Before I was a Coyote, before I was Kooky, before I even knew what a Lindsey Buckingham was, I found the Beach Boys.
In grade 5, we were told to pick either the Beatles or the Beach Boys and do a project on their history and songs. (I don’t know why those were the only choices…my teacher that year was brand new and a little strange, maybe she was a fan of both?) I knew more Beach Boys songs because my dad was (and is) a big fan, and I thought the Beatles were more famous and everyone else would pick them (I was right), so I chose the Beach Boys.
That was a randomly fateful decision; they were my first fandom, my first concert, and they and their music inadvertently led to just about everything about my life now.
I pored over books about them, bought all their albums, learned every word to their songs and learned to sing so that I could belt out their songs every day.
And at some point when I was 13 or so, I decided I wanted to write to Brian Wilson. I thought I could do this by sending a letter to the Warner Brothers Canada address on the insert of one of the many cassettes I listened to constantly. Brian Wilson, c/o Warner Brothers Canada, Scarborough ON.
My goodness, simpler times, no? I think I found the Beach Boys Fan Club info in a CD cover, too, because it was definitely pre-internet. Sigh, take me back…
Anyway, 13 year old me couldn’t understand everything Brian Wilson had been through yet, but I understood enough to respect the hell out of him. I loved his music and was inspired by the man himself. I wanted with all my heart to meet him someday, but in the meantime, I needed to tell him what his music meant to me. And I wanted to ask him some questions, see if he’d respond. I’d heard (probably on some sitcom or something) that sometimes, stars would send you an autograph or a photo if you wrote them. I wanted all of that, too. But mainly I wanted to tell him his music saved me, and I wanted to thank him.
I didn’t fit in at my elementary school.
…She said, in the understatement of the century.
I only had a couple friends, and neither were in my grade. I was horrendously bullied. I began suffering from depression somewhere around grade 6 or 7, and I didn’t have much to escape the stresses of my world.
What I did have, was the Beach Boys; Brian’s music.
So I wrote my letter, sometime either in late 1995 or early 1996. For awhile, I obsessively checked the mail. But nothing ever came.
I was so sure he’d write back. So sure! That’s what happens on TV after all! I mean…doesn’t something similar happen to DJ on Full House? (It probably helped to be related to Uncle Jesse.)
I’m sure my parents tried to tell me it was a long shot. And over time, I just figured either the letter never made it, or it just wasn’t picked to be read or responded to.
Sometime in early 1996, it was announced that the Beach Boys would be playing at Kingswood Music Theatre that summer on July 30, and I made it my mission to go. That’s a story for another time, but I was absolutely over the moon when I saved up allowance money and bought 11th row centre tickets for my dad and I.
I often get overly single-minded about my fandom stuff. (It’s something positive to focus on, especially when reality gets hard.) I was so excited—I puff-painted a t-shirt, bought 60’s-ish patches to put on a pair of cutoff shorts, but also picked out the perfect heeled sandals to bump up my short stature and make the outfit fashion. (LOL.)
I wouldn’t say I forgot about the letter. But I had bigger things on my mind, and soon after school let out for summer and I was home every day to get the mail, I was no longer running to the door every time envelopes popped through the mail slot, anticipating my hero to become my brand new pen pal.
This is definitely TMI, but I’ve always had a nervous stomach. And as excited as I was about my show, I was definitely nervous.
Monday, July 29, 1996, I was home alone. It was the day before my show. And it was mostly spent in the washroom.
The butterflies in my stomach were having a freaking rave, anticipating the next day’s concert, and I couldn’t do a whole heck of a lot but go to the bathroom and go back to bed to lie down. Glamourous fangirl life!
I was in the washroom again when I heard the mail drop through the slot, down the hall in our small apartment.
My heart jumped inexplicably into my throat. My letter from Brian Wilson came!, I thought.
No reason for this. Not even a little bit. But for all the world I would’ve bet my precious 11th row centre tickets that my letter was lying there waiting for me.
Slowly, I gathered the nerve (and the strength) to go check. It’s not there, I told myself. It’s not there.
Oh, but it is, some inner psychic witch answered.
I opened the door of the bathroom as though I was a character in a movie, marching towards their fate. (I was a dramatic child.) I walked down the hall, which suddenly seemed three times its normal length.
Before I even reached the door I saw it. A big white envelope. Certainly didn’t resemble one of my parents’ bills, or a letter or a card…
Shaking, I picked it up. It was addressed to me.
The return address was in California.
It. Was. The. Letter!!!
I got through. I told my hero how much he and his music meant to me. And he knew. He knew!!!
Inside the big white envelope was a letter, and…a photo.
In black sharpie. In Brian’s distinctive writing, and noticeably shiny—not a print or anything—was…my name. My name! Brian knew my name! (At least long enough to write it!)
I don’t have much memory of the freakout that ensued. I read the letter, which was written by an assistant but personalized and actually answered my questions, over and over. I stared at the picture—with my NAME! on it!!! I probably called my parents at work and interrupted their days with my absolutely earth shattering news!
I still have the letter; I should find it and read it again, I’ve long since forgotten what it says. The photo has been through the wars now, moved with me several thousand miles and back and fell down 5 flights of stairs during a disaster of a move. It was still in its original frame, which shattered, causing the white scrapes all over it.
It’s now reframed and displayed on my wall in my little work from home office. In fact, that’s what inspired me to write about it—it’s right beside my desk, and makes me smile every time I glance its way.
It occurred to me the other day that it was my first shot in the dark, my first attempt at living the fangirl life of my dreams. And it worked.
In this pandemic world where the fans at sports games are cardboard and the audience at a concert is a bunch of screen names, I feel lost. I’ve tried to focus on what I’ve done, instead of hoping to do even more. Most of the time I fail. It feels like I haven’t done enough.
For some reason, I’ve always wanted to make sure I tell the artists I admire that they’ve made an impact on me, and—Lord, I know how conceited this sounds—try to also make an impact on them. I always want to meet my favourite artists, speak to them. For some reason, it’s never been enough to simply enjoy the music when it comes to my faves.
And suddenly, the other day, Brian and his cheery “Hi Bree—“ message hit home all over again.
That wall, my whole office is practically a shrine to my fangirling, full of meet and greet photos and other things (complete with Lindsey Buckingham’s sweat towel in a shadow box!). But Brian started it all. That picture is a striking reminder, 25 years on, that I did what I set out to do when I was 13.
I haven’t a clue how I’ve been so lucky. And I’m endlessly grateful for everything I’ve been given.
And I feel a little less lost, thinking of it that way. I did what I set out to do, and then some. I fangirled, Kooky’d, and Coyoted my way through 25 years. I told all of my musical heroes how much they meant to me, and did my best to make them smile for a second in return. Nothing can take that away from me.
It was all worth it. It made me who I am in every possible way. And that is enough.