makes it much more livable. Room for guests — so come on down!

Present plans are to be up for Ann's wedding in April. No details as yet but will keep you posted.

I am driving to Washington this afternoon for a briefing and for consideration in the "Man in Space" program. I am letting you know right away since I am not sure how much publicity or press releases will be involved. Basically, about 100 of the country's top pilots have been selected to go to Washington to be briefed on the plans for putting a man in space some time during 1961. We are to be given a chance to volunteer for or reject the opportunity after the briefing. Thereafter, all volunteers will go through a rigorous elimination process until a handful are selected. The entire program of space travel is a fascinating subject and I'm very pleased to be associated with it!

I assure you that I will analyze the entire picture based upon my past flight experience. I intend to do it very carefully of course — and will most certainly volunteer for it. There is no reason for expression of fear but merely gratitude to be considered for this very important contribution to science and the country. Will keep you posted.

Please make no announcements or statements at this time should the occasion arise or even if it doesn't arise!

My love to you both —


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

This is Kurt Vonnegut, reporting from the afterlife

In a 1997 letter to Manhattan-based radio station WNYC, author Kurt Vonnegut pitches his idea for a series of fictional interviews with the deceased. In fact the idea came to fruition and numerous 90-second segments — one of which can be heard here — were subsequently broadcast, with interviewees ranging from the non-famous through to names such as Isaac Asimov and William Shakespeare. These interviews were also compiled in the book, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of WNYC. Huge thanks to Matthias Rascher for bringing it to my attention.

Image: WNYC

Mar 25 97

Dear Marty --

I have indeed noodled around some with your most recent flattering proposition. I came up with this:

"This is Kurt Vonnegut, your NPR reporter, thanks to controlled near-death experiences, from the afterlife. NPR thanks the people of Texas for my use of their lethal execution chamber at their adult correctional facilities at Huntsville, which has made possible my now more than one hundred visits to Heaven, and my returning to life to tell the tale."

What would follow would be my account of how people now dead, names taken from the NYT obituaries or the Enquirer or whatever, feel about what happened to them when they were among the living.

I don't have a million ideas. That's my only one.

There is no hell, but since the O.J. Simpson trial there is serious talk of constructing one. It would be modeled after the Atlanta Airport.

Cheers --

Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


The Webby Awards results have just been announced, and unfortunately Letters of Note has failed to win either of the two prizes up for grabs in its category. To be honest I'm gutted, as winning an award of such prominence would've shone quite a bright light on the website and potentially brought a lot of new letters to the collection, however I've given myself a sobbing deadline of 5pm today in order to minimise the defeat's impact on proceedings. The show goes on.

Enormous thanks to all of you for putting up with my repeated pleas to vote, and even heartier thanks for actually voting on a site that I realise wasn't the easiest to navigate; I know we put up a good fight. Also, keep your suggestions coming should you know of any notable letters, and spread the word.

Finally, congrats to the victors, in particular Laughing Squid. You deserve it.

Thanks again everyone.

I want us to break up the act

At their peak during the late-60s/70s, Morecambe and Wise were arguably Britain's most celebrated comedy act. The duo regularly attracted the biggest names in showbiz to appear on their show (Elton John, The Beatles and Tom Jones, to name but a few); the Morecambe & Wise Show Christmas Special of 1977 famously pulled in a record-breaking audience of 27million — a feat still unsurpassed; and in 1976 both men were awarded the OBE for their services. So it's a surprise to see the following downbeat letter, written to Morecambe in the early-1950s by a dejected Wise at a time when they were yet to break into the television work that would eventually make them a household name. Had Morecambe not responded as forcefully as he apparently did — he shot a letter back saying 'he'd never heard such rubbish in his life' — then things could have been so different, both for the duo and for comedy on British TV.

Thankfully, that scenario didn't come to pass.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The lovely book You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, written by Eric's son, Gary; Image above, via Digital Fix.)

s/s Ben Read
c/o Petroleum Pool
Shell Mex House
Strand London WC2

Dear Eric

Thanks for your letter. Well Eric I want to get straight to the point. I want us to break up the act. I'm afraid it won't work. I have such a terrific amount of animosity to put up with at home. I feel it would be better if we parted. I know this will be quite a shock to you but I had to come to some decision. I can't go on the way things are. I'm not satisfied with my work. I have lost alot of zip, it will take time to regain it. I can't keep you waiting around for me. I don't know definitely when I will be out. I feel it's a great pity after we had planned so much, but my mind's made up. I have no idea what to do in the future, all I know is I want us to remain friends. Hoping to hear from you.

Your Best Pal


Monday, 2 May 2011

To my family — from Dad

At approximately 12:15pm on February 26th, 1993, Carl Selinger entered elevator number 66 on floor 43 of the World Trade Center in New York and began the ascent to his office. Almost immediately the elevator came to an abrupt halt, and within minutes the confined space began to fill with smoke. Unbeknownst to Carl, at 12:18pm a bomb had been detonated in the parking garage beneath the North Tower following months of planning by a group of terrorists headed by Ramzi Yousef; the intention being to bring down both buildings. Although the plan failed, six adults and one unborn child were killed. Another 1,042 people were injured.

Below: a farewell letter written by Carl to his wife and three children whilst trapped. Luckily the note wasn't needed, and after five hours in the smoke-filled elevator he escaped.

Interestingly Ramzi Yousef's uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay and is awaiting military trial for his involvement in the September 11 attacks. He is thought to have been the plot's "chief architect."

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of MPR.

Image: MPR

To my family — from Dad.

12:40 pm, smoky elevator 66, 2/26/93

A few thoughts if I am fated to leave you now —

I love you very much. Be good people. Do wonderful things in your life.

Barbara — I’ve always loved you, and showed you as much as I could.

Debbie — My beautiful girl, with wonderful bear hugs & kisses. Do good.

Jeff — What a terrific person, stay well, make good decisions, help people.

Doug — My boy. Discover secrets to cure lots of the world's problems.

I'm so proud of my children — they're each so wonderful.

Things I love & cherish — ideas, people, Cooper Union (Alumnus of the Year!!!), my work, my family, doing the best I could. Nothing more to say.


(Carl Selinger)

(12:59 Very smoky)

[Address; redacted]