Mystery and Magic


Looking through the window into Harry Smith’s “Old Weird America” I am struck by how much we need to reconnect to much of the mystery and magic that attracted our musical forefathers and mothers to the past today.

We are only just a decade into the new century and have unprecedented access to the legacy that stretches back one hundred and fifty years before us now. 150 years? I would have thought that it was only back to 1888 (Edison’s earliest still playable recording) or 1878 up to a year ago, but then I discovered unearthed files of a “Phonautograph” from France this past year (discovered in their patent office)  that date from 1860 and have been recently decoded and transferred to the digital medium. These sound experiments aside, it is increasingly apparent to me that we are in a period of reassessment of our recorded history at every level, whether it be cylinder transfers, dubs off Vitaphone soundtracks to our earliest “talkies” (and “singies” so it seems) to the tireless 78 RPM restorations that proliferate online today.

For me the quest has led me to various blogs devoted to placing recordings back into the data flow or‘s 78 section and a web ring full of fanatics selling diamond needles for the beautifully reworked 100-year-old players that still exist to tickle our imagination, if there is any left. Like many, I have succumbed to the glitz and polish of new technology (though somehow I have managed to avoid buying an mp3 player as of yet, though my stepson has an iTouch at hand these days) and its ease of use; to be honest I fully embrace mp3 culture and have no problem with the “inferior” sound. I have seen what real Hi-Fi looks like and have even heard it a few times. It’s beyond me to spend $24,000 for a turntable or $8,000 for a hand-carved jade cartridge at Music I’ll never have a high-end system. I’m lucky that my components match impedance let alone brand names. It’s okay. REALLY. I’m legally deaf and wear two hearing aids and can hear what I hear just fine, thanks.

I can still listen to the music, just the same way I did to my Sparky and His Magic Baton 78s on that lo-fi consumer grade record player I first used when I was three back in 1954. I still get a thrill discovering something I never heard before. My computer’s media player is set to random as I write and I’ve gone from Jackson Browne (The Load Out- classic rock) to Blaze Foley (Big Cheeseburgers – Texas singer-songwriter) to Al “Jazzbo” Collins (Little Red Riding Hood-fifties jazz rap) to Little Richard (Little Richard’s Boogie-proto-jump rock) to Alex Hood’s Railroad Boys (L & N Rag-1920s string band) to The Whiskey Daredevils (Let’s Lynch the Landlord- alt-country grunge) to Tears For Fears (Everybody Wants To Rule The World- remix culture) to Gaudi (Abhi Apna Abhi Paraya Hai- dub qawwali) to Devin Lima (If You Want Me To Stay- Sly Stone Tribute) to Roger McGuinn (Ballad of Easy Rider- unique movie soundtrack) in about an hour. Five of these tunes were brand new to me. The longer I listen the more I hear. I fully expect to regain my hearing by the time I die.In the meantime, I’ll be listening, waiting for the mystery and magic to appear in my ears.

Here’s some of the earliest ear candy for the eyes I could find to jump-start THIS voyage. It’s considered by most to be the earliest example of music and sound stil extant. I’ve got to tell you I discovered a whole lot on the way to find that. This is going to be a blast! Many thanks to Don for inviting me along. I hope you the reader will choose to share the journey.

2 Responses to “Mystery and Magic”

  1. funky16corners Says:

    I’m a certified nut for the Hawaiian craze stuff from the 20s. I have an old comp somewhere that covers the genre pretty well, not to mention the real Sol Hoopi stuff (which they keep stealing for the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack (seriously…)

  2. Duncan Walls Says:

    That’s on the horizon, Larry. I share your fascination with all things from the Isles Hawaiian. I’ve managed to find quite a few 78s over the years and remarkably, hang on to them. It took me until the last few years to gather enough courage to start playing some of that stuff on lap steel. It is like being a beginner all over again, which defintiely makes everything fresh.

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