I have been writing a weekly column for a number of years now, and yet I can still be surprised by the kind of written reactions I get. These letters fall into two broad categories, the public and the private. Public letters get written to the Spectator and published in the Spectator's letters columns. Private letters come from people on my mailing list, many of whom never log onto the Spectator's website.
There can be quite a difference between the two.
For example, my column, "Praise Music Flunks," which criticized pop-oriented church music, elicited a tide of letters from the public, which tended to come in three successive waves: The first wave came from church musicians and church members who felt the same way as I did about praise music and the decline of traditional hymnody. The second wave defended praise music, often eloquently.
The third wave, after an interval, came from people who told me bitterly that I was a bad Christian.
By contrast, my private correspondents had little to say on the subject.
LAST WEEK'S COLUMN, "The Making of an Icon," got a handful of reactions from Spectator readers. And then this came, under the subject heading, "Please stop," from one of my oldest friends:
Larry, I don't know what life experiences have caused you to become a right wing purveyor and I'm not sure I really care. I understand that you have embraced devout Christianity and can accept this although it saddens me as any subjugation to authority would. Your political beliefs, however, I find offensive and I certainly do not want to be included in any mailing list. Please stop sending me these obscenities.
My friend lives in Europe, is married to a European woman, speaks several European languages, and has put together a successful career as a rock and roll and blues musician and band leader.
Let me give you some background on this remarkable and remarkably talented man. The nephew of distinguished and famous academics, he stood out in an Ivy League college stuffed to the brim with talented people.
His band played the first mixer of my freshman year. When I saw him onstage, I asked, as everyone did, seeing him for the first time, "Who's that?"
The band sounded great. He played a white Jazzmaster, he was tall, he had a Beatle shag cut (indeed, he managed to look like all four Beatles at the same time), he sang, he was brilliant, he was utterly magnetic.
In the following years -- and in the beginning, it was the 1960s -- he participated as fully as any of us (let me be delicate) in the preposterosities of the decade, he always had the best guitars and the most beautiful girls and the hottest bands. He graduated without difficulty when many of the rest of us blew up and dropped out. Where some of the rest of us fell to disaster, he skated, escaped, and succeeded, at ever more brilliant heights. His thick black hair turned first salt and pepper gray, then brilliant white. He grew more beautiful with the years.
IF HE HAD NEVER PLAYED WITH ANYONE FAMOUS (and he did), if he had never made records of his own with his own bands (and he did), we would still remember him for the utter genius of his guitar playing. He did things with an electric guitar that scarcely seemed physically possible.
He married one of the world's most beautiful women (ask anyone who has met the couple), he has a lovely son, he has an enviable life. I spoke to him and saw him only at very long intervals. He remained sweet natured, accessible, unpretentious, and thoroughly nice.
Other than Christmas cards, this most recent letter is the first I've heard from him in more years than I can count.
And now this, which astonishes me. Something I wrote for a general audience, in general, a mere bagatelle on contemporary media, offended him. And he took the trouble, for the first time in years, to write me a note. And to aim very specifically to hurt me as sharply as possible.
I do care, as everyone does, whether people like me or not. I know my work cannot please everyone. When I got the letter, I immediately re-read "The Making of an Icon," trying to figure out what could have tripped off such a reaction. I could find nothing, and maybe there is no answer.
Suppose I were in a similar position. I don't have to suppose; I am. I do have friends who send me political articles with which I disagree. Sometimes I reply; sometimes I don't.
I could imagine writing to such a friend, "Look, we disagree so much on politics, why don't you just leave me off your mailing list and drop me a personal note from time to time. I do like hearing from you."
I could imagine that. But not this. Tell me, do conservatives ever anathematize old friends? Or does it only happen the other way around?