ead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.
Man, I love records.
Not music—records. Vinyl is so perfect to me in every way. Oh I love music, too, but I think if I had grown up in the CD era (as it is, it started in earnest when I was already halfway through high school, and I had already been collecting vinyl for nearly a decade before that), I wouldn’t have nearly the love of music that I do today. The medium and the message will always be inexorably tied together in my heart and mind, hand in hand for all eternity. My first love... well, besides the lingerie pages in the Sears Catalog.
Anyway, on my annual trip to Chicago last December, I found this really cool book at the Virgin Megastore called 45 RPM by Spencer Drate. It’s a 7" × 7" book (just like the singles!) and mainly consists of full-page reproductions of 45s split into decades (1950s, 1960s, etc.) with each section featuring a short essay about the singles of that era. Perfect for someone like myself who just plain loves records—a basic visual history. Frankly, I bought the thing without giving it much thought—on flipping through it in Virgin, I saw a pic of my Holy Grail of 7” sleeves, the Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” single with that awesome David Bailey cover shot (and I immediately went on eBay looking for one when I got home, by the way, as I still don’t own the thing—I just refuse to buy a copy that isn’t in perfect mint and on original UK Decca!), and the Visa was out before I knew it. At the very least, I figured with my slightly askew, always-in-denial logic, this meant I would never have to search out picture sleeves for any of the records in this book. Why, it would practically save me money to buy this thing!
True to form, once I got back to Cleveland the book sat around on my coffee table for months before I made the decision to actually read the thing. Needless to say, in the interim, I walked by the book several hundred times and felt like a moron for having bought it. It dawned on me that I was actually in fear of reading it.
Fear, you say? Yes, fear that once I cracked the thing open, I would immediately want to buy almost every record pictured in the book. In an increasingly rare moment of self-awareness, I knew that the same impulse that made me buy this book in the first place would soon have me scouring the Internet in search of that Simon & Garfunkel “The Boxer/Baby Driver” pic sleeve, despite the fact that I already own both songs and both sides of the sleeve are reproduced at full size in the book. It was that desire to own the actual artifact that would get me, and I knew it. It always does, and I’ve pretty much given up trying to fight the impulse at this point. I mean, why stop now, when my house is already overrun by this stuff? What’s another record (or 50) in the grand scheme of things? Especially 45s—they hardly take up any space at all! (Well, not until you acquire a few hundred of them.) Normally, I can scarcely get through a music magazine, book, or Internet article without the urge to spend money on something. But, the 45 rpm single? I mean, sure, they’ve always been a pain in the ass to flip over, but the picture sleeves, the surprise of that non-LP b-side—it’s always been enough to see me through. I could almost feel the money draining from my account. Had my logic in buying the book backfired?
I was reminded of when I was a kid, like 8 or 9, and I used to walk over to my local K-Mart every week (sometimes several times—it was only a block or two away) to look at all the chart singles. They had a rack with 40 slots in it, one for each single in the Top 40 that week. Each slot was numbered and you could easily find every record in the hit parade. I didn’t really buy that many of them (although more than your average 8-year-old, to be sure), but I always used to love just looking at them, charting my favorite singles in my head as they moved up the slots and then fell back down again. I remember very clearly the pain I would feel when I really wanted to buy one and the slot would be empty—sold out!—or the picture sleeves were replaced by the generic label sleeves when the store had to re-order the popular sellers. This was probably my first record-geek experience in life, and the memories of it remain some of the sweetest. My bond with the 45 was set in stone.
All of this finally prompted me to take the book out onto my front porch on a sunny Saturday afternoon and sit down and actually read it from cover to cover. My first reaction was to the essays, which were chock-full of the sort of record geek info that I love. Like, for instance, did you know that when 45s first started to hit big, they actually built cars with turntables in the dash to play them? Dude, and you thought drivers talking on cell phones were bad...
But surprisingly enough, while some of the picture sleeves were amazingly cool, and I’m sure I’d pick them up if I saw them for a quarter at some garage sale or something, I was rather proud of myself that only a few times (maybe 10?) did I actually say to myself, “Wow, I’d really like to own that.” I was also rather surprised with myself. I know it’s kind of weak to consider it a personal triumph that I was actually able to read a music book (and one ostensibly about collectibles no less) and not go out and spend hundreds of dollars on useless artifacts afterward, but it really made me feel good. Maybe my wife’s fiscal responsibility is finally starting to rub off on me.
Your man in the Midwest,
PS This morning, I bid $20 on an original Rough Trade copy of The Smiths’ “Rank” on LP on eBay, despite the fact that I already own it on CD, as well as the original US LP on Sire. Why? Because it came with the poster that was only included in the first UK pressing. Fucking hopeless, I am. At least it wasn’t a 45.