Write Back Atcha: John Moe’s Hilarious Pop-Song Correspondences

First, a vulnerable share. I’m so jealous of John Moe. Okay, it felt good to share that.

The reason I am filled with professional jealousy is that Mr. Moe came upon a great idea before I did. And not only that, he does it so well that there’s no way I could just wade into his field and expect to be anything less than a rank imitator. They say it’s good to flag these emotions, rather than give into them, and move on. So here’s my flag.

Since the early part of the decade, John Moe has been the author of Pop-Song Correspondences, reply letters to popular songs, which appear on the McSweeney’s Internet Tendency website (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/popsong/).

Up until I read the works of John Moe, I considered myself one clever bastard indeed. But I am a pretender. John Moe is the man.

Currently the host of American Public Media’s Future Tense, he has hosted other radio programs like Weekend America and a tech biz show, The Works, for Seattle NPR station KUOW. Digging into his bio, I have discovered that he is also the author of the 2006 book, Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky, where Moe (a liberal) tries to understand the right via meetings with political pundits and history scholars. He also writes a blog called Monkey Disaster, which he describes as “Pop culture and some news put through a filter of optimistic cynicism. Also, lots of vanity. And seemingly a great deal about children. More than some might expect.” Sounds like fun. Wikipedia tells me that, during the previous decade, Moe “fronted the band Free Range Chickens who, after a 5 year hiatus, re-emerged as Chicken Starship.” Do tell.

But the thing that makes me worship this man is the simple idea of writing literate and witty replies to songs which we’ve all heard and have long since repeated their lyrics into meaninglessness. Moe, by addressing these lyrics in frank, often reactionary missives, makes us look at the words again at face value. And in so doing, makes them “art” again, the way Andy Warhol, Douglas Coupland or Banksy might do with visual images.

Take George Thorogood’s “Bad To The Bone”,

John Moe did, in “A Memo From the Head Nurse Regarding Proper Care of Patients Born Bad to the Bone (6/25/09)”

To: All medical staff

A recent incident in one of our delivery rooms has raised questions not just of hospital procedure but of medical ethics. On February 24th, 1950, a baby boy was born to a Mr. and Mrs. Thorogood of Wilmington, Delaware. Several nurses assisted in the birth and as Head Nurse, I was on duty as well. After the boy had been cleaned and his vitals were checked, I noted that the nurses formed a tight circle around the baby and stared at him in a manner I could only describe as slack-jawed and doe-eyed. Recognizing this behavior, I took immediate action and ordered the newborn to be left alone. I could tell right away that he was born with a genetically anomalous condition commonly known in medical journals as Bad To The Bone. I acted in order to protect the safety of the nursing staff.

Bad To The Bone (BTTB) is an extraordinarily rare condition and the nurses were understandably shocked to hear that a newborn with it should be denied care. I assure you it is the best course of action. Sadly, Nurse Mosconi was unable to keep away from the baby and within seconds her heart was broken. And I don’t mean that in the emotional sense, she literally suffered a ruptured ventricle and had to be taken to intensive care (she’s recovering but will be working in geriatrics upon her return). Sadly, her heart will surely not be the first to be broken by the baby, who I believe is to be named George.

And that’s just the first two paragraphs.
How about Prince’s “When Doves Cry”?

Now read Moe’s answer: A Letter to Prince Regarding the Crying of Doves and the Fiasco That Resulted From the Presentation of a Speech on That Topic (4/30/08)

Dear Mr. Prince,

It’s been three days since you delivered your keynote address, “When Doves Cry,” to our organization, the American Ornithological Society. As president of the AOS, I wanted to wait a little while before contacting you to express my displeasure with what took place. Frankly, it took three days for my bewilderment and fear to begin to ebb. As you know, we paid you a hefty honorarium to deliver what we thought would be a scholarly presentation. We want our money back.

Despite the provocative title of the speech you proposed, we are not in the habit of hiring speakers who are not ornithologists. But frankly, Mr. Prince, your androgynous, highly charged sexuality hypnotized us. We went crazy; you were a star; we wanted you to take us with you. Also, as you know, we were all quite fond of your father, Tubold. Knowing how rigorous Tubold’s academic standards were, we thought his son would be just as thorough and insightful. But you are not like your father, Tubold….” (and continues like that)

Nothing is sacred, not even the exalted Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Moe offers “A Letter to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band From Sgt. Pepper” (8/31/06)


I can scarcely believe that it was more than 20 years ago that I first met a quartet of brash military recruits and, sensing that perhaps the “by the book” life of drills and forced marches would not suit their needs, I took those lads under my wing and taught them how to play musical instruments. You must realize that all other military officers held little hope for you. I, however, believed in you. This has always been my province: siphon off a small group of lads out of each class and turn them into a popular music combo. Many have been astonished to learn such an option exists within the British military, but it does. It was established by a young Queen Elizabeth II on a drunken afternoon. Nonetheless, it was and is legal…

…When I confided to you, Billy, all those years ago, after the band’s first practice, that my life was a lonely one, I thought it was a confidential conversation. You instantly got up and ran out of the room to fill the other lads in on my loneliness, and the four of you immediately decided to incorporate this information into the name of your band. Not wanting to squelch your nascent creativity, I consented (or, rather, stopped shouting “Please, God, no!” after 20 minutes, during which time you four chanted the name with the fervor of football hooligans)…

….Well, maybe they’re a flash in the pan, I thought. Lots of bands go out of style, after all. And you did. But then you would come back in style. You’d go out again, I’d breathe a sigh of relief, and then—pop!—back in. This has gone on for 20 years….

…I am writing to request a refund of the money I spent on the last album. You had offered a guarantee that the music would “raise a smile.” It did not. Please remit cost of album at your earliest convenience. Thank you and best of luck in all your endeavors, you miserable bastards.

Sgt. Pepper

When Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time” back in 1972, I  wonder if they had ever thought they’d hear back from one James C. Fletcher of NASA (a/k/a John Moe).

Dear Mr. John,

This letter is to inform you of your termination from the NASA astronaut program… we had hoped that after all the hundreds of hours of training you received, you would understand the measures in place to prepare a crew for a launch. So when you showed up, preflight, with a bag packed by your wife, that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way… Mr. John. I don’t know if that’s the way it’s done in the rocky-roll world that you’re used to, but at NASA we don’t pack our own luggage.

You should also know that many on the ground crew mentioned that at zero hour (9 a.m.) you seemed to be intoxicated, possibly “high,” as the hippies say… you moped about missing the Earth and missing your wife and being lonely in space. Well, goddamn it, Mr. John, you knew what you were getting yourself into up there! It’s not like riding on a rocky-roll tour bus!

…We expect a great deal from our astronauts, but perhaps the most important part of the job is an understanding of science… after demanding data from you for days, you were only able to offer this insight: “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell. And there’s no one there to raise them if you did.” First off, if you did what? That doesn’t even make sense. … and another thing, the word is “astronaut.” When you run around Cape Canaveral saying “I’m a rocket man!” it’s embarrassing for everyone.
….Mr. John, and we realize that it’s going to be a long, long time until touchdown brings you back here. But NASA felt that your performance was so dismal that we must act immediately. You are simply not the man we thought you were when we hired you for this position. Please consider all future assignments canceled. Your place will be taken by Major Tom, who we expect will be a more dedicated and reliable member of the team.


James C. Fletcher

NASA Administrator

I am only giving you highlights here, the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and I urge you to head over to Pop-Song Correspondences where you can read…

An Invitation to Joni Mitchell to Sing at the Opening of the Tree Museum (10/17/07)

A Note Placed in the Pay Envelope of Billy “the Piano Man” Joel (5/16/07)

And all Moe’s other hits including:

Regarding Pete Seeger’s Requests for a Hammer and His Descriptions of What He Would Do If He Had One (4/3/07)

To: Peter Criss; From: Beth (12/15/06)

Notes on “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” as Delivered to Axl Rose by His Editor (7/11/06)

Concerning Jon Bon Jovi, Wanted Dead or Alive  (4/6/06)

A Retort to Carly Simon Regarding Her Charges of Vanity (2/13/06)

A Letter From “The Power” to Public Enemy(9/2/05)

Attention, Mr. Axl Rose: We Did Not Feel Welcome in the Jungle (6/8/05)

Marvin Gaye Explains What He Heard Through the Grapevine (3/28/05)

A Memo Distributed Among the “Project Loverboy” Staff, Regarding “Turn Me Loose” (2/16/05)

A Letter Between Siblings Who Lived in the House Described in “Our House” by Madness (2/3/05)

A Letter to Elvis Presley From His Hound Dog (8/30/04)

A Memo to the Sultans of Swing, From Their Booking Agent (7/20/04)

Letters to Fogerty (6/23/04)


James Taylor Issues an Update on “The Friendship Promise” (6/10/04)


DON’T FORGET TO WRITE TO ME.  Send Questions, Reactions, Comments, Hilarious Letters To The Editor (Me) can be sent to the COMMENTS section below. Thanks for reading The Pulmyears Music Blog.

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