Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Mail: Letters to Cleo

Letters to Cleo: Here and Now 

[purchase Aurora Glory Alice

This theme was inspired by the attempt by the Trump administration to damage the United States Postal Service, apparently to make voting by mail more difficult, or subject to challenge, or both. 

Despite that, I’m not going to write about a song that discusses the mail, or letters, or mail carriers. Instead, let’s discuss the band Letters to Cleo, making this my second consecutive post about a Boston area band. 

Formed in 1990, the lineup coalesced around 1994, and the band’s name came from a box of letters that singer Kay Hanley had sent to a childhood pen pal that were returned, and which she discovered when the band was trying to pick a name. 

Their first album, Aurora Gory Alice, spawned a single, “Here and Now,” that was a Billboard Modern Rock hit, was popular on college radio, and was on the Melrose Place soundtrack. It’s a great alternative pop/rock song and is probably the one Letters to Cleo song that anyone who could name a Letters to Cleo song could name. 

After that, the band released a couple of albums with decreasing success, had some songs on soundtracks (including covers of “I Want You to Want Me,” and “Cruel to be Kind,” from 10 Things I Hate About You), had some personnel turnover, and broke up in 2000. The members went off to solo careers, or formed or joined other bands. Singer Hanley also provided vocals for the Josie & The Pussycats movie. There were some brief reunions in 2007 and 2009, and that would have been that. Letters to Cleo would be one of those bands that some people fondly remembered, and “Here and Now” would show up occasionally on radio or streaming stations that play 90s alt-rock. 

Except that’s not what happened. 

In 2011, Michael Schur, one of the creators of the great TV show, Parks & Recreation, saw Hanley at a charity music event in Boston. He was a fan of Letters to Cleo, and decided to put one of the characters, Ben Wyatt, played by Adam Scott, in a t-shirt with the image of the Aurora Gory Alice album on it. He got approval from the dormant band’s management to create the shirt, which had never before existed. In anticipation, the band printed up a few hundred shirts and posted it on their website. 

After the episode aired in 2012, Letters to Cleo trended on Twitter, and the t-shirts started to move. And in 2014, when the show created a “Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert,” they called in a bunch of real stars to appear, including Ginuwine, Jeff Tweedy (as the frontman of the reunited band Land Ho!), The Decemberists, and Yo La Tengo, who dressed up as Indiana University coach Bobby Knight and performed Night Ranger's "Sister Christian,” as Bobby Knight Ranger. And Letters to Cleo. 

I couldn’t find their performance (and actually don’t specifically recall if they showed them perform on the show), but you can see some of the members in this video.

After that, they put out some new music and a holiday EP, and did some shows before live shows ended earlier this year. So, are they back? I wouldn’t bet against it.

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