(AKA “Rocket 88”)
My introduction to recorded music was really a non experience. My family moved to a rental house in Augusta, Georgia which held no furniture except for an old Victrola. (RCA Victor was the maker, and for years all record players were called Victrolas, just as we refer to all tissues today as “Kleenex”). This was a wooden structure about four feet tall, bearing a turntable and playing arm at the top with storage space underneath. It did not use electricity. The turntable was powered by wind up, the sound picked up with a needle and transferred to a thin metal disc in the arm above it. With a very tinny quality this metal disc (a speaker, so to speak) brought the music to one’s ear. Although I had seen such structures in the past, and although we never tried to play a record on this one, somehow it captured my imagination. A few years later when my elder brother bought a small electric record player, I was entranced. My brother claimed over the later years that it was not the music that I enjoyed, but rather the idea that entertaining sounds could emerge from discs.
There was some truth in my brother’s attitude, as my nearly compulsive collection of 78rpm records has never really ended. Early on, I was a great fan of Spike Jones (”and his city slickers”). I still respect the imagination of this novelty band that featured satire (for example “Der Fuhrer’s Face”) and mockery of just about anything (“I dream of Brownie in the light-blue Jeans”). Part of my enjoyment, no doubt, was the adverse reaction from my brothers. But my teen years brought me to ordinary popular music—Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Long and the rest. Eventually, I came around to jazz—not Dixieland, which was really an inadequate imitation of the New Orleans style, and not, to my reckoning, good, solid stuff. Rather, I went for Louis Armstrong (he was never called Louie, except by squares), Bix Beiderbeck, Red Norvo, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.
And soon I became a collector of 78 rpm records, mostly the only means of hearing my favorites, inasmuch as these artists were no longer recording. I dealt with a company that specialized in these old ten-inch, shellac recordings (really a mixture of shellac and other elements). Soon I acquired over one hundred discs. My goal was to transfer these wonderful sounds to CDs, so much more convenient to play and store. But, alas, one’s life can get complex. There’s a working career that needs at least some attention, and my wife and children occasionally wanted me for errands and other duties. I did transfer many 78s to CDs, but most had to be overlooked. They sat on a shelf, and I loved them from a distance.
And these were not alone. I have a pretty strong taste for classical music as well as some of the modern jazz pieces by The Modern Jazz Quartet (a major appeal), Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Chick Corea, and others. And I have all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on twelve-inch vinyl as well as modern vinyls or CDs that need no further attention.
What about the rest? I can imagine my family on the most unfortunate occasion of my demise hauling my beloved collection (all speeds, sizes and materials) to the county dump. No doubt with tears in their eyes—but still….
So I have taken steps to offer all my collections either to a buyer (yes, there are such agencies) or donation to well-meaning organizations. (I don’t know what they would want them for, but I have learned that some do accept such donations.)
For now, all items have come off their shelves and clutter the floor and all furniture of my study. Judging from my past records (no pun intended) there’s no estimate as to how long they will rest there. Am I hoping to change my mind? Maybe so, but that’s off the record..