Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apropos of Nothing

I took some pictures of our Victrola for use on the main site a few weeks back, including this one. While I picked a wider shot for the site, I found myself liking this shot a great deal, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy it. You can view it at its full resolution by clicking upon it.

The record shown, "Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man" on Victor (Violet) 70038, was released in 1911, and it's still in beautiful condition, as the photograph shows. The Violet label was reserved for the most notable popular acts; priced higher than the regular black label, they were one-sided, as were the Red label (art-music) series. Two-sided records became the industry standard in 1908, but Victor kept its prestige series one-sided to suggest high quality and exclusivity. The Violet label was intended to showcase the most prestigious popular acts, notably Nora Bayes, Victor Herbert (yes, considered a popular artist in his day) and Harry Lauder. Sometime after 1915 Victor ended the series and rolled it into a new, two-sided Blue label.

Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth were a husband-and-wife team that was huge on Broadway at the time. Together, they wrote this and a lot of songs, most notably "Shine On Harvest Moon." Norworth, among other things, wrote "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" with Harry von Tilzer. Bayes has been portrayed many times in films, e.g. by Frances Langford in Yankee Doodle Dandy singing "Over There", and Bayes and Norworth were the subject of the ludicrously inaccurate but nevertheless swell biopic Shine On Harvest Moon. You can even see the actual Jack Norworth on TCM occasionally, e.g. in the short The Nagger At Breakfast. That's N-A-G-G-E-R, by the way.

In the photograph, you can just make out that this record cost $1.25 back in 1911, and that was when a dollar was a dollar. Of course, this was a 12-inch Violet label record; the usual 10-inch Black label cost 75 cents. But even that was a significant chunk of change to be spending on a completely inessential item. Still, people bought an awful lot of records back then, I suppose because the phonograph record was then the only consumer entertainment medium that  didn't require actual musical talent on the part of the purchaser. Back then, a record was a high-tech item, and each one was an investment in entertainment and even enlightenment for the purchaser. 

That's how records were for me, too, as a boy and young man. I had limited funds, so I couldn't afford any dead weight in my collection; the records I had were played frequently and cared for lovingly, and their accompanying literature, if any, was examined and re-examined. So I liked them, or learned to like them, unless they really stunk. I still have every one of them that wasn't lost, stolen or broken, and I still play them.

I feel sad for today's youth. Unless one buys the CD, which fewer and fewer people are doing, recordings of current popular acts are for the most part fungible and thus disposable. Today's Picks to Click are so inexpensive (if indeed they are even paid for) and so easily obtained that they are no more of an investment to today's teen than a candy bar. You simply download a track, play it, and if you don't like it, you just forget about it. You don't even have to take it out of its case and put it on anything. It's a commodity, like rice or toothpicks—but even rice and toothpicks are palpable in a way an mp3 file is not.

Bizarre ramblings from an obsolescent viewpoint, I know. These matters have absolutely nothing to do with the performance on the recording. One can just as easily have "Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man" as a digital file on his computer as the latest Lady Gaga emission, and in fact I do. The former, that is, not the latter. 

Still, 100 years from now no one is going to be finding a file on a hard drive a thing of beauty that piques one's curiosity and invites one to discover what's in it. 100 years from now, my .wav file of this recording will likely have gone away, but this record, if left alone, will still be there and discoverable, as it was for me.

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I guess I just illustrated that.

1 comment:

  1. Eloquently stated, has anyone ever said "You should write a book!" Your passion for music is illustrated in these passages,and more fun than restoring the 'farmhouse'.


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