Super Bowl Springsteen Addendum: Walker Percy’s “Fan Letter–of Sorts”


The Utne Reader unearths a fan letter from the novelist Walker Percy, agonized Catholic and literary giant, to Bruce Springsteen, somewhat-lapsed Catholic and the best we have to offer:

    Feb 23, 1989

Dear Mr. Springsteen–

This is a fan letter–of sorts. I’ve always been an admirer of yours, for your musicianship, and for being one of the few sane guys in your field.

The immediate occasion is that my favorite nephew, Will Percy, has even a higher opinion of you. He is a level-headed perceptive young lawyer and generally knows what he is talking about.

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.

    That–and your admiration for Flannery O’Connor. She was a dear friend of mine, though she was a much more heroic Catholic than I. The whole time I knew her, she was dying of Lupus Erythematosus, a fatal and extremely unpleasant disease. A prime example of her faith: she was participating in a seminar with some modish ex-Catholics like Mary McCarthy. Mary, thinking to be generous toward the church, said something like: “Well, it is true, some of the Catholic rituals, like the Eucharist, are good symbols.” To which Flannery, who hadn’t said a word, responded with a single sentence: “I say that if it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.” You will recognize Flannery’s tone.

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.

Unfortunately, I have cancer and am taking radiation for it. I am far from well and am not able yet to receive visitors.

Since I don’t know your address I am handing this to Will who says he knows where to send it.

All my best wishes for your superb career.


Walker Percy

The sort of goodwill conservatism exhibited here–“one of the few sane guys in your field”; calling Springsteen’s music “post-modern”–is typical of Percy, the ultimate gentleman of 20th century letters. It took Springsteen eight years to respond, and by that time, Percy was long dead. However, the Boss’s letter to Percy’s widow is preserved:

    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. Today, I would have had a lot to put in that letter….

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