Dead Letter Office
The Song

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 man, what’s up? I just had a strange experience that I thought you might appreciate/identify with. Check this one out....

You remember Tara, right? My three-year-plus girlfriend from college? I’m sure you recall that we broke up when she went to California for graduate school and I decided not to relocate to the West Coast. What I don’t think I told you was this part: A few months after she’s out there, she runs into this guy, Aaron, who we both went to Oberlin with, and coincidentally, used to date one of her housemates. Here’s where it gets weird. Turns out that the night I first decided to pursue Tara, the three of us were all shooting pool together at the ‘Sco. We all left at the same time and went our separate ways. Well, I guess I must have lived closer than Aaron did, because as soon as I got home, I called Tara to ask her out on a real date. After she accepted and hung up, the phone rang again. It was Aaron this time, asking her out as well. She turned him down, and then the two of us hooked up and started dating for the next three years. So anyway, that’s the guy she runs into in Los Angeles somewhere.

Well, I guess he never really got over it, because within two years, they were married. Something deep and bitter within my soul says that he did it just to show me up (he’s that kind of guy), but after thinking about it, I really feel shitty. I’m now fairly certain that I basically kept these two apart, and essentially wasted three-plus years of Tara’s life. Now, who knows if it would have worked out between the two of them any better than it worked out between the two of us, but I know I have never had such direct evidence of keeping two people apart who were clearly meant to be together.

So last week, Tara dropped me an e-mail, out of the blue. I hadn’t talked to her for a little over a year (since before I left AP), but she said she had been listening to some Internet radio station and heard some song that reminded her of me and felt compelled to get in touch. Turns out she’s now pregnant, which is a first for me—I mean, I’m sure some ex’s of mine have had kids, but none have actually bothered to email me about it, and certainly not one that I spent so much time with.

So given our history, the fucked-up cosmic nature of her story since, and the amount of time that had passed since I had last talked to her, what do you think the question was running through my mind as I read her email?

“Gee, I wonder what song it was that reminded her of me.”

And I wasn’t just thinking about it casually... I was thinking about it in the shower in the morning, at night while I was trying to fall asleep, while I was walking my dog, and especially when I was playing music (“Was that it? Maybe it was this one...”).

I mean, what is my problem? Why can’t I relate to anything on this planet in terms of anything besides music? Is that fucked up? Should I get into therapy? She’s not really a very “musical” person (she had decent taste, but really owned no music of her own to speak of—maybe 20 CDs or so, if that). Is this why we broke up in the first place? I feel like such a heel, after all of that shit I put her through, that the only thing I can think of is my own sphere of musical influence. Jesus, I am a bastard, eh? Just more proof that my music addiction has made my life a living hell (take a look at my basement next time you’re over if you don’t believe me), but it’s now officially affected the way I relate to other people. Fuck.

At first, I thought that maybe the song was something that I really loved, that she knew meant a lot to me. My first thought was Orange Juice’s “Falling And Laughing,” which I must have played at least once a week for a year, in three different versions (Postcard single version, Peel Session, and Polydor LP version) and probably ranted about like few other songs in my life. In fact, I distinctly remember giving her a fifteen-minute dissertation on the coda section, when the song speeds up, the band kicks into another gear and Edwyn starts raving about the pleasure and the pain. Then I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” Not only did she not like that song, but I doubt she’d be hearing it on Internet radio anytime soon. I similarly shot down any idea that any of my favorite indie tunes of my youth (Smiths, Prefab Sprout, Bunnymen, etc.) would have made enough of an impression on her as to have her think of me when it was played. This same argument applied to any classic Stones stuff, Miles Davis, or any other such stuff that she didn’t give two shits about. Next!

I then tried to think of what she liked that I also liked, and sadly, this list was rather short. I remember her liking Jon Spencer, but not to the point where she would have even remembered any of the songs. I remembered her liking the Pixies, but Christ, I didn’t even really like them that much, thanks to my run in with them at the radio station (more on that later, I’m sure). She would never have identified the indie stuff she liked with me, even though I’m fairly certain that would entail the Jesus Lizard and not much else.

I remembered that after we had broken up and I agreed to ride out to California with her (she had to take her car out there and didn’t want to drive from Cleveland to Los Angeles alone; I had already bought my return plane ticket and couldn’t get a refund), I somehow managed to forget the entire bag of tapes I had carefully selected in order to make the trip somehow more bearable, although in retrospect, I don’t think it would have helped—I think our first civil conversation took place somewhere in Kansas. I miraculously had a promo cassette of Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister with me (thank you, God) and so I played it for five straight days on the trip, probably roughly 6 times each day. Surely something like that would stick on your head? Then I remembered how, somewhere in Utah, I think, she mentioned how she “never wanted to hear that pussy-ass weenie sing anything again” for the rest of her life. So somehow, I don’t think it’s that either.

I remembered how Tara used to dig it when I would DJ at the ‘Sco, and how she had a few favorite songs of that era that were staples of my sets—stuff like Underworld’s “Rez,” maybe some Carl Craig/Paperclip People shit, early Plastikman/+8 material, that awesome Sabres Of Paradise mix of Espiritu’s “Conquistador” with those epic snare runs in it. Then it dawned on me that even if she had somehow remembered one of those tunes and associated it with me, that there was no way in hell she’d ever remember the name to even tell me. Keep in mind, this woman couldn’t have cared less about that insignificant shit—you know, like titles and artists—and I’m sure me trying to get it out of her would add a quick ten years and 400 gray hairs to my life. Not even worth considering for the frustration factor alone.

Dude, remind me why I was with this woman again? Well, at least I’m starting to remember why I didn’t think it was so bad that we broke up.

I could go on about this forever, but that might be a little too High Fidelity for me. I’ll talk to you later.

Your man in the Midwest,

P.S. Did I ever tell you that Tara told me she had sex with one of the guys from Don Caballero in a tree? Seriously.

By: Todd Hutlock
Published on: 2003-07-16
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