Today, "Five Questions" were put to Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt For The World's Rarest 78RPM Records. Amanda has also written It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, which traces the rise of Americana music, and Pink Moon, an appreciation of the classic Nick Drake album for the acclaimed 33 1/3 Series. Here's Amanda's responses to our "Five Questions."
The 78 collectors of your book really represent the most crazed, academic and obsessive of the vinyl junkie set. I’d hazard a guess that this is because the 78s are older and therefore more limited and represent a holy grail of sorts, but also a more difficult and therefore satisfying achievement. Am I close?
You nailed it. 78 collecting is a pretty high-stakes quest, in that the actual pressed and sold records – the surviving copies – are often the only remaining evidence that these artists ever existed at all, so the quest to find and preserve them feels especially urgent. If it weren’t for 78 collectors, a good chunk of the pre-war American canon would be non-existent. We simply wouldn’t be able to hear those songs – crucial songs, beautiful songs by folks like Charley Patton and Skip James and Amede Ardoin. And not only are the rare ones extremely difficult to find, but they’re also hard to find in playable condition. 78s are made from a shellac-based mixture, and they aren’t pliable or forgiving like a vinyl record is; that relative rigidity means they often emerge cracked or chipped from those basements and attics. It’s enough to make anyone feel a little manic.
Adele recently explained her decision not to participate in streaming sites, saying, “I believe music should be an event.” I found this so refreshing, mostly because I fully agree with her: the waiting, the buying, and then taking the record home and experiencing it in a vacuum is — or was — so important. Your thoughts on this?
I’m with you. I actually write about this a lot in the introduction to the book: I do try not to judge the way other people consume music – whatever works for you, man! – but for me, at least, I find the experience infinitely more satisfying when it’s slowed down a little; instant gratification is no gratification at all, as far as I’m concerned. The anticipation, the mystery, the fullness of the experience – there’s so much joy in all of that.
To follow up on that, I find the recent vinyl resurgence fascinating, particularly because it has really drawn millenials. What do you make of that? Are these the next 7-inch collectors?
I teach creative writing and criticism at NYU, and I’m always curious about how and why my students find their way to vinyl. Part of it is a fidelity thing – if you’ve only ever listened to MP3s on cheap earbuds, a record played on a proper stereo is going to sound miraculous – but I think it’s also about the other thing we were just discussing, the slowing-down. The mania of being alive in 2016 – in which we’re all losing our ability to focus on one thing, uninterrupted, for any significant amount of time – takes a toll. Part of the zeitgeist now is rallying against that, trying to reclaim our own attention spans. Vinyl is a part of that.
Is "Record Store Day" a hoax?
Ha, I think it’s a real thing! I mean, anything that gets folks into record stores and supports small business is wonderful, although I will confess to feeling a little like a seasoned drinker on New Years’ Eve. You know: amateur hour.
Are you an obsessive collector of anything? If so, care to share? (OK...we blew this one. We should have guessed records...)
Well, records! Obsessive might be overstating it, but I do spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about records and how to get more of them. I also buy books like a crazy person.
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