78 steps to perfection
A crackly old classical collection gives Dave a look at one possible future. Could he cope with 30,000 records?
Why spend ages getting covered in dust trawling around for weird old records? I dunno, but a couple of events last weekend go some way to explaining it. First up, I did a mix with my mate Sad Eagle, spending a Friday night chucking together the records I bought in Chicago and New York and weird ones he'd just received in the post. We ended up with a 90-minute collection of beats, weirdness and really really bad mixing.
But even just talking about records seems to be leading me on further adventures. The next day I find myself visiting the office of an ultra-high-end stereo manufacturer, having been introduced by a mutual friend. I open the door and see the guy lounging on the sofa to a bunch of loud crackle, under shelves housing 30,000 records. 'This is the overspill from my collection,’ he says, gesturing at a record stash that's about 50 times the size of mine. Ah, good. He's a nutter.
He looks like me when I retire - grey hair and grey beard, wirey and odd. He's listening to a CD that's mostly hiss, on one of his uber-expensive amps and speakers. It turns out to be a copy he made of an old 78 from early last century – the only record of this particular performance left in the world. He had to take his kit to Holland and convince the museum to let him copy it.
How does a man come to own (or, some may say, be owned by) several rooms-worth of old records? He’s not a dullard or socially awkward. He’s minted and worldly, he’s interested in everything, he’s good-weird and well-read. Yet he's clearly not right in the head.
That's why it makes sense to sit there, even though classical music makes no sense to me. There's something about the vibe of a room full of record shelves and crackle that just makes me feel at home, and it forms the perfect backdrop to his stories. Like the time he was over in Tokyo when a mate of his died, so he couldn't do anything to stop the guy's wife chucking out his collection of 78s. Apparently one record alone was worth £6k. He admits it was probably insensitive of him to go round to the bloke's wife and have a go at her for bunging the whole lot in a skip; he just figured she should know that this collection was worth in the region of £500k.
He tells me it’s not about the money. So what is it about? I still don’t know. But this encounter shows me how much comes down to history. When you get to a particular depth in this you wind up tracking down recordings of old sopranos who only ever committed one session to vinyl, just before they died, over 100 years ago. If recordings like that are left to disappear, you can't get them back.
But does that explain why I rescued a copy of 'Actual Business Letters,' where a guy reads out actual business letters, from a shelf of neglect in the back room of a Chicago record store? I don't think so. Hopefully in 30 years I won't have 30,000 copies of it.