Dead Letter Office
The Normalizing



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.


Jimmy:

Hey my man, how have you been?

Things have been a little rocky here. Actually, more than a little rocky come to think of it. I honestly can’t think of a single aspect of my life that hasn’t been somewhat topsy-turvy in the last few weeks: work, sleep, love, you name it. Black is white and up is down. I can’t trace it to a specific event or anything, but things started getting weird and then like dominos, everything else tumbled down in a perfectly awful little row.

I’m not gonna get into the story of what has been going on, other than that I had found myself thinking, saying, and doing things that I had never ever done before, and that I honestly never even thought I was capable of. I am ashamed of much of it. It just isn’t me. I got to a point where I hardly even recognized myself. And finally, it got to be too much, and I realized that I had to basically sink or swim. First and foremost, before I could think about fixing things or long term plans, I had to get myself back to a place where I felt like me again. I had to get back to normal.

One of the first things I set about doing, naturally, was immersing myself in old familiar records, things that I strongly personally identified with. Prefab Sprout, the Kinks, Orange Juice, Felt, Teenage Fanclub, etc.—you know the list by now. And you know what?

It didn’t work. Not even a little. It was like these old friends only further served to show me how far away I still was from getting to feel comfortable in my old skin again. Far from being that rock of support that I was desperately seeking, they actually served to stunt my progress a bit.

Anyway, I thought that maybe I should try some new stuff instead, but nothing really interested me and I was far too distracted to really pay attention anyway. But what about some new old stuff?

I recently finally upgraded the last of my crappy old Dylan CDs to the new SACD hybrids—I had a bunch of them already, but for some reason I had never bothered to pick up Another Side Of Bob Dylan... until last week that is.

Dylan had never particularly struck me as “uplifting” music. In fact, much of it is sort of dark and mysterious, and even depressing, rooted in the blues as it is. And yet, something about it really clicked in my head.

And so, I of course set about something that finally started making me feel normal again—you know, useless overanalysis of music and what it says to me and means to my life. Just the very process of using Dylan to get myself back to normal was making me feel normal again! What a fantastically happy accident!

Anyway, I think Bobby D. worked for me on a few levels, and these multiple levels were actually key as I was in this sensitive transition phase. Another Side is a solo affair, and the simple, unadorned tunes meant that I didn’t have to concentrate too hard on complicated arrangements or admire a particularly challenging bass part or hidden guitar line that I’d never noticed. It was basic, easy to focus on—nothing to further confuse my head.

That’s just the music though, as the lyrics are poetry on every level. Some are abstract, some are simple stories, most are an uncanny hybrid of both. And as such, I could listen at whatever level I wanted to—the words could simply wash over me in layers and waves, if that was how I was feeling in that particular moment, with my brain picking out a clever couplet or funny slanted rhyme here and there, but nothing much further. After all, for the most part, none of these things applied to me or reminded me of my own situation. And if it did, I could simply lose myself in the wordplay and move on to the next track. Key point there.

After playing Another Side a few times in a row, I moved on to Bringing It All Back Home, which I found even more affecting. And then Highway 61 Revisited and on through the catalog to Nashville Skyline. And as the music became more complicated and the lyrics deeper and more in need of my attention, my mood slowly came back to normal. I felt that sense of wonder when I really make a connection with an artist. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved Dylan—I just never felt him this personally before. I think now, after all these years, I finally get what all the hype was about. And it had been far, far too long since I’ve made that connection with anything.

Now I was starting to feel like myself again—that excitement about life, about the infinite, wonderful possibilities of the world around me as opposed to the fears of what might happen if things don’t break just the right way for me. Take the pressure off of yourself and just spread your eyes wide to the experiences and joy that are out there. Stop sweating the things that you have no control whatsoever about and just deal with it as it comes the best way you can.

Welcome to my life at last, healthy perspective! Have you met Mr. Zimmerman?

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And hey, what do you think about Planet Waves anyway?

Your man in the Midwest,
Hutlock


By: Todd Hutlock
Published on: 2005-05-17
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