Sociohistorical Record | Newberry

Sociohistorical Record

I had this vision of myself, trapped in a lonely room as a fire/tornado/tsunami bore down on the place. I—being me—took out a piece of paper to record a few thoughts in a farewell message, and started to write, “So long. It’s been good to know you.”

“Oh, great,” I thought, as the walls started to buckle and the roof caved in. “Now I’ll be humming that for the rest of the day.”

Yes, I have been pricing records again. I do this in a deep, cavernous room well sealed away from the world so that no one can hear me rehearsing all the parts of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for my next bestselling album. (That’s what we oldtimers call CDs. It’s Thomas Edison’s fault: I explained that to you in a previous diatribe.)

As I move through collection after collection, examining people’s musical lives, I am struck by how much of our personality lives on in those boxes of 33s  For example, I spent part of yesterday working on a ton of records which belonged to an honest-to-goodness Bishop. You could certainly tell he was a Chicago priest by all those records he picked up in the fifties and sixties. A full fourth of the collection was Irish music, including what must be every John McCormack album ever produced. Another quarter of the collection was Italian music, from grand opera to Lou Monte, with a very healthy selection of Enrico Caruso. (Hey, what genius brought out this Great Tenors album that had one side all Enrico Caruso and one side all John McCormack? It must have been a godsend—no pun intended—to the priesthood in Chicago, New York, and other melting pot cities.)

And what was the third quarter, friends? Think Chicago now. That’s right! A tip of the mitre to the first person who yelled out “Polkas!” There are yards of Polish music, with polkas to the forefront. This man had mood music for any of his parishoners who walked into the room. What’s that? The last quarter must be Latin music? Well, no, I’m sorry to say: he was an elderly Bishop, and perhaps his active days predated the Latin migration. Or, also possible, those are the records he kept because the Poles, Irish, and Italians had moved to the suburbs, and most of his parishoners were Latin.

I also went through…hmm? Oh, the last fourth of his collection? Broadway show tunes. As I was saying, I also went through somebody’s rock collection. I mean a collection of rock LPs, though I do occasionally get collections of rocks. (And butterflies, once. You never know around here.) Once more I understand that I should have been paying attention instead of just playing Rick Wakeman over and over and over and over. More rock groups made albums, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. I’ve heard of the Kinks but not the Blockheads, Ruben and the Jets but not Bobby and the Midnites, Blue Oyster Cult but not Hawkwind…you’d better come buy some of these. I know I’m going to wind up selling something for a dollar that will turn out to be Paul McCartney under another name (before or after he was dead.) This collector was so intent that in several cases he bought both the mono and stereo version of the same album.

Come and buy some John McCormack while you’re at it. I have plenty. (Makes me wonder what the record collection at the Vatican looks like. Do they have ALL of Lou Monte?)

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