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.
Well, it’s that time of year again.
I expect to get my Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll ballot in the mail any day now (if they still want me to vote, that is) and the Stylus Top Albums of 2003 list will be due sometime in the next few weeks, as well. I have grown to really dread compiling these things, and I’m not sure how my list is even going to turn out (although something tells me that by the end of this missive, I’ll have a much better idea – that’s why I keep writing to you; it certainly isn’t because of any of your glowing insights!)
The funny thing is I used to love doing this type of shit before anyone cared what I thought (and again, I’m not sure that they really do now either). Maybe it was because something deep inside me (most likely my deep-seated vanity) wanted people to care and think I was worthy of being listened to, and making some list at the end of the year helped me legitimate that desire. I used to pester my pals to make lists of their own so I would have something to compare to mine (as I’m sure you recall, and I still do from time to time, in fact).
I think it all changed when I became a “professional” – that is, while working at AP. Here, it really did matter. There were thousands and thousands of kids who were going to read what I thought. And of course, after working there for a year, it became clear that I was hearing more music than I could even remember after a month—thanks to the enormous amount of promos that I got there—let alone after a year. But here I am, almost two years removed from AP, and I think I’m finally starting to adjust again. Maybe that’s why making the list this year is so hard. I still get promos, but nowhere near the volume I did while I was there. Sure, there’s something almost reassuring about having to spend money on my records again, almost like I have to prove that I really want them around (it makes me feel closer to them somehow, knowing that I chose them rather than the other way around. “Of course I love you, darling – I spent $22 on you and had you shipped over from the UK, didn’t I?”).
But it certainly doesn’t change the fact that I hate having to put things in a quantitative order, ranking from best to worst. My own personal all-time Top 10 is in alphabetical order because, frankly, if they’ve made it that high on my list, I can’t really differentiate them any further. It would drive me insane trying to figure out whether Get Happy!! means more to me than The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, or whether Forever Breathes The Lonely Word is really better than Bandwagonesque, and really, how am I keeping Screamadelica and Ocean Rain and Revolver off that list anyway? It’s a bit like trying to choose which one of your children is your favorite—there is no right or wrong choice. Is there?
When I ran into my old friend Jason—who I haven’t seen at all in a number of years, and haven’t spent any real quality time with in probably a decade—he started to tell me about his recent project of compiling his all-time top 100 albums, even quoting for me how many of said titles were gleaned from me and how many from Andy and how many from the pages of Rolling Stone, etc. And while I was very touched to have had such an impact on his musical life, and that he even remembered me as the original source of such things, I couldn’t help but think that I couldn’t do that with more than five or six items on my own top 100, and those would probably be things that were given to me by Dave when he cleared out all his LPs. I just have no idea. Then I started to think I should actually make my own top 100 (Jason requested it, actually). I’ll let you know when I whittle it down from the 143 I initially came up with. Fuck. I give myself a headache sometimes, you know?
And while arriving at 10 releases from just one year’s time has always been a little easier, I do tend to forget something, or wonder if I really like something as much now in December as I did when I first heard it in April or whenever (another thing I never can remember). But then again, outside of the number one album on my lists for the last three years, I couldn’t even begin to guess what else I put on them. And I’m sure this year will be no different. I think, as per usual, my number one is pretty clear cut already, but the other nine is where it is bound to get tricky. Wish me luck.
Your man in the Midwest,