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.
So the other day, I was in a store buying some batteries for my Discman and from out of nowhere, the Style Council’s “Long Hot Summer” started playing over the store PA. Could have knocked me over with a feather, if not a strong breath.
I know I’ve got a lot of musicians that I admire, love and worship, but honestly, none of them even touches the impact that Paul Weller has had on my life. He is, simply put, my hero. And yes, I love his music (though I am not deluded into thinking he is beyond reproach—he’ll tell you himself that he has released some duds), but it honestly goes far beyond that.
See, by the time I discovered the Jam, it was 1983 and they had just broken up. I had somehow picked up an LP copy of their posthumous live album, Dig The New Breed, from the Amherst Public Library (and shhhhhhh! I still have it!) and something in my 11-year-old soul was hooked right then and there. By the time I found out a few weeks later that they had already broken up, I was heartbroken. But then, in that very same news story, the arrival of the Style Council was announced and suddenly things were looking up.
Now in retrospect, some of—in fact, quite a few—the Council’s records haven’t exactly stood the test of time. They sound painfully dated in spots, unduly pretentious and precious in others, and for God’s sake who ever allowed Weller to unleash those horrible British rap tunes on the world should be shot for crimes against humanity. But just as some of the music has gotten worse to my ears over the years, my admiration for Weller has grown by leaps and bounds.
The first few singles were a logical continuation of the soul-informed direction the Jam had been heading in, but by the time their first LP, Café Bleu came out, it was clear to anyone paying attention that this was something else entirely. The first side of the LP features Weller’s vocals on only two tracks, and both of those are stripped-down featuring only spare guitar or piano accompaniment. He doesn’t even appear anywhere on “The Paris Match” (which instead features Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl), and of the seven tracks on that side, four were instrumentals that could best be described as soulful and maybe even jazz. Can you say “U-turn”?
And it was all brilliant. The clothes he and Mick Talbot wore on the sleeve, the liner notes by the Cappuccino Kid, the moody photos, the great big hollow-body guitar sound that replaced Weller’s Rickenbacker snarl with aplomb—it all made total sense to me, and it was everything I wanted to be. To this day, I haven’t bought a pair of pants without thinking to myself, “Would Paul Weller wear these?” And yes, I am serious. In fact, I recently bought a fantastic rain jacket (that cost way too much, by the way) based on the fact that it looked just like the one that Weller wears in a bunch of those early Council promo pictures.
But beyond all that, the music and style, it was his bravery that impressed me. When Weller broke up the Jam, they were arguably the biggest band in the UK at the time, and showed no signs whatsoever of slowing down. But rather than have it turn into some cartoon parody of itself, or lose that special feeling it had given so many people, Weller turned the Jam on its own sword and decided he had to pursue something different, for himself just as much as for the kids. He threw away something that might have been really great because he wasn’t happy, and that takes monumental guts to do. He did what he had to in order to be happy with himself, and though he hurt some people in doing it and risked career suicide and all that, I still think he made the right choice. It made him my hero, someone to genuinely look up to and pattern my life on. This was the real deal, you know?
And sure, the Council had some rocky times and made some dodgy records, but damn if I don’t find myself humming their tunes all the time, much more so than Jam tunes or his solo records. And I’ve yet to hear “Going Underground” playing in the middle of Denny’s, but I sure as hell have heard “You’re The Best Thing” there while I ate my hash browns. Little things like that make my life complete, you know? Memories like that can’t be forced—they just happen and it’s magic when they do.
So I know I resist change sometimes, but when I do know things have got to be done, I just think of Paul Weller and the Style Council and suddenly my little concerns don’t mean as much and I have the strength to take control and do what I know has to be done to make myself happy, regardless of risk. I plan on living the rest of my life to this code as best I can, and should I ever meet Paul Weller, I already know that it will be all I can do to shake his hand and say a simple “Thank you for everything.” And I’ll really mean that.
Off to scour eBay for that all-over orange sleeve version of The Cost Of Loving on LP now. Sadly, I’m sure it can be had pretty cheap.
Your man in the Midwest,