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.
Hey man, how are you? Words can hardly express how happy I am that the fucking Yankees lost. I mean, I’m no Marlins fan, but watching the Yankees lose is the next best thing to winning it yourself, you know? God, I hate them.
Anyway, as you know, Elvis Costello has been one of my favorite artists since I was the tender age of 11. I have been a huge fan basically my entire adult life, and I pride myself on an intimate knowledge of his music. Especially his early period, which is of course where all the best records are. I’ve had those albums for years now, and I’ve played each one probably in the neighborhood of a thousand times. And yet, a few days back, I had a revelation about one of these songs, one of my most favorites, in fact. It turned out to be quite an upheaval.
“Clubland” has always been one of my favorite Costello songs. It leads off one of my favorite albums, Trust-- running a very close second to Get Happy--and the video has always made me smile as well. I’ve sung it in the shower, in the car, in my various bedrooms over the years, even along with Elvis himself (though he was standing on stage and I was on the other side of the Cuyahoga River at the time—but that’s another story). Probably in my personal Top 20 songs of all-time.
And as it turns out, I had the chorus wrong. I wasn’t even close, in fact. I think the only line I had right was, “in Clublaaaaannnnndd!” Fuck.
I bought that new 2CD Rhino reissue of Trust (of course), and as you might recall, they reprint all of the lyrics, most for the first time ever. So I had just finished reading Elvis’ new liner notes when I stumbled upon the lyrics. I usually like to check these out, especially for Costello, just to make sure some word I’d misheard over the years was what I thought it was (and for a guy with such intricate wordplay like Costello, I missed a few phrases over the years to be sure). But when I got to the chorus, I swear, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
The first thing I did was play the CD. Loud. Repeatedly. I was about to leave for work, so I took it out of the stereo and stuck it in the car changer so I could play it a few more times during the drive. On the first few plays, I just listened closely to confirm what the booklet had said. By the fourth play, however, I was belting it out at the top of my lungs. God, it was just so great! I mean, to know that I FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT! It was such a rush. It was like I had found a buried treasure, or solved the Riddle of the Sphinx or something. I was too happy to dwell on the fact that a solid 95% of the rest of the people who had ever heard the song had probably nailed it on the first try. I didn’t care—I could finally sing along to “Clubland” in its entirety. I was a satisfied man.
Well, I went into work that day walking on a cloud. But, sure enough, work dragged me right back down to Earth. In the doldrums of editing an absolutely intolerable article about massively overweight nursing home residents (yes, really), suddenly, it dawned on me that I was a moron. The rush was gone and in its place the sheer stupidity that comes with the knowledge that you’d been making a fool of yourself for years. How many people had heard me sing the wrong words and looked at me like I was an idiot? Well, at least a few—roommates, fellow concertgoers, even those lucky people driving next to me, as I was belting it out during rush hour. For fuck’s sake, I had helped my pal Pete Galub teach a college course (for credit even!) on Costello. And Pete later talked to Elvis in person and told him about it. So, really, I soured the names of higher education and the artist himself with my faulty knowledge (yes, I know, I’m a drama queen, but I was making a point). I suddenly went from feeling triumphant to despondent.
With a few hours and the end of work, I had gotten a bit less hard on myself though. Hell, I was enjoying the song all those times at least, right? How vain must I be for thinking that anyone would possibly care what I thought those words were? Only you probably, and even then just to heckle me about it. Surely this must happen to other people, right? Isn’t there even a line of comedy books of famous misheard lyrics? I think one of them is called ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy or something.
And of course all of this led me down the road to thinking that I was just a little too obsessed with things. Then I started getting really depressed. Then, I started to get a little scared. Then I started getting tired. Basically, I went through the entire life cycle of a music fan at super-speed in the course of about 12 hours. What the hell is wrong with me, that a song lyric can throw off my entire existence for a whole day?
If you figure it out, let me know. I’ll be in the basement, trying to figure out which of the first 100 Creation Records LPs I’m still missing.
Your man in the Midwest,