A Love Letter to the Postal Service…

As some of you may know, postal rates are going up at the end of the month — August 29th.

A regular stamp will cost 58 cents, and postcard stamps will go up to 40 cents.

If you are a fan of sending and receiving cards and letters (or you still pay some of your bills by mail…) now is the time to stock up on stamps!

I am a huge fan of stamps AND of the US postal service.

You can click here to see all the stamps currently for sale by the US Post Office online.

I am using some of my recent favorites to illustrate this blog post.

I feel the postal service is one of the things that still connects all of us — and that we all continue to use on a regular basis — regardless of political ideology, religious affiliation, racial ancestry, and socio-economic status (although the rates going up and up and up certainly make it more expensive to use…)

I also like our postal carrier, Rob.

He has been assigned to our neighborhood for the past decade (at least), and his familiar face — and warm personality — weave all of us in this section of East Arlington together on a daily basis.

Mostly what I receive in the mail are bills, credit card statements, requests for money from organizations to which I may have given a tiny amount of money in the past (or from new organizations to whom someone has given or sold my name and address) and advertisements.

On very rare occasions, I get a handwritten — and sometimes even a handcrafted! — card.

And I savor it…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I am not sure exactly what makes a hand-written card/note/letter different from an email/text message.

There is the pleasure of seeing a person’s individual, idiosyncratic, and — in a few cases — beautiful handwriting.

I also like knowing that the person who wrote it has touched the same paper and the envelope and the stamp that I am now touching as I rip it open and read it.

And I like seeing what stamp they have selected.

But there is also — for me at least — an element of respect that is somehow implied by the fact that they found the time to find a card (or piece of paper), write something on it, put it into an envelope, address it, stamp it, and get it into the mail.

And then, somewhat magically, it finds its way to me!

I have had jobs which included dropping off mail at both a local office and at a huge regional mail sorting center.

I have seen the people and conveyor belts and sorting machines and wheeled carts and trucks that are responsible for a card or letter or package getting from point A to point B.

It is quite a feat of logistics which most of us take for granted.

And I have never had a card or letter or bill payment (that I know of…) get lost.

On rare occasions I have received something which got a little chewed up en route.

But it was still legible.

In particular I love to send “thank you” cards.

It became a habit when I was given a promotion from part-time events coordinator to full-time PR director (who still coordinated a lot of events) at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education over twenty years ago.

Email was just becoming a regular thing — and hand-written cards were becoming more of a rarity.

Any time a media person included one of our classes or events in a calendar listing, or mentioned us in an article, or interviewed one of our teachers, or mentioned us on the radio, or covered us in any way — I sent them a hand-written “thank you” card.

I wanted to thank them, AND I also wanted to jumpstart (and then nurture) a relationship with them so that when they were next on a deadline and needed some expert to interview for a story, they might be more inclined to think of us as a potential resource.

Or when they had to choose an event to feature in their weekly calendar, they might be a little more likely to select one of our offerings.

Or they might even come and take one of our classes — or attend one of our poetry readings or concerts or workshops.

I was happily surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) to learn, when I attended an annual conference of local black journalists one year, that I had even become slightly infamous when an editor from The Boston Globe referred to me as “the guy who sends all of those ‘thank you’ notes.”

I continue to send “thank you” cards after every one of my gigs to the person who booked us — and sometimes also to the person who welcomed us and made sure we were all set up, too.

And I send “thank you” notes for gifts I receive, to family or friends who feed me dinner or host me on trips, and to local media folks who write about me and my musical life here on planet earth.

I love the cards at Trader Joe’s (only a buck each) and have learned that if I see something I like, I need to buy a bunch of them because I may never see them again for sale.

And every six months or so I go to a local discount department store, TJ Maxx, in a strip mall located a 12-minute bike ride from home.

If I am lucky, they have a bunch of simple, elegant “thank you” cards (in boxes of 12 or 15 or even 20!) at a half or a third of their regular price.

This translates to anywhere from 25 to 50 cents per card.

Then I buy 5-10 boxes of whatever is nicest (because I’ll probably never see any of THEM for sale either) and ride home feeling very rich in ‘thank you” cards.

Same thing for stamps.

If I see some I like, I buy many sheets (or rolls) of that particular design because there is no telling when they will sell out at my local post office — located a four-minute walk from my home.

I guess I could order them online, but I love going to an actual post office and talking with an actual postal employee.

I don’t love putting on two face masks — a medical one and a fabric one — before I go inside, but the more infectious Delta mutation is on the rise even here in relatively well-vaccinated Massachusetts.

So I am using face masks again when I am inside a public space like a post office or grocery store.

Last week when I bought a bunch of stamps, I was the only customer in the post office — which made my visit short and sweet.

I purchased $800 worth of postcard stamps — with a selection of beautiful barns on them — to go along with the 10,000 postcards I ordered earlier this year.

Actually I only ordered 5,000 postcards, but the printer did not understand the four-card template I sent to them and misprinted the first 5,000 (with four small messages rather than one big message on each card).

Then they very generously reprinted them correctly at no extra cost; so I ended up with 10,000 cards total — half of which say “The future belongs to those who vote,” and half of which say the same thing but four times and in much small type.

I mail them — along with a recommended hand-written message — to potential voters all over the USA who have a local election coming up (which they may or may not be aware of…)

It is one of the ways I attempt to ward off my profound disappointment — verging at times on terror — with how political events have been unfolding recently in these not-very-United States.

But this blog post is not intended to be a downer.

The recording I’ve included is a fun take of “Please Mr. Postman” written by Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, and Robert Bateman. 

Wikipedia reminded me that it was the debut single by a Motown/Tamla group called The Marvelettes — originally released sixty years ago in August 1961.

Apparently the songwriter credits have varied over time — but the current copyright, I am happy to see, includes Georgia Dobbins, who was the original lead singer for The Marvelettes.

She helped create the first version of the song (which she and her bandmates sang when they auditioned for Motown/Tamla) by adapting a blues written by her friend William Garrett.

Her version was then re-worked by several Motown/Tamla songwriter/producers, including Freddie Gorman — who was also an actual Detroit postman.

I am particularly glad that she is included as a co-songwriter, because Wikipedia reports that Ms. Dobbins left the group soon after they were signed by Berry Gordy and before they recorded “Please Mr. Postman.”

There must be more to THAT story…

The song she helped to write became a hit — crossing the Atlantic to the UK where The Beatles quickly added it into their repertoire and eventually recorded it two years later in 1963.

Another thing I learned is that Marvin Gaye played drums on The Marvelettes’ version!

The Carpenters made it a hit yet again in 1975, and their version was sampled and used in another song called “Oh Yes” by the rapper Juelz Santana in 2006.

It is fascinating to see how songs, like viruses, move from one human host to another and creatively mutate over time…

The version at the beginning of this blog post is from a rehearsal I did a few years ago with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammer and a great female who shall remain nameless (until she decides if she’d like to be publicly credited).

I emailed her a copy of this recording after Doug and I spent a few hours tidying it up sonically, and I haven’t heard anything back yet.

I love the playful and somewhat spontaneous spirit of this recording, which I think was take number three during our rehearsal for the opening of an art exhibit called ART/Word which my sweetheart produces each year with a different theme.

The artistic theme that year was “Letters.”

I will end by thanking this mystery singer for joining me in our fun rendition of this song.

And thanking Doug Hammer for his gifts as a pianist AND engineer/producer.

And thanking the US postal service for continuing to exist and function!

And thanking the artists who create such an extraordinary variety of artwork for our stamps.

And thanking YOU for reading and listening to yet another one of my blog posts.

Do you still send hand-written cards and letters to anyone?

If you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to my latest release, “The Carter Family” by Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

And you are always welcome to visit my website — or you can find me singing (with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano) on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

Let’s continue to find new ways to reduce our carbon footprint on this precious planet each and every day!

There are far too many forest fires and floods and mudslides happening these days…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out!

Love Is Real

 

Love IS real.

It may not always be easy to feel, but it’s always there somewhere — or perhaps everywhere? — waiting to be tapped into.

In the two years since I was laid off from my day job, I have come to understand that music is one of our most accessible — and brilliant — technologies for re-connecting with love.

I experienced another love-filled gig with pianist Joe Reid last Saturday at a retirement community to the south of Boston.

It was the first time we had been there; so I didn’t know what to expect.

I was also feeling a bit concerned that our choice of “Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Jule Styne” — rather than a program of songs by the more familiar Cole Porter or Gershwin Brothers — might have been too risky for a first visit.

But we were warmly welcomed, ushered to a lovely performance space (not too big, not too small — a “just right” Goldilocks fit) with a small grand piano, a good PA system, and an audience of American Popular Songbook aficionados.

The size of the room — and the lighting in the room — made it possible for me to make eye contact with everyone.

Many audience members knew the words to the songs we were performing — and I, inspired by my Music Together classroom experiences, exhorted everyone to hum, tap, snap, or even dance if the spirit moved them.

There is something about the structure of a well-written song that allows — even encourages — one to put one’s heart into the singing of it.

And knowing that a song has a beginning, a middle, and an end somehow makes it safe for me as a singer to experience a wide range of feelings while I am singing it.

I think I have written in previous blog posts about how amazing subtext can be — how simply changing what or whom one is thinking about as one is singing can completely alter one’s interpretation of a particular song.

I have even begun to wonder — as I sing and make eye contact during performances with as many different audience members as are willing to connect in that surprisingly intimate way — whether I start connecting on an unconscious level with some of THEIR subtext, THEIR history, and THEIR associations with a particular song.

Whatever is transpiring energetically, it certainly opens MY heart — and re-connects me to feelings of joy and heart-ache and love and fear and desire and hope and pain.

Afterwards Joe and I listened to the stories that these songs evoked in the residents — tales of huge summer parties near Westport, CT in the 30s and 40s, or of seeing Barbra Streisand in the original production of Funny Girl, or of listening to these songs on the radio with loved ones in the living rooms of their past.

One woman said something like, “We have to have you and Joe back again right away — your singing reached inside and touched my soul.”

This is what I live for.

This is what music can do.

Two strangers can, in a safe and well-boundaried way, touch each other’s souls.

John Lennon knew that.

He wrote the song “Love Is Real” — which I recorded several years ago with Doug Hammer at his Dreamworld Studio. Then I monkeyed with those tracks using Garageband to create the version at the top of this page.

Thirty four years ago John Lennon was killed as he got out of his car and headed into his apartment in NYC.

According to Wikipedia, he had chosen to get out on 72nd Street (rather than the driving into the courtyard of his building) so that he could chat with any fans who might be waiting to say “hi” and ask for an autograph.

In fact, earlier in the day he had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy — the life-affirming album he had recently released with Yoko Ono — for the man who later shot and killed him.

After I heard the horrible news of John’s death, I remember walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, feeling very sad and upset that this could ever have happened.

One loss often awakens previous losses — like a metal chime rippling and echoing through the layers of one’s emotional body and memory.

So, with hindsight, it is very likely that I was also grieving other deaths, other losses, other assassinations — as I grieve tonight…listening to John’s music and reflecting on his inspiring life.

You can click here for a link to a comforting essay I found online which offers perspective about why so many of us continue to be so deeply moved by John’s murder.

I loved John Lennon.

I continue to love his music — as well as the music of all The Beatles.

And his songs live on.

Love IS real.