Sunday, August 17, 2014

Walking the Thin Line

Do Not Sell at Any Price – The Wild and Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records – Amanda Petrusich (Scribner Publishing)

I have told my wife for years; there is a thin line between collector and hoarder. As a one who considers himself to be firmly planted on the collector side of that line, I can still admit to the obsessive nature that author Amanda Petrusich delves into in her latest effort, Do Not Sell at Any Price – The Wild and Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records.

I chuckled out loud because I could totally relate to Petrusich as she detailed the early days of her career at the outset of the book, talking about the sheer joy of the daily trek to the mailbox to pull out the hoard of reviewer copies of albums and CDs that she received. It brought to mind the day I came home to find that the UPS driver had somehow carefully stacked a couple dozen 12 inch square boxes behind my screen door, filling the entire doorway from top to bottom and how they came crashing down when I open the door.

I could also relate to that joy, transitioning to disillusionment when the realization hot that there weren’t enough hours in the day to get through listening to all that music. I still consider myself a collector, so I can easily identify with the characters that Petrusich laces throughout this tale. Most people may not understand that it’s not just the end result, owning the item(s) they seek, that drives collectors; the magic of it is in the hunt.

While most collect things that can be easily defined by catalog and list, the driving force of this band of 78 collectors, a secretive society to say the least, is the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know. The true rarity of these discs can’t really be measured; there is no authoritative catalog detailing these early recordings. This is a story of cultural archeologists and true detectives; on the hunt to track down and preserve a small slice of our history one disc at a time.
Petrusich infuses the story with not only the personalities and the naturally obsessive nature these folks bring to bear on the search, but also the almost built in time pressure that is the untold part of this story; as years pass and we get farther and farther away from the original source of these recordings it become more and more difficult to track down the details, the stories associated with these recordings, which is part of their natural attraction. It certainly make for one of the most intriguing stories I have read this year.

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