Walker Percy and Bruce Springsteen

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In 1989, Walker Percy, author of ‘The Moviegoer,’ wrote a fan letter to Bruce Springsteen. In it he noted that his nephew was an even greater fan; later that same nephew would interview Springsteen. But first, Percy’s letter:

Of particular interest is from learning — from an article in America, the Jesuit weekly — that you are Catholic. If this is true, and I am too, it would appear that the two of us are rarities in our professions: you as a post-modern musician, I as a writer, a novelist and philosopher.... This is to say only that I am most interested in your spiritual journey, and if there is any other material about it, I’d be obliged if you will tell me.


Bruce Springsteen -- who performed at the pre-Inauguration concert in Washington on Sunday (with Pete Seeger, above) must have been on the minds of someone at Coudal Partners, who dug up these links. Or -- who knows? -- maybe they were just thinking about Walker Percy. Anyway, seven or eight years after the author wrote to Springsteen, Will Percy, his nephew, interviewed the Boss. The younger Percy asked the rock star, among other things, about literature. Springsteen told him:

I go through periods where I read, and I get a lot out of what I read, and that reading has affected my work since the late seventies. Films and novels and books, more so than music, are what have really been driving me since then. Your uncle once wrote that ‘American novels are about everything,’ and I was interested in writing about ‘everything’ in some fashion in my music: how it felt to be alive now, a citizen of this country in this particular place and time and what that meant, and what your possibilities were if you were born and alive now, what you could do, what you were capable of doing. Those were ideas that interested me.

Will knew about the letter and urged Springsteen to write back -- but to his aunt, not his uncle (Walker Percy died of cancer in 1990). Springsteen wrote:

A few years back when I received Dr. Percy’s letter, I wasn’t very familiar with his work ... my memory is that [his] letter was written on a yellow legal pad and, as is mine, his handwriting was not the easiest to decipher. It was a passionate letter about the comforts and difficulties of reconciling the inner life of a sophisticated man, a writer’s life, with the Catholic faith. It is now one of my great regrets that we didn’t get to correspond. A while after receiving Dr. Percy’s letter, I picked up “The Moviegoer,” its toughness and beauty have stayed with me. The loss and search for faith and meaning have been at the core of my own work for most of my adult life. I’d like to think that perhaps that is what Dr. Percy heard and was what moved him to write me. Those issues are still what motivate me to sit down, pick up my guitar and write.

I obviously don’t know much about Bruce Springsteen, because I had no idea he was such a thoughtful reader. He’s a big fan, apparently, of Flannery O’Connor; his thoughts on her writing after the jump.

In that same interview with Will Percy, Bruce Springsteen said:

The really important reading that I did began in my late twenties, with authors like Flannery O’Connor. There was something in those stories of hers that I felt captured a certain part of the American character that I was interested in writing about. They were a big, big revelation. She got to the heart of some part of meanness that she never spelled out, because if she spelled it out you wouldn’t be getting it. It was always at the core of every one of her stories -- the way that she’d left that hole there, that hole that’s inside of everybody. There was some dark thing -- a component of spirituality -- that I sensed in her stories, and that set me off exploring characters of my own. She knew original sin -- knew how to give it the flesh of a story. She had talent and she had ideas, and the one served the other.

-- Carolyn Kellogg