Before MP3s, CDs, and cassette tapes, even before LPs or 45s, the world listened to music on 78rpm records--those fragile, 10-inch shellac discs. While vinyl records have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, good 78s are exponentially harder to come by and play. A recent eBay auction for the only known copy of a particular record topped out at $37,100. Do Not Sell at Any Price explores the rarified world of the 78rpm record--from the format's heyday to its near extinction--and how collectors and archivists are working frantically to preserve the music before it's lost forever.
Through fascinating historical research and beguiling visits with the most prominent 78 preservers, Amanda Petrusich offers both a singular glimpse of the world of 78 collecting and the lost backwoods blues artists whose 78s from the 1920s and 1930s have yet to be found or heard by modern ears. We follow the author's descent into the oddball fraternity of collectors--including adventures with Joe Bussard, Chris King, John Tefteller, Pete Whelan, and more--who create and follow their own rules, vocabulary, and economics and explore the elemental genres of blues, folk, jazz, and gospel that gave seed to the rock, pop, country, and hip-hop we hear today. From Thomas Edison to Jack White, Do Not Sell at Any Price is an untold, intriguing story of preservation, loss, obsession, art, and the evolution of the recording formats that have changed the ways we listen to (and create) music.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-06-02
- Reviewer: Staff
In this enjoyable, well-researched work, music journalist Petrusich (It Still Moves) uses the “intense, competitive, and insular subculture” of 78 rpm record collecting as a jumping-off point for more universal discussions of cultural appropriation and historic romanticization of collecting. An outsider to the 78 community, Petrusich staunchly tracks down the key figures and interviews them one by one. Her project leads her to destinations throughout the U.S., including conventions and trade shows in New Jersey and Virginia, and even on a scuba diving mission into the depths of the Milwaukee River, where “race records” from the nearby Paramount factory are rumored to have been dumped. Meanwhile, Petrusich traces the history of recorded sound beginning with Edison’s discoveries and its evolution throughout the 20th century, pointing out along the way that our musical canon and overall understanding of blues was shaped largely by collectors. While critical of the eccentrics she encounters, who are often guilty of neglecting the intrinsic pleasures of song for the superficial sake of keeping an object, Petrusich manages to highlight their wisdom, charms, and influence when possible. What could have easily become an exclusive tome is made entertaining by Petrusich’s sharp and searching guidance. This is an inviting edition that will welcome many to an unfairly ridiculed sphere and send newbies looking up artists they’ve likely never heard of, but will likely fall in love with. (July)