The debut album for Famous Letter Writer,
WARHOLA, is a kind of pop archive, an act of memory in aculture that erases, that crosses out and forgets. And, yes, it is a call back to Andy’s immigrant name… before he was a celebrated, if not confusing standout in the art community.
Famous Letter Writer is the combined project of award-winning writer and lyricist M.I. Devine and multi-instrumentalist Ru Devine. And much like the man who inspired it, the songs are as varied in inspiration, outcome, and perhaps public response.
There are no doubt bangers.
There is minimalism.
There are moments of levity.
Those moments have to battle heavy lyrics, too.
From front to back, a success in searching out boundaries to cross while also keeping selectively restrained.
This is the overture: over there, Andy’s mother, Julia Warhola, loses her first child, a daughter. (Spoiler alert: “Daughter” will be the album closer.) Over there: not here, where we build walls; not here, where “we act like nobody dies,” to quote Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. (Lyrics can teach you most everything about life.)
“We dream like we’re dreamers.” Pop remembers; it doesn’t forget; it’s crossing borders; it’s learning to sing by singing along; it’s deeper than we suspect and more superficial than we can ever hope to be; it’s the skin and the soul. (It knows you want to vanish but teaches you how to stay whole.)
While recording this in Greenpoint’s Pencil Factory, Ru handed me a book of poems from the 13th century–by Rumi: “The artist is a letter addressed to everyone. You open it. It says, ‘Live.’”
History rhymes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poem you’d like to learn by heart. Still, we made a catchy song about it. A pop hook to cut, to see if pop can hold history:
Don’t worry, ma, I’m just dyin’
21st Century we’ll be fine
Like George Jetson we’ll be flyin’
The year 1999: Bloodbath. Things fall apart. Surely everything would get better.
All I Do Is Win
Recently, on Instagram, you saw a picture of a quote, a handwritten note, and you think of all you used to dream, all one day you’d like to write:
“How you spend your days, of course, is how you spend your life.”
(It got so many likes).
This is a song about your sister taking selfies, and your brother who’s so good looking, your mother who’s in the kitchen, and you, you’re stuck– immobile–with memory’s blues again.
When will you learn to sing?
Let’s follow, here, Robert Frost who’s lost in the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 chambers of America:
Take me to the woods, lovely & deep
Give me warm milk, give me Ambien to sleep
(Warhol once made a five hour film of a man asleep. He called it Sleep.)
You move home. Your mother breaks her hip. Her mother asks you what you think she should do with her life.
(Angry Bird or Candy Crush or Second Life)
There are too many choices. 36? No, more. You go to sleep. You’re tired from the day.
You’re in Vegas. At a concert. (Did you hear someone shout?)
(Bullets sound like firecrackers. Like 4th of July.)
This song was a few notes jotted down the day Leonard Cohen died, the day after the 2016 election. “We kill the flame,” Cohen sang at the end.
Can pop hold the pain? Added to, erased over the years: Mandalay Bay, sadly, brought it here. Nation’s worst shooting. At a concert.
And then, a day later, Tom Petty. Dead. Broken heart.
Did you know another name for a song’s refrain is the “burden”? How songs work: by sharing burdens. They’re the what and how we share. Take up mine. I’ll take up yours.
Push a button. Maybe someone, somewhere, is there? (Every post you make is a little prayer.)
You have a memory, a dim one, of your father’s wallet. (I do.) My picture in it. A real picture.
Maybe someone, somewhere, is there?
In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, before the apple, before the serpent, when all was desert, and all was dry, before God made Adam Eve (and Eve said I want more), a little girl in a bumble bee suit danced in a Blind Melon video on MTV. The song is called “No Rain.” Do you remember? This was before the flood: Life was a bubble on a scantron test. We memorized lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest. Do you remember innocence?
My head is full of all these songs.
“The death of God left the angels in a strange position…. I saw a famous angel on television; his garments glistened as if with light. He talked about the situation of angels now that God was dead. Angels, he said, are like us in some ways. The problem of adoration is felt to be central. He said that for a time the angels had tried adoring each other, as we do, but had found it, finally, ‘not enough.’ He said they are continuing to search for a new principle.
–“On Angels,” Donald Barthelme
All In My Head
I had a friend who died in prison. A poet. (We met in LA. Way back when.)
I first wrote a song called “Hallelujah” for him. “I wore my best suit to your funeral. / They played Leonard Cohen’s Casio ‘Hallelujah.’”
But I never went. It wasn’t true. (It was all in my head.) So I wrote this.
Pop remembers. It doesn’t forget. This album is full of elegies: like Andy’s portrait of Marilyn. To write a song is to hope against one’s end. (That we are not just these woods we wander in.)
Where to find hope?
Who has the answers?
A kid just googled
Is God really dead?
O Siri, can you tell me?
Is it all in my head?
Back to Andy’s mother, the artist: Julia Warhola cut soup cans into flowers, reusing, recycling, redeeming the world about her. This was pop. This is pop. Like a remix. Like something broken that then you fix.
Twenty-one, young mother, her infant daughter dies in her arms. In Slovakia. See the two of them? The Pieta.
Ru, my partner, who conceived the sounds of these song worlds, almost died giving birth to our daughter.
I wrote this for her, and them, and Warhol’s mother, and Andy, and you. It’s the voice of pop, maybe, all I can give. It says, “Live.”