Dead Letter Office
The Blackout

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, chief, what it is? Did you get that tape I sent you?

Hope you weren’t affected by the big power outage a couple of weeks ago like I was. Our power was out for almost 36 hours at my place. Even the people who live across the street from us had power five or six hours before we did. I guess it would have been tolerable if it weren’t so fucking hot. Our bedroom got up to 86 degrees at one point! Someone called a few days later and asked why we didn’t just turn a fan on, seeing as how the air conditioning was out. And yes, he was serious.

Anyway, as I lay awake at night, trying to sleep through the Sahara-esque heat (although, in fairness, the Sahara isn’t nearly as humid as Cleveland in August), I had time to think about all sorts of things. In those seemingly endless hours, many things passed through my head. But the resounding thought I kept coming back to was, “What am I going to do first when the power comes back on?”

High on my list was to turn the A/C up full blast, along with every fan I could find. A close second was to turn on the TV, as my only source of information for nearly two days had been the radio.

The surprise—well, in retrospect anyway—to me was that I didn’t really feel an overwhelming need to play music. Now granted, I got to listen to a few tunes in my car on the way to work, and I guess if I really wanted to, I could have gotten out the old battery powered Discman. But honestly, I didn’t miss it much, even in the maddening boredom and heat of my electricity-free home.

Interestingly enough, I actually found myself looking at lots of records during the blackout—well, when there was enough light anyway. I put my recently retrieved Smiths singles in chronological order (in between a minor collector’s crisis about where to file the LPs—at the end on their own, or between the singles as they actually came out? Christ, I feel like a loser even typing that.); marveled at the design of the Go-Feet label’s stock 12” sleeve; tried to identify the original Basic Channel singles just by their labels (no mean feat); and even felt the raised text on the New Order “Perfect Kiss” 12”. And really, for as pathetic as all of that sounds, it made me feel close to the music without actually playing it.

In fact, I felt even closer to it in some ways than if I had just played the music while I did something else. You’ve never really felt New Order until you’ve groped their record jackets, you know? Regardless, it kept me sane during the whole ordeal, so feel free to make fun of me all you want. But remember, I still have some incriminating evidence on you, as well. Do the words “Kenny Loggins” ring a bell?

Anyway, after successfully circumnavigating the whole power outage shit with as much aplomb as I could, I figured that nothing could really sever my bond with my tunes. Sadly, it turns out I was wrong.

This last weekend, the Mattster flew in for a visit and we piled in my car and drove down to visit our man Burns on Monday night. We figured the six-disc changer in my car would be perfect for playing the tunes bought earlier that weekend.

Turns out that no one told the CD player that, and it completely crapped out about 20 minutes into our trip. I know it made it 20 minutes, actually, because the one disc it made it all the way through was that new !!! single, and that’s about the length of it (two 9-minute plus tunes). Well, at least we made it out on a high note.

Once we set out on the road back, Matt and I were hoping that the return trip would see a miraculous recovery of the old Alpine and we would be tuneful once again. No such luck. Instead, as some sort of cosmic joke, about 10 minutes into this trip, my exhaust pipe fell out of the bottom of my car. After a fortunate trip to a service center where I paid $25 to have a guy strategically apply a coat hanger to the bottom of my car, we hit the road without a minute to spare (Matt had to catch a plane at 5:00 or so). Thank God he was there for conversation, because if not I might have just driven into a light tower and ended it all. Let me paint the picture for you: no music, no A/C (Matt was sure we would be breathing in horrible fumes if we used it because of the broken exhaust) in 90 degree heat, with the loudest car engine you could possibly imagine going 75 mph with no muffling on the exhaust. We wouldn’t have been able to hear music anyway, but I’m willing to bet that people driving next to us heard large chunks of our conversation, as we had to practically yell to hear each other anyway. Sucked. A lot.

In the aftermath of all of this, I’ve considered how ridiculous it sounds to say it, but I think given the choice between having no electricity for a day and a half, and having no CD player in my car, I’d be sitting in the dark every time. I think of it as my own personal desert island question (you know, of that old discussion, “If you were stranded on a desert island, would you want X or Y?”), and when you think of it in those terms, it doesn’t sound nearly as silly. If I were stranded on a desert island, would I rather have a car with no music in it, or a giant record collection that I couldn’t listen to? Well, unless that island happens to be big enough where I’d get some massive enjoyment out of driving around it in circles until my gas ran out, I’d take the records. At least I could have the tangible, tactile memories of the great music contained in the records. Having the concrete evidence of the music would keep the memories of the actual sound alive for me. Sure, it might be frustrating to see them without hearing them, but at least I’d have lots of reading material.

This weekend, I hope to get out and play some golf. I hope I don’t get stranded out there in a sand trap, but with my luck lately, you never know. I’m planning on sticking a copy of Blonde On Blonde and a Discman in my bag just in case.

Your man in the Midwest,

By: Todd Hutlock
Published on: 2003-09-03
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