Letters from history part II From Andy Warhol to “10 letters a day”
Sticky Fingers – or why Andy Warhol’s record sleeve scratched the Rolling Stones’ record.
While working on the legendary “Sticky Fingers” album, the Rolling Stones contacted Andy Warhol, then one of the most influential pop art artists in the world. They asked him to design the record sleeve. Warhol agreed and soon received a letter from bandleader Mick Jagger, with the instruction not to make the design overly complex, to avoid any problems in production. Warhol – always the artist – completely ignored Jagger’s instructions. The result was that he created an unforgettable cover that showcased the baggy jeans of actor Joe Dallesandro, one of Warhol’s favourite models – complete with a real zip fastener. And it was this zip that created numerous problems. The difficulties were not just in production, but stemmed above all from the fact that the zip scratched the record, much to the annoyance of many Rolling Stones fans.
Burn your laws and make new ones – how Frederick the Great and Voltaire enlightened the world.
Frederick II lived from 1712 to 1786. He is also known as Frederick the Great. In German, he was also nicknamed “Der Alte Fritz”, or “The Old Fritz”. The correspondence held between Frederick the Great and the French philosopher and author Voltaire (1694–1778) is amongst the most famous penfriendships of all time. For four decades, the pair wrote numerous letters to each other, in which they discussed philosophy and politics, ethics, history and literature, as well as their own works of poetry and personal matters. Both writers saw themselves as representatives of the Enlightenment, fighting against superstition and fanaticism: “If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones!” The correspondence was a major factor behind Frederick the Great becoming an enlightened ruler. He even described himself as the “foremost servant of the state”. He pushed through far-reaching societal reforms, abolished torture and forced the education system to be expanded. The letters are unique historical documents, both in their scope and in the range of topics they cover.
Ten Letters a Day – how a six-year-old boy changed Obama’s world a little – and perhaps the rest of the world as well.
Upon taking office, US President Barack Obama pledged to read ten letters each day. This made him the first president ever to make such a conscious effort to read letters from his fellow citizens. Each afternoon at around 5 p.m., a selection was sent to the Oval Office from what was known as the “reading room”. The “10LADs”, as they began to be called – from Ten Letters a Day – were passed around high-ranking White House staff until finally being placed at the back of the briefing folder that Obama took with him to his private quarters each night. He responded to some letters in his own handwriting, while marking others with instructions for his correspondence team, who then wrote replies. On some letters, he scribbled “KEEP” and would sometimes use words from them in one of his speeches.
One such letter was from a six-year-old boy called Alex, who offered a Syrian boy from Aleppo, Omar, a place in his family. Alex asked Obama to collect the boy from Syria and bring him “home”: “Dear Mr. President, do you remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him home? Park in the driveway or on the street and we’ll be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school I have a friend from Syria. I will introduce him to Omar and we can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. Since he won’t bring toys and doesn’t have toys, Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math.”
Obama touched on this letter during a speech to the United Nations. According to Obama, this was an example of a six-year-old boy who “teaches us a lot”. “The humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from, or how they look, or how they pray”, Obama said, “we can all learn from Alex.” While the letter might not have changed the world, it certainly touched it.