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Return to sender?

Ringo Starr spent nearly 40 years responding to fan mail. Photo by Ian Burt/oddsock via flickr

Anyone who is a fan of The Simpsons (the good, old Simpsons, that is) will remember the episode from 1991 where Marge rekindles her love of painting and recalls sending a portrait she did to Ringo Starr of The Beatles in 1964. In another scene, Ringo is shown sitting at a desk in a room stuffed with fan mail, still responding to the letters he’d received 25 years earlier. It turns out this joke was not a joke at all; Ringo really did continue to reply to his fans in this way. In fact, it was only within the last two or three years that he announced after 40 years of working through his backlog of fan mail, he could no longer respond to individual letters.

I bring this up because while I was going through my records recently, I noticed a lot of bands had mailing addresses on the back of their albums. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones albums from the 1960s say “Write to us” and provide an address. This got me thinking. Could I write to the popular bands of today and still get a response?

Since I don’t buy CDs anymore, I couldn’t check the liner notes of most current bands. I decided since websites are the main form of “personal” communication between a band and its fans now, this would be the best place to start. I picked bands and artists at random, trying to find a good mix of local and international musicians from varying eras and levels of fame. What I quickly discovered was that even in the day of instant Internet searches, this information was hard to come by.

I started with Nickelback and Justin Bieber—primarily because they are Canadian, but also because I figured as two of the most famous acts in the world, it would be easy to find their contact information. This was not the case at all. In fact, both websites boasted official fan clubs that charge substantial membership fees. Nickelback’s membership cost $80, while J. Biebs wanted $99 (per year). This amount gets you access to pre-sale tickets and admittance to his “online community”. Nickelback also rewards you with a travel bag and shot glass set, while Bieber delivers a purple hat. Neither one mentions anything about autographs.

I had mixed luck visiting  a few additional websites. Sloan was the only band with a mailing address specifically for fan mail. I was also surprised to find the Barenaked Ladies charge a fee to be a member. But at $35 (which includes a T-shirt), it’s a bit more reasonable than Bieber’s.

I also contacted Canadian musicians Joel Plaskett and Peter Elkas. Just two hours after emailing them, I received responses from both artists. In fact, it was Elkas himself who replied saying he would send me the autograph I requested.

But contacting bands wasn’t always an easy task. I was surprised to find that most bands, such as Arcade Fire, don’t provide any contact information on their websites.

Eventually I came upon a website called fanmail.biz, which seems to have an address for almost any celebrity you could imagine. But if the information is accurate or not is another question altogether. I decided to write to: Sloan, The Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett, Peter Elkas, Barenaked Ladies, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, The Black Keys and Weird Al Yankovic.

Of course, I soon realized I had one more obstacle to overcome: When asking for autographs, is it necessary to include a self-addressed and stamped envelope for them to send it back in? I didn’t know how to include a stamped envelope for the American mail—and it turns out it’s very hard to find US stamps in Canada.

As of the submission deadline for this article, I haven’t found a solution to this question—but at least my letters to the artists with Canadian mailing addresses are ready to go. I’m optimistic that I will hear back from a few of these artists, but it will take some time. Be sure to look for an article at the end of the school year where I follow up on my luck. I’m hoping I will not return empty-handed!

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