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.
Earlier today, I stubbed my toe something fierce in my basement. As I was yelping in pain and writhing on the floor, I looked down to find the culprit.
It was my DJ coffin.
Appropriate enough that it is called that, I’d say, as all of my DJing days now seem to be firmly dead and buried. I don’t think I’ve even plugged in my rig in at least two years. In fact, I have the turntables on different floors of my house at the moment.
Lately, some well-meaning friends and acquaintances have been asking me why I don’t play anymore, and I suppose it is a number of things, really.
For one, I think I was just too burned out on playing. At my peak a few years back, I used to work a 40-hour work week at the bookstore in Oberlin, including a shift until 8 on Friday night. Then I’d run home, pack up my rig and records, shower, shave, change clothes, and commute 45 minutes into Cleveland to start my set at 10:00. That would run non-stop until 2:30 AM, and after I cleared up and got everything together, I would seldom get out before 3:15-3:30. After another 45-minute ride home, that would put me there at about 4:30 in the morning. Then I would be back at work at the bookstore at 9 on Saturday morning, off at 6, a short power nap, and back up and to the club again for another four-and-a-half hour set. I got to sleep in a bit on Sunday, as I didn’t have to work at the bookstore, but then I would DJ again on Sunday night until midnight and be back at work at 9 on Monday morning. This routine got a lot better when I moved into Cleveland, but then the commuting was back to Oberlin for work in the morning rather than to the club at night. Death by hanging, drowning, or burning? Take yer pick.
I followed that same schedule for a little over three years. Every single weekend. To say it got tiring is putting it mildly. I was almost relieved when the club closed down (though I do sorely miss the supplemental, tax-free income). I kept playing on and off for another couple of years, but now, nothing.
But really, and I think this is the big thing now, I feel like I am totally out of touch with today’s club culture. I used to consume vinyl like a fiend, and even though now I still buy it more than your average guy, I don’t keep up on dancefloor trends like I used to. Maybe it’s just the DJs I’ve heard of late don’t appeal to me as much, but honestly (and trust me, I know how pretentious and obnoxious this sounds, I really do) it seems to me that the stuff a few years back was just so much more interesting, and the sets were more open-ended and creative. It’s almost like I’ve heard it all before, you know? One DJ sounds just like the next. I mean, I still hear interesting music that I like, quite often in fact. But it just doesn’t light me up like it used to. I keep thinking, “Yeah, but Derrick May did this same thing better,” or “Christ, that is ripped right off of a Mr. Fingers record,” or whatever.
Then I just feel old. And that’s no way for a DJ to operate. It’s a game for the young and energetic, and I’d rather leave it to them than try to compete on a field that I know in my heart I no longer belong on.
Truth is, I do get the urge to play for a crowd again from time to time. But really, I can’t imagine I would want to do the same thing. In my decade of DJing, I’ve crossed several genres back and forth, over and over to keep it fresh (and to keep a job) so maybe this is the next stage in my evolution, but essentially, I’m really of the mind to play a “classic” sort of a set—the sort of things from make me want to dance now as much as they did the first time I heard them, timeless stuff: Northern soul, early ska and reggae sides, Motown and Stax/Volt, some ‘60s mod records, and garage stuff. The kind of music I find myself dancing around the house to while I’m doing the ironing or putting on mix tapes for you to jog to. “Keep on runnin’” indeed.
But who the fuck is going to want to hear that? If you can think of a club in the Cleveland area that would be willing to put something like that on, you just let me know. I have thought of approaching some like-minded folks (like the guys who run the Cleveland Scooter Club or that mod clothing shop over by the West Side Market maybe) with the idea of putting together some semi-regular private events, but I’m just too lazy to get it started. I know I should, and I just feel like a goddamn quitter every time I think of it and don’t follow through, but I think the rejection would be more than enough to make me really and truly hang it up for good, and I’m not sure I want to face that just yet.
Who knows though—maybe when you get here, you can provide me with the kick up the ass that I need to get this rolling. That is if we ever actually make it out of the record vault. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not closing that door forever either.
I believe the term is “cautiously optimistic.”
Your man in the Midwest,