It’s a popular time for publishing letters of rock and roll gods. Last month, The John Lennon Letters was published, containing some of the more intimate writings from the archives of Lennon’s life. Next month, the love letters of Mick Jagger to Marsha Hunt will be sold at a Sotheby’s auction. The fascination in personal letters is nothing new (Vladimir Nabokov’s letters to Vera proved popular enough, as were James Joyce’s salacious letters to Nora). But given the reputation garnered in the music business, there is an added sense of exposure, where the rough and guts image of the musician contrasts with what is known as their more ‘unknown’ side. As the opening paragraph of The Guardian writes,
“To some people in 1969, Mick Jagger was little short of being an uncouth hoodlum, what with his drug taking, louche lifestyle and rebellious views. But secret love letters, revealed here for the first time, show the rock star in a different light: as an articulate, dreamy, sensitive artist with a grounded self-awareness.”
A similar rhetoric exists for the Lennon Letters, in which Lennon ‘reveals’ a softer side in contrast to his notorious possessive and jealous side. The letters themselves are copied into the books before being re-written for better clarity. Though a great lyricist, many of Lennon’s letters, rather than revealing his inner love-poet, are fairly standard and often devoid of feeling. This is not to say that they are bland and cold, but rather that they are simple, even to the point of humorous. Jagger’s, on the other hand, are said to be more passionate and reveal the musicians interest in Emily Dickenson poems and the diaries of Nijinsky. Yet one letter purportedly shows Jagger lamenting the lack of pretty girls at a party, that led to more eating and less sexual action. In one letter, he writes, “my patience snaps my love peters out at vital moments.”
Lennon’s are a bit more haphazard, childishly incoherent even, though he does at times reveal a greater insight about life: “Being rich doesn’t change your experience in reality you think. The only difference basically is that you don’t have to worry about money, food, roof…”
The fascination continues with the Beatle and Stone. Lennon has the added and undeniable value of being dead, (boosting his legend status). The Letters comprise a thick volume, encased in thin plastic (at my university co-op bookshop at least) to prevent the curious viewer sampling the text. Amazon has a decent preview though. But for $30 AUD, the price isn’t too bad at all for such a thick piece of musical history. It’s the much cheaper option than the estimated £70,000-£100,000 at least. Hunt is now apparently broke and so wishes to cash in on these nostalgic love letters, and hopes that whoever buys them will appreciate their significance. I’ve never been broke, so I can’t say what I’d do if I had bedded Jagger (I don’t think I would have done Lennon, quite frankly) and had in my possession his love letters– whether I’d sell them or not. They of course have a different significance to Hunt than they would for Jagger’s fans. Undeniably, letter writing is a lamentably lost art form.