Rage against the machine

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life97 Comments

I recently dug out some old papers to share with a friend, regarding a mutual love of a particular recording artist who goes by the name of Peter Gabriel.

If you’ve been with me over the years, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a bit of a fan girl when it comes to all things PG.

I became a PG convert during his “So” album period. Oh sure, I was familiar with some of his earlier work, but at the time I was also very immersed in the musical stylings of Steve “Mom Jeans” Perry. PG in the early 80s was far too esoteric for this mainstream, arena rock-lovin’ girl.

But once to PG to you never go back, or so they say, and my fandemonium culminated in seeing him in concert in 1986 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. Long story short? The concert changed my life. Changed. My. Life.

As in, my life was changed, like, forever.

I liken it to a religious experience; a 3-day stay in a sweat lodge; a visit to the other side—you know, the place where little Carol Ann in Poltergeist went—and back.

In other words, it was a really good concert.

My story actually begins here, as the local music critic for the Dallas Times Herald deemed PG’s show as being “swallowed by” and too “subtle” for the venue and the times.


Imagine you’re 19, a bit high strung and you’ve just had a soul changing experience, one that has left you seeing the world anew and you find out that some douchebag critic calls your sweat lodge experience ‘flat.’

Oh, I was pissed. And an English major.

I let my pen right with might. I crafted a scathing tome of a letter, pouring my heart into each sentence, filling no less than four pages (typed and single spaced) with facts, figures and just the right amount of stinging sarcasm.

Then I sent it off to the paper.

Turns out, they could not deny me. (Okay, they denied me roughly 22 paragraphs, but they did include a choice few, as evidenced for all time here:)


I am still saddened that they left of the final sentence of the original letter, my coup de grace, if you will, where I wrote: “If anyone sheds a less than heavenly light on the avant-guardian angel Gabriel, there’d better be hell to pay.”

Advantage MacDonald!

I was so buoyed by defending my idol’s honor that I decided to make copies of the review, my original letter, my unedited letter (I’d be damned if PG wasn’t going to get to hear that line about the avant-guardian angel), and I’d send them off to Peter’s offices in Bath, England.

And while I was at it, I’d just happen to toss in a poem I wrote for him, inspired by this song.

(Remember, English major = Yes, I really AM that deep):


Little hands with big intentions indeed!

I can’t even begin to count the number of Benson & Hedges Deluxe Ultra Light Menthols that fueled the creation of that one.

So I sealed it all up with a kiss and sent it off.

Imagine my utter and complete freak out when, a few months later, I got a letter in the mail with a return postage mark that looked like this:


Okay, I realize you can’t make it out so I’ll help out: Bath, England.


Turns out, Peter’s assistant wrote me back. This is what she wrote:


I know this post is a bit of a ride down a particularly indulgent memory lane that may or may not be of interest to a single blog reader out there on the internet (except for Sarah and Chalkley), but at the end of my life, I’m going to know that Peter Gabriel’s assistant passed all of my papers over to him personally and he got to see how a brilliant young writer from Grapevine, Texas, defended his honor against the tyranny of the unenlightened, bourgeois American free press.

And like Bill Murray once said in Caddyshack, “So I got that goin’ for me…which is nice.”

And that, dear blog readers, is also part of the story entitled, “Why I became a graphic designer.”

Cathy ZielskeRage against the machine

97 Comments on “Rage against the machine”

  1. #1

    What a fab story! I wrote the Prime Minister once, his aide wrote back to me completely missing the point of my letter, I was then doubly incensed!!!

  2. #2
    Denise Laborde

    I skipped over the poem but I read and liked your post. Connecting w someone we admire is always cool and the memory of it never gets old. I’m interested in the part of how you became a graphic designer. If you’re ever inclined to write that post, I’ll read it.

  3. #4
    Jennifer Larson

    This is terrific. I cleaned out my closets this summer and enjoyed reading some of my past English major-in-preparation papers. Like the paper on Invisible Man, which I now teach! I may share this tripe with my students, if I’m brave enough!

  4. #6

    I remember falling in love with him when “So” was released my freshman year in college. Let’s just say that my roommate didn’t have exactly the same reaction. She still loves me though:)

    When I was reading your poem my eyes weren’t exactly focused (it’s early here and I’m stalling before my 5 mile run…cut me some slack!) and I thought the line about “little hands” actually read “little hands with big INTESTINES.” Uh yeah, I was having a little bit of trouble wrapping my mind around that! So glad I kept reading and you cleared that up for me:)

    Thanks for taking me along for your walk down memory lane. I know what I’ll be listening to today:)

  5. #7
    Bridget in Minnesota

    You had far better luck than I did with my attempt at fan mail!

    As our twentieth anniversary approached, I wrote a long letter to Bruce Springsteen about what a great guy my husband is and how Bruce’s music cemented the start of our dating days and how we consider “Racin’ In The Streets” to be “our song”.

    I was so certain that I had used just the right amount of tact and kudos. The result? Nothing.

    I ended up printing a copy of my letter for our anniversary gift. That would have to do for my fabulous husband.

  6. #10

    PG does inspire that kind of feeling, doesn’t he? I went to the SO concert (in LA) and, though I was already a committed fan, that concert blew my mind and cemented the adoring fan relationship for life.

    While you’re very brave for sharing a poem online, I am glad you became a graphic designer instead….

    Now I must go find the early PG cds and listen to Here Comes the Flood.

  7. #12
    Nancy M

    I hope you are going to tell us more of your story of “why you became a graphic designer”… so fun to read!

  8. #15

    I love this Cathy! Totally love it. And it reminds me of the time I wrote a poem for Lionel Richie when I thought the song “Hello” was some Godly inspired, out of this world, song. The poem was returned to me in the mail by Lionel’s assistant with a note that they do not hold on to poetry materials sent by fans. Something to do with copy rights, which at the time, did not make much sense. But, just the fact that my letter and short poem had been considered poetry material, and that someone took the time to reply, made my summer that year. That envelope sent to me, which I saved as well, was so cool.

  9. #16

    I’d like to double the request for hearing more of your “why I became a graphic designer” reflections. Even though I just completed university, uh, a year ago and therefore only count up to about 7 years of my life in the somewhat professional design field and/or studying something officially entitled “design”, I had one of these epiphany moments of why I am doing what I’m doing just a few weeks ago. And as an avid reader wanting to be one of those cool people with a real blog, I jumped at the opportunity and wrote up a snippet of my story, too: http://johannahoerrmann.tumblr.com/post/977027141/on-writing

    Even though I am definitely lacking in the visual documentation department showcasing awesome newspaper clippings. Kudos.

  10. #17
    Dorothy F

    I love people who do “something” rather than just sit and complain. I admire you so. Your attitude is always an inspiration to me.

  11. #18
    amy w

    Love it, Cathy! I’m also a PG fan, picking one of his songs for a high school skit to raise awareness for hunger and poverty (no one seemed to get it) and got to see him in college in the early 90s. It was fabulous, a truly life-affirming experience. When living in UT, I was helping paint a friends’ house. She was playing PG, and we were singin’ the praises, reveling in our quirkiness that no one else understood in southeast Utah!
    Yeah You! (That’s my compliment when someone does something that is just totally them.)
    When I was a freshmen at an all-girls high school, we had to write a letter to a famous person. The other girls chose rock band stars or those teen beat heart throbs, and I chose: Betty White. Weren’t they surprised when I got an autographed glossy! I sure was, and I still have it.

  12. #19
    Karen F

    Wow – I love this post!!! As a fellow English major, kudos to you for using your talent to support a fellow artist and songwriter.

    I am a huge Paul McCartney fan and have been since I was 10 years old. When I was about 13 I decided to knit Christmas bell ornaments for Paul and his family, sewing their names on each bell. I sent them off, never expecting a reply. A few months later I received a postcard from England with the cover of the latest Wings album on one side, and a very nice thank you note on the other. It was unsigned, but the handwriting looked a lot like Paul’s signature. I like to believe he wrote it :). Sadly, the postcard was lost in my parents’ move out of my childhood home, but at least I have the memory of receiving it. Memories like these remind me why I love to scrapbook!

    Thanks for your post, which sparked my trip down memory lane this morning!

  13. #20

    That’s just hilarious!
    Wish I’d be a youngster again to feel this way- pathetic and passionate ;-).
    Thank you Cathy, you made my day,

  14. #21

    oh, but he poem was the best part. ; ) SO kidding on that. THAT is why i became a designer. I just wasnt going to cut it as a writer!

  15. #26

    oh, i LOVE that. sigh. It totally matters, things like that. That is really cool!
    Sad that you no longer have it, but yep, you DID get it!

  16. #28

    I care too! I love Peter, and would have defended him passionately too. Thanks for being there for him! :^)

  17. #29

    You scathe quite well Cathy! Ah that young angst.

    I wrote to Groucho Marx as a child and sent him a photo of me and my dog. I got a postcard back saying, “Who’s the dog?” At least the staff writers, if they were writing, had a good sense of his style.

  18. #33

    This is very very cool. Makes me think about all the times I meant to write a letter, and didn’t. Thanks for sharing.

  19. #34

    Peter Gabriel! I got chills reading about the concert. Lucky you!

    Loved that you wrote to the ‘reviewer’ and told him how it really was. Loved it that PG actually read your words for him. How cool is THAT!!!

    You made me smile today. I needed that!

  20. #35
    Monika Wright

    The line from Caddyshack has me LOL right NOW! I adore Bill Murray and the old SNL days. I can seem him saying that line in my head and his delivery is perfections. Good stuff.

  21. #36

    One more reason why I check your blog first thing in the morning every day. Cathy my dear, you are a treasure for sure. My own personal passions were reserved for Simon and Garfunkle, but I never even had the nerve to write – I was sure it would make them laugh, and not in an encouraging way.

  22. #39

    Great story. I really do love reading your blog-it’s my favorite. I never know when I click on it what I’m going to read, but whatever it is, I enjoy the post. You may be sharing a personal struggle or scrapbooking ideas, or maybe you are just sharing a story that makes me laugh. Whatever the post is, I enjoy it. Thanks for today’s walk down memory lane.

  23. #40

    I also wrote a fan letter, when I was around 14, to Griffin Dunne, after seeing American Werewolf in London. I was IN LOVE with that actor. Never heard back.

  24. #43
    Cynthia Friese-Hassanein

    Oh!!!! I love Peter 🙂 This is one fabulous Story:) Heart the poem and go you on the editorial!!!!
    His voice almost makes me cry everytime:) Secret world live still gives me goose bumps after all these years. I remember my best friend and I driving around in her phoenix styled citation. Rewinding in cassette player constantly Digging in the dirt:) Thanks for the reminder:)

  25. #48
    Lynn Herrick

    I saw PG only once in concert. It was in Israel and it was crazy. The concert was supposed to be in Taba -an island in between Egypty in Israel, but then politics got in the way and the whole thing was going to be called off. So at the last minute, the Israelis set up a makeshift stage in Eilat – the southern most point in Israel. Believe it or not, they had everyone line up at a rope and then you had to run as fast as you could to grab a seat (which was a plastic white chair on the sand). Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time was a very good runner and he secured front row seats for us. The concert was unbelievable. It was quite the experience – one that you would have enjoyed immensely.

  26. #50

    I saw Elie Wiesel speak at King’s College in London, Ontario some years ago. Changed. My. Life. Naturally, I wrote a poem. It seemed only right to send it to him, since he ought to know how his presence Rocked. My. World. I felt a little foolish. He wrote back on Boston University letterhead, “your words mean much to me.” Shut. My. Mouth. I framed the letter.

  27. #52

    Ohh! This is awesome. I love that the assistant says your letter and “all its attachments.” That is just sooooo gooooood! My obsessed fangirl screams went to that other Peter (Peter Murphy) but only because I don’t think Peter G. ever visited my corner of the world. But your post reminded me that I did, once upon a time, write a poem around some Depeche Mode lyrics. Wonder if I could find it???

  28. #54
    Denise Rotell

    You are truly hilarious! I think ABC may have an opening next year in their 4:00 time slot…I’m just sayin!

  29. #55

    Cathy, your post brough up a long repressed memory. I was a PG fan as well as a die hard Duran Duran fan & even a Star Wars geek. Who did I write my one & only fan letter too? Davis Gaines. Who? Davis Gaines was the actor portraying The Phantom in LA’s production of
    “Phanton of the Opera.” I waxed poetic how his vocal stylings & heart-felt emotions were far superior to Michael Crawford’s bland portrayal. I was rewarded for my efforts by receiving an autographed 8×10 & an invitation to join the Davis Gaines fan club. Thanks for the memory jolt & now I have another entry for my MeTAV book. See you in class tomorrow!

  30. #57

    What’s NOT to love about Peter Gabriel’s music? One of my all-time favorite songs is “In Your Eyes”-but that’s the tip of the iceberg!

    Go, Your Earlier Self!

  31. #58

    Yeah – I can imagine you were GEEKING OUT about getting a letter like that! I know I would have been…

    BTW – I have GOT to discuss some David Sylvian with you…

  32. #60

    GET OUT! At nineteen, any letter from Bath, England (just like in Austen’s books!) would have made my life! And, I am so glad you became a graphic designer. Because I don’t care at all for poetry, and that would make for an incredibly difficult time reading your blog.

  33. #64
    Jane Toft

    Guess where I make magazines everyday? Yep, Bath, Avon (now abolished and catchily renamed Bath and North East Somerset) England! If I see Peter in Waitrose I’ll tell him about your post 😉

  34. #69

    As someone who has also dashed off a deeply-felt, impassioned letter to the editor (or two :P), I loved this post. And doubly fabulous for the subject matter – you go girl!! Don’t you just wonder in your heart whether PG really did see and read your letter/poem/etc.? Gads, it’d be so fun to know.

    But regardless, I’m just grinning at the whole description of your experience. I KNOW you have a scrapbook page about this right? Right…?!?

    P.S. You’ve got a fair thing going on with the writing business too, missy, so no fair completely dissing yourself on that front. PERHAPS not poetry (I’m just sayin’ :P) but writing? Yeah, you’ve got that down pretty well, I’m thinking. 😀

  35. #70

    You totally rock! I love a gal who stands up for what believes in. I love this post and I love you. Thanks for sharing.

  36. #72

    I do have a PG page. I have to dig that sucker out!

    And i do joke about my writing skills…. poetry wasnt my bag, baby
    : )

  37. #73

    I agree on Gabriel being way better than many of those other artists. He had wit, style, and talent. At least you can look back on this and smile because you did get your point across and they actually listened.

  38. #74

    LOL Ok, we’ll just let that one go. But you’re reminding me that I wrote some, ah, poetry back in high school that I should dig up. All I remember about it was it was LONG. 😀

  39. #75

    PG and his assistants are fabulous. I know I told you the story about my 5 year old daughter drawing him a picture of Wall-E and writing a letter thanking him for composing her favorite song, Down to Earth. His assistant wrote the sweetest letter to Zoë and PG sent her an autographed picture. He will always have a special place in my heart. 🙂

  40. #76
    Tanya I

    I always love the slow ones.

    A couple of months ago NCIS:LA used a song in an episode that was so beautiful that I had to type some of the lyrics into Google so I could identify the artist. As it turns out the song was “I Grieve” and it was a PG song!

    I loved reading your blog today Cathy.

  41. #77

    Hi Cathy
    Always a fan of PG, was therefore surprised at choice of elder daughter to read to my younger daughter at her wedding, PG’s lyrics from The Book of Love. It was a heartfelt moment and took me right back to my ‘fan’ years and to the present, a gloriously happy wedding day. Great choice, elder daughter!
    Yipee! Your MeTAV class begins today. I am sure it won’t be ‘long and boring’!

  42. #81
    amy j.

    I can relate Cathy…as I’m sure many more can.

    I wrote to Bono once upon a time and got a hand written response back from his assistant saying she’d give my letter to him. I nearly collapsed, lol. I showed it my children, who looked at me and said, “Who is Bono?” : )

    It is easy to see why you are a scrapbooker…you obviously knew what keepsakes to keep your entire life. I recently cleaned out my office and spent DAYS going through and putting away more than a dozen memory boxes for not only myself, but my also very sentimental husband and our growing up to be just like us two daughters. I think to myself alot about where to put all this stuff…but then when I get down a box and sort through the pile I ALWAYS am so thankful that I’m just that kind of person. When you hold the ticket stub from the Rick Springfield concert you went to in 1981…your first ever concert…it really brings back such fond memories and feelings.

  43. #83

    This is great! Wow, you are a true passionate fan. Thank you for sharing I was excited for you just reading the reply letter as though I was the recipient.

  44. #84

    I love, love, love this story. I love that you got a letter back. I was such a huge music person back in the day, as they say. I had every Peter Gabriel album and every Genisis album. (in fact they are still boxed with about 1000 others in the attic) I saw so many concerts in Milwaukee and Madison and was fortunate enough to sit on stage or back stage for a number of them. Wish I had taken pictures from those days. I remember riding with Styx in their limo in the 70’s. I would probably freak if my daughter did that these days. Thank you for sharing your passion.

  45. #85
    Amy Allen

    Oh Cathy, you just made my day. I was a huge Genesis fan growing up and was lucky to see PG live in 2002. Back in the 80s, my mom was on a business trip and saw him on a plane and got his autograph for me. Sigh…

  46. #89

    I love this post. There’s nothing like the intensity of 19. I still have my autographed-by-a-machine not-really-a-real-photograph of Alan Alda. I don’t have a copy of the letter I wrote though, but I’m sure it was very earnest. 🙂

  47. #91
    Mrs. L

    In the summer of ’76, some regular customers of mine at the restaurant where I worked started talking about this band called Genesis. They lent me the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album. A year or two later those same customers (who were now friends) took me to San Jose State to see PG’s first solo album tour. I became a huge fan of Peters and even ended up dating one of the customers who took me to the concert for eleven years!

    I do remember writing to the band Cream in the late 60’s (I have no idea why at ten I knew the band or even their music) and never getting a response. Don’t think I ever wrote to another band after that. I remember stalking the postman for months and was crushed I didn’t get a reply!

  48. #92

    I am embarrassed to admit I have been fighting the urge to write a serious fan letter to a certain person for the past 2 months. I feel like in my middle age I should be beyond such shenanigans. This would be to someone pretty well known but not super famous yet. I kinda feel like right now so and so might actually read it, since so and so doe not have an assistant yet. But hell I have no idea what I would say and also, I do not write poetry!

    I am not a huge PG fan, but I do like Salsbury Hill a lot.

    Anyway I know how ya feel — I remember when I got a thank you letter from the QUEEN’S lady in waiting after I sent a condolence card after Princess Diana’s death. An envelope! From Buckingham Palace! OMG OMG!

    I was just packing up some stuff last week and I found it in my file. It was great to read it again. LOL

  49. #94
    Martha M.

    Just saw Peter Murphy here in Austin, Texas for the second time in 6 months. He was, and still is, amazing! Puts on such a great show!! Love him!! Love PG, too!!!

  50. #95

    Sigh, one of my best friends just saw him last week in SF. He really wanted me to come out for it. But alas, flying funds were not to be had! Petes not hitting Minneapolis on this tour, which is unusual, because he usually does. Ill hopefully see him some day in concert!

  51. #96

    OMG, “So,” is the soundtrack of my adolescence…specificially, the summer I turned 17 in 1989…which is weird because I’m still only 25;) What girl then wouldn’t plotz if a boy stood outside her window with the boom box in his arms blasting “In Your Eyes,” a la “Say Anything”?
    I have never been much for fan letters…but I did send this scrapbook lady a picture of my daughters, nieces and nephews with fake mustaches on once, 😉

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