Monday, September 1, 2014

Recently Read: Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 RPM Records

Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records is a mixed bag, but essential reading for record collectors and those interested in the history and evolution of the recording, preservation, cataloging and categorizing of what we now call "roots music".

Petrusich brings an outsider approach to the subject and interviews most of the important living 78 collectors and historians: John Tefteller, Joe Bussard, John Heneghan, Chris King and others. It's a partly autobiographical book which encompasses Petrusich's musical-listening history, her gradual interest in the 78 collecting community, asides on the history of specific labels, artists, collectors and magazines, and even a part silly, part adventurous dive into a river looking for tossed Paramounts.

Do Not Sell At Any Price is compelling stuff, especially when it takes the reader places they're not likely to be able to go (Bussard's basement, for example). Petrusich unfortunately brings a patronizing tone to the enterprise, judging and cataloging the collectors like they're specimens in a zoo; by the end of the book, she's devoting half a chapter to the possibility that hard core record collectors are mentally ill, for the spurious reason that many of them are eccentric. Hey, everyone is eccentric in their own way. If a man infiltrated and reported on a female subculture the way Petrusich does here, he'd be raked over online coals.

Speaking of which, the lack of in-depth reviews of this book online speaks to the current state of literary criticism. The top review in a Google search is a pathetic little toss-off from Entertainment Weekly which states Petrusich's writing about men who collect "vinyls". I doubt if the reviewer read the book, which makes clear 78s are made of shellac.
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