Dead Letter Office
The Grieving

dead 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.

Hey Jimmy--

Been a while, my man. Hope you got that package I sent and that everything fits the baby. If not, I guess you can be fairly certain that she will eventually grow into things. It is the one guarantee of parenthood.

Anyway, as I’m sure you have heard by now, Stylus is shutting down this week. I’m still kind of bummed out about it, obviously, but I’m happy that Todd Burns can finally get some sleep at night. But it took me a while to come around to this: I basically went through the infamous Seven Steps of Grief. It may seem a bit extreme to go through all that for a Web site, and one that didn’t even pay us all these years to boot, but there was such an emotional, physical, even a spiritual connection to Stylus, to the staff, to the “readership”—whoever the fuck they are. I still have no idea and am always surprised when someone tells me they read something of mine there, or an old friend looks me up through a column or whatever (that’s how Mel found me again, and we’re engaged now!) I mean, I love Stylus, but I probably wouldn’t read it if I didn’t work here. Shit, I don’t read any other sites now, so I guess that says more about me than it does about the site.

But really, I looked them up, and I went through all seven stages.

Shock and Disbelief: When Burns called me a couple of months back, after I got over my initial confusion over “Todd who? This is Todd!” moment and quickly remembered his voice, I definitely had to take a moment and just sit there and take it all in. Wow, no shit. Stylus is over. I couldn’t argue. Burns had done SO much work for SO long on his own, and this was his baby, 100 percent. Still, wow. Wow.

I’d say that within 15 minutes I had already hit Denial. “Well, Burns is just burnt out. He’ll take a vacation or a weekend off, we’ll all offer to pitch in, and things will work better than they ever did.”

But Burns was serious (and again, I can hardly blame him), and so I quickly moved into Anger, aided and abetted by a few other writers and editors who shall remain nameless. The line that kept sticking with me: “When a corporation CEO steps down, the corporation doesn’t shut down. They get a new CEO and keep making widgets.” But again, this wasn’t a corporation—this was a dictatorship, more or less. Not in a bad way, but what Burns says goes and none of us ever had any problem with that. It would hardly be fair to hold that against him now. After all, each and every one of us entered this deal willingly, right?

This led to the Bargaining stage, wherein myself and a handful of other senior staffers tried to hatch a plan to watch a new site post-Stylus, with roughly 90 percent of the writers and editors still on board. We soon realized that even among three (or five or whatever) of us, we didn’t have the time or skill sets to keep this up. The market is far different now than when Stylus started, and coming from scratch, even with all the talent at our disposal, just wouldn’t work now. Not without a shitload of seed money and a lot of time to learn programming and sell ads. Naw, we gave it the old college try and decided that it was for the best if we let it lie.

Since then, I’ve been vacillating between Guilt and Depression. There were lots of “Woe is me, I should just quit writing now” and “This is a young man’s game that has passed me by” moments. There were lots of “If only I was more forceful in making Burns take my help!” moments. There were many, many, MANY moments of “Goddamn it, how many deadlines did I miss?” and “How many reviews/columns/articles did I just flake out on all together that I would love to write now?”

And so, eventually, to Acceptance and a farewell to Stylus. I’m hoping we can give her a proper Viking funeral, all rage and swinging steins and a burning funeral pyre. A great number of the staff are getting together in NYC next weekend and I’m really sorry that I can’t be there (I’ll be in Dallas on business), but I’m sort of glad I don’t have to pretend to keep up drinking with them and I’m really glad I don’t have to hear all the “old man” jokes in person. I feel great about what we’ve left the world though, I really do, and I’m sorry I won’t be there to send it off with style. Burns is some kind of fucking genius, even if he’s too modest to admit it. I’m really gonna miss his slightly robotic sense of humor.

In the meantime, I’m already looking for new outlets (we’re keeping Beatz By The Pound going! ), although it will never be the same. The Stylus model was always better for the writers than it was for the readers, and that’s REALLY saying something given how great some of the writing was. But I’ll be damned if there will ever be another place that is just gonna let me write however much I want on whatever the hell I want to write about, as long as its about some music of interest to someone out there. We broke the mold, my friend, and no one else is crazy and/or stupid enough to try to glue it back together.

Shit, I’m getting all misty. I’d better split before I embarrass myself further.

It’s been a genuine pleasure...

Your Man in the Midwest,

By: Todd Hutlock
Published on: 2007-10-29
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