Do Not Sell At Any Price by Amanda Petrusich

Do Not Sell At Any Price

Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records

I enjoyed reading the book as I love music and have spend hours and hours combing record stores. I never considered myself a collector. I was more interested in the music not what it came on. So when CDs and MP3 arrived I didn’t have any regret getting rid of my LPs. That said there is something satisfying spending time in a second hand store flipping through album covers. This book covers some of that joy. But it also covers the deep need that collectors exhibit. A need close to a compulsion or a mental illness. The collectors Ms. Petrusisch follows in this book are right on that line. The book shows where that line is by asking what it is these people are actually collecting and why.

272 pages

Excerpts From My Kindle

In his book Retromania, Simon Reynolds suggests that a proclivity for record collecting and its attendant memorization of facts and figures is perhaps related to the impulse to master what masters you; containing music within a grid map of systematic knowledge is a form of protection against the loss of self that is musics greatest gift. According to Reynolds, because collectors tend to wield such little societal authority, they become authorities through their taste and cultural expertise. This both protects them and makes them powerful. (That same desire to create authority for one self is also at the very heart of music criticism. I may have had to learn that behavior, but I was hardly innocent of it myself.) – location 972-977

Paramounts blues 78s particularly records by country blues singers like Patton, James, and Son House are now extraordinarily rare, trading among collectors for preposterous, life-changing sums of money. In late 2013, the collector John Tefteller paid $37,100 for a copy of Tommy Johnson’s Alcohol and Jake Blues / Riding Horse (Paramount 12950) after an anonymous seller who may or may not have known its potential worth posted it on eBay. It was one of two known copies; the other, which Tefteller had also previously purchased, was found in what he described as hammered condition. This one, though, he called beautiful. – location 1206-1210

Instead I spent the rest of the day trawling every antique store in greater Milwaukee, including one that doubled as a paintball studio, looking for Paramount labels that black-and-gold circle, that eagle with its mighty wings outstretched, clutching the earth in its talons. I didn’t find shit. – location 1622-1624


Saturday afternoons they met at Indian Joe’s, where they thumbed through the bins in between swigs from the bottles of muscatel that Pete Kaufman brought along from his store, suspending their searches briefly at three, when a man called Bob turned up with a suitcase of pornographic books. – location 1823-1825

By the mid-1940s, collectors had discovered a nineteen-page Library of Congress monograph, first published in Report of the Committee of the Conference on Inter-American Relations in the Field of Music and called List of American Folk Songs on Commercial Records. The document eventually became a kind of buyers guide for 78 fanatics and a default seed for the folk and blues canon as we understand it today. – location 1946-1949

under a cover illustration of a celestial monochord, an ancient, one-stringed instrument that vaguely resembles a mountain dulcimer. Here, the monochord is being tuned by the hand of God, which is stretching down from an illuminated cloud. The picture was drawn by the Belgian engraver Theodor de Bry and first published in Robert Fludds The History of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm sometime between 1617 and 1619. When properly played, the celestial monochord is supposed to unite the base elements of air, water, fire, and earth. The drawing is an allusion, certainly, to Smith and Fludd’s shared belief in serialization in linking everything to everything else. – location 2084-2088

But Smiths role in the creation of the Anthology did reposition the collector, rather than the critic or scholar, as an architect of canons, an arbiter, a storyteller. He sussed a narrative from incongruous parts and presented it as an edifying fable. Practically, there is a parallel, certainly, to the songs contained therein, which are often based, at least in part, on other songs a new work from old work, a tapestry from string. – location 2132-2135

When we first spoke, Salsburg was still trying to clean and catalog his haul. There are records where I’ve never heard of these people, I have no idea what this music is, he said. Its a total revelation and its exciting. But you also realize how much of this stuff is just mediocre. I feel like part of the problem is that its so easy to fetishize them because of their age and because of their rarity. – location 2398-2401

By emphasizing obscurity as a virtue unto itself, they essentially turned the hierarchy of blues stardom upside down: the more records an artist had sold in 1928, the less he or she was valued in 1958, Wald explained. – location 2702-2704

Nagoski was familiar with Wald’s theories, and he agreed with the basic premise of his book. Skip James does not represent prewar blues. Barbecue Bob does. Barbecue Bob and Tampa Red, they sold like crazy, Nagoski said when I finally got him on the telephone. Skip James is a weirdo. He’s a freak. He doesn’t really fit in, and the fact that he’s such a big part of the blues canon is a direct result of the blues canon having been written by white men. – location 2710-2713

Occasionally, there was enormous power to be had in that sharing. In Escaping the Delta, in a chapter titled The Blues Cult, Wald talks about how for most modern listeners, the history, aesthetic, and sound of blues as a whole was formed by the [Rolling] Stones and a handful of their white, mostly English contemporaries. But the Stones and their ilk were taking their cues from reissue compilations conceived of, produced, and sourced by 78 collectors the ones who preceded Salsburg, Ward, Millis, and Nagoski. In the early 1960s, after the Blues Mafia was well established and enough 78s had been canvassed and hoarded away, reissue collections began appearing on long-playing, 331/3 rpm vinyl. – location 2748-2753

Joe Bussard, one of the foremost living collectors of prewar 78s and already the subject of dozens of feature stories and even a short documentary film, 2003s Desperate Man Blues. I thought King might make for a useful conduit. – location 2856-2858


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One Response to Do Not Sell At Any Price by Amanda Petrusich

  1. craigmaas says:

    My doppelganger James Lileks is hot on the trail of 78 rpm records. Better still he’s writing his own Lyrics.

    Oh I got me the blues. Got the blues down to my soles.
    Oh I got me the blues. Got the blues down to my soles.
    My soles have got the blu-hues
    An’ I don’t know what to do.

    Oh my man up and left me. Left me hi-igh and dry.
    Oh my man he up and left me. Left me hi-igh and dry.
    When I ask myself the reason
    I ain’t got no answer why.

    Oh my band is nodding off. End of the ree-ee-efer ride.
    Oh my band is nodding off. End of the ree-ee-efer ride.
    They were playin’ hot before
    But that wuh-us the A side.

    Yes I’m fillin’ out the record with a rote cliched lament
    Yes I’m fillin’ out the record! With a roah-ote lament
    Seems like every note I sing
    ’s a fart in wet cement.

    I had me a strong horse, he come row-ound my door
    I had me a strong horse, he come row-ound my door
    And when I say I had a horse
    It’s a sexual metaphor.

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