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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

by Raymond Cummings

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

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Someday in the not-too distant future, The Box Tops' immortal "The Letter" will pop up in a playlist and mean little to nothing to an uninitiated post-millennial. The song is the chest-beating relic of a bygone era when paper was king and the postal service was how people communicated when in-person exchanges weren't viable. The letter is a curio and an anachronism in a world where email is the new square blip, with text-messaging as its hipper, quicker cousin.

Still, we've got all these great songs about letters to chew on. The newest is from rapper J. Cole -- an awestruck, sideways hosanna to his idol, Nas, with some quoted nods to Kanye West on the chorus. The sweetest and most alphabetically fixated, is, undeniably, "Love Letters," from Stereolab offshoot Snowpony. The Unicorns track every tortured moment of a fan letter's conception, delivery and unceremonious return to sender on "Child Star," which begins as sun-warped Phantom of the Opera slosh metal and somehow ends as giddy kiddie-pop. Flaw's "My Letter" is all inward-staring humility and cloistered chord changes; and P.J. Harvey's "The Letter" sensualizes the experience of handwriting even as it plays host to a wake of sorts.

Meanwhile, it's impossible to say whether the narrator in "Fan Mail" is a deranged Blondie fan or Debbie Harry herself after half a summer on tour, but either way, it's not the sort of missive anyone longs for their postman to bring to them. (See also: Eminem's Dido-assisted there-but-for-the-grace-of-God cautionary tale "Stan," and The Smiths' delectable, condensation-dripping "Half a Person.") But it's Stevie Wonder who wins the sweepstakes for most iconic mash-note song with "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

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