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Letters Live Review: In Defence of Picking up the Pen

Friday 21 October 2016

The art of letter writing is on the cusp of non-existence. With the rise of the mobile phone and the unprecedented growth of the World Wide Web, anyone and everyone is available for contact with the click of a mouse or the press of a button. Quick convenience governs the modern world and we have lost our romanticisation with the written form. The human race has become altogether dependant on it’s own technological creation; we’re either more inept or zombies of our own growth, depending on how you look at it.

The last time I can remember writing a letter and actually successfully completing the process by sending it in the post was almost 2 years ago; the last time I received one was a month ago from a friend who had moved away. I still haven’t found the time to reply. Am I too a robot in an infinite computerised system of SMS text messages, FaceTime and emails? I can’t be far off.

Up until this kind of technology was available to the masses, sending letters in the post – or even by pigeons – was the best way to stayed linked in. Of course, it’s time consuming, and I suspect even exceptionally competent letter writers of the past would have huffed and puffed and the thought of sending a letter about the tedious and insipid aspects of life, like contesting the legitimacy of outstanding bills made by your landscape gardener on your 18th century Parisian estate, for example. But it is the very act of writing a letter, and the time the recipient is aware the writer has given, that makes a letter writing the best form of communicating going.

Letters Live – a unique and thought-provoking event that has recently showed at London’s Freemasons Hall – supports this same notion, in the defence of writing a good, old-fashioned epistle. The event’s sole purpose is “to celebrate the letter, in all it’s multi-faceted glory”, and includes readings of some of the best letters that have ever been written on this earth, by names including David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Kurt Vonnegut, Mohandas Gandhi and Charlotte Bronte, and with an impressive line-up of guests such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Russell Brand, Tom Hiddleston, Jude Law and Sir Ben Kingsley giving their readings of them.

There were times when we were compelled to laugh out loud – I’m thinking of Toby Jones and Miriam Margolyes’ reading rendition of the letters Napoleon sent to his wife Josephine while on the road conquering vast proportions of 19th century Europe. It turns out Napoleon was quite the fickle, needy lover; his letters read like over-desirous modern text messages. We found the quote from one of his letters below particularly amusing:

“I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses burning as though beneath the equator.” – Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife, Josephine 

At other times, the letters were tear-inducing and gave perspective; magnifying the want to get out a pen and paper and contact your nearest and dearest – or even those you haven’t been in touch with for awhile.

“Hang on, my love, and grow big and strong” – Iggy Pop to his fan, Laurence

With different letters from the past to the present day, and different notable guests giving their renditions each night, Letters Live is a convincing argument for the return of the declining form of communication. But it was perhaps Iggy Pop’s letter written in 1995 in reply to his 21 year old fan, Laurence, read by the captivating Jarvis Cocker that stands clear in our minds. Iggy took a solid 9 months to reply to his fan mail, where Laurence detailed the problems with her life looking for some advice from her idol. Like a saving grace, Iggy’s reply arrived on the morning her family were being evicted by bailiffs from their home. Laurence accounts her experience of the letter: “By the time I finished I was in tears. Not only had Iggy Pop received the letter I had sent him nine months before, but he had read the whole 20 pages, including the bit about my Adidas dress (a semi-innocent allusion on my part), and all the rest; my description of being the child of an acrimonious divorce with the string of social workers, lawyers, estate agents and bailiffs at the door, the fear, the anger, the frustration, the love.”


You can read Iggy’s reply below:

dear laurence,

thankyou for your gorgeous and charming letter, you brighten up my dim life. i read the whole fucking thing, dear. of course, i’d love to see you in your black dress and your white socks too. but most of all i want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. you’re obviously a bright fucking chick, w/ a big heart too and i want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY 21st b’day and happy spirit. i was very miserable and fighting hard on my 21st b’day, too. people booed me on the stage, and i was staying in someone else’s house and i was scared. it’s been a long road since then, but pressure never ends in this life. ‘perforation problems’ by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. so hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going.

all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence.

iggy pop

So next time you’re feeling out of touch, or you’ve been spending a little too much time glued to your inbox, spare 20 minutes out of the day to write a letter. Whether it’s inspired by Napoleon’s zealous and slightly concerning attempts to reach out to his loved one, or simply to tell your mum that you’re getting enough vitamins in your diet, I’m sure it would be appreciated.

For more information on Letters Live and to stay up to date on upcoming events, visit letterslive.com.