From October 2008 until the summer of 2012, I worked at a midsize music venue called the Pageant in St. Louis, MO. For the first two years, I scanned tickets at the door, stamped hands, guarded checkpoints, and threw people out for starting fights. I stood through hundreds of shows, never quite able to enjoy them because I always had to watch the crowd. As someone with a severe anxiety disorder, telling drunk people that they had to follow the rules on a nightly basis almost broke my brain. I have a kind face, and no matter how hard I scowled, I never looked even the slightest bit intimidating. After a drunk mom screamed that I was “being a Nazi” for not letting her underage daughter into the 21+ section so she could keep drinking, I switched to a much calmer position on the daytime janitorial staff. It was much more my speed—even if it included scraping god knows what off the inside of a urinal multiple times a week.
Every morning, our supervisor slowly made his way around the venue to unlock the doors to the dressing rooms, his crew of scrappy custodial misfits following closely, on the hunt for leftover food to lay out on the main bar for everyone to share. (I developed a taste for hummus because almost every band has it on their rider, and at least three-quarters of them don’t even peel back the plastic seal on the container.)
But I was on the hunt for a much more valuable treasure: letters from fans that bands left behind. I collected as many as possible—sometimes even pulling them from the trash—because I found them captivating. Reading the intimate stories fans shared with their idols kept me going as I mopped sticky floors and scrubbed permanent marker graffiti off bathroom stalls. They are a unique part of music history, the human side of a cold industry most of us never get to see.
Reading the intimate stories fans shared with their idols kept me going, as I mopped sticky floors and scrubbed permanent marker graffiti off bathroom stalls
I’m sure there are still fans that mail letters to the venue their favorite band is playing at, or toss carefully folded, handwritten notes to a crew member in the hopes that it will make it into the hands of members of Death Cab for Cutie, My Chemical Romance, or even Willie Nelson. Even if the stationary never reaches their intended destination (and instead ends up in the collection of a fascinated janitor,) the possibility that your favorite band might read about how they changed your life is quite the thrill.
The letters are too sacred to throw away. I’ve carried these love letters to bands around for over ten years, and now I’ve allowed CREEM to share them with you.