Life among the Indiana Joneses of record collectors, who will let nothing come between them and a rare Charley Patton.
This new book by Pitchfork contributing writer Petrusich (It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, 2010) proves once again that it takes a rare person to hunt for rarities, especially when the obscure object of desire is a classic 78rpm blues record. The author investigates both the history of blues and its literally fragile legacy. She joined professional blues travelers as they scoured the Earth for vinyl Stradivariuses, whether it was one of the two known copies of Tommy Johnson’s “Alcohol and Jake Blues” or the only copy anywhere of Solomon Hill’s “My Buddy Blind Lemon.” These people don’t just haunt record stores, yard sales, festivals and eBay; they go where no one else thinks to look, pursuing rare leads, taking out ads, spending sacks of money and weeks of time. Sometimes they strike gold—there are great stories of treasures hauled out of Dumpsters or from under beds—but mostly they just lose sleep over the one that got away. Petrusich caught the virus herself, and she examines the bigger picture. Is it all about the love of music, the thrill of the chase or something more disturbing? Are collectors like Freudian dissidents, seeking the kind of solace that can only be found in the original pressing of “Devil Got My Woman” by Skip James? Or is this all about personality disorder? Collecting old 78s “demands an almost inhuman level of concentration,” writes the author, and there is “a violence to the search, a dysfunctional aggression that vacillates between repellant and endearingly quirky. It’s intimidating to outsiders, and it feeds on sacrifice.”
An engaging and deeply personal journey, for both the writer and her subjects, and an adroit disquisition on the nature of this distinctly American form of insatiable lust.