Whose Nostalgia is It? | Newberry

Whose Nostalgia is It?

Uncle Blogsy to Earth. Do you read me, Earth? I mean that in a kind of outer spacey jargon way, Earth. Don’t shut off the signal because you don’t want people to know you read these blogs. Assistance urgently needed. Do you copy? No, no: I don’t mean do you copy this blog and hand it to your nieces and nephews! I meant…oh, never mind.

Look, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. You’ve been really generous these last few days: so generous I’m going to overlook the fact that you weren’t supposed to be donating things until Tuesday this week. I am very grateful for that carload of books on the Battle of Gettysburg (my customers are nutty over the Civil War), and that book by Tanaquil Le Clercq about her cat, Mourka. Tanaquil’s books did not get reprinted much, and the book about her cat runs to about $150, or roughly a fifth of what her cookbook sells for. Glad to have all that. (Yes, if you were worried, we did check these things against the catalogue, and the Newberry did get some nice books on Gettysburg out of this. It already had the book about Mourka. In fact, the Newberry’s copy is signed by Mourka, Show-offs.)

You have also been bringing us a lot of odd, limited edition art books, including some nice little oddities nobody else seems to have. We’re especially grateful for that early item by Heather McAdams, though we’re still a little puzzled by the catalog for the exhibition by the man whose art is painted on Silly Putty (if ONLY my mother hadn’t insisted I put it back in its egg every night!) But one of the things you gave us is entirely mysterious, and I need a WEE bit more help with it.

I mentioned those record-at-home discs just before our autumnal break. Well, I spent a chunk of the three-day weekend trying to find out what they are. As I mentioned, record-at-home discs might be anything, from stuff your family recorded off the radio in 1947 to Elvis practicing guitar chords. Record-at-home discs suffer from the same eccentricity of record-at-home audiocassettes or videocassettes or CDs or anything else. The label has to make sense only to the person writing out the label. The handwriting need be readable only by the person whose handwriting it is. And, since record-at-home discs might get played as little as the majority of record-at-home tapes, even that wasn’t essential.

We have half a dozen discs, dated in 1950, with the titles of musical classics: no hint as to who was playing or why. High school orchestra concert? Radio performance? Three discs are actually re-recordings of older record-at-home discs, and present an entire wedding ceremony from 1933. Nice enough, even if I can’t read the names under the date. But there are these last six discs….

A couple are experiments, where they were trying to figure out how the contraption worked. The rest of them are songs and/or dialogue by “Hil and Lil”. There is no clue as to whether Hil and Lil (whose full names, according to a record or two, were Hilmer and Lillian) were a brother and sister fooling around with the machine, a comedy duo recording samples to be sent to agents, or a musical duet being taped off the radio by a fan in 1942.

The wizards behind Google and Bing and so on are no help at all. (There were a lot of people named Hilmer and Lillian at mid-century.) Does anybody out there remember ever hearing an act called Hil & Lil? That’s what I’m really kind of hoping for: an obscure touring act which some old-timer is yearning to hear again even though they never released any commercial recordings. If my stereo worked better (and I wasn’t afraid the needle might go right through these flimsy discs made of plastic on cardboard) I’d listen to ‘em myself and maybe find a few jokes my readers haven’t seen yet. (Yeah, I know: I need to go back a lot farther than 1942 for older jokes than the nones in this blog.) If it helps any, there are two different recordings of them singing “When Day Is Done”.

Let me know, and I promise not to use any more macho space lingo I learned from the movies. Roger, over and…no, Roger, sit down. That’s just more pace talk.Whose Nostalgia is It?

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