Amen to that. This is a pattern we see over and over again throughout history, and it started long before recording began.
In the case of blues and jazz, collectors may have played an outsized role in shaping the received histories of those styles, but they also expanded our understanding of those genres enormously. Skip James was unusual, but his style was not without precedent in his Bentonia home, and he had a good range of songs, so H.C. Speir had reason to recommend him to Paramount. It's hard to say what hurt James' chances the most: the Depression or having an unusual local style that did not fit in the larger blues market, but in the long run, he deserved much greater appreciation than the markets of the time could give him. Bessie Smith's reputation has not suffered much because Skip James's has improved.
Library of Congress
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Aaron Levinson
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 10:36 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
For another perspective, I don't think it's entirely accurate to suggest that later generations "distort" history by highlighting an otherwise neglected or overlooked figure. In any golden age when so much talent is concentrated in a field some figures resonate and become popular while others do not. To suggest that popularity is the sole yardstick (or contemporary acclaim) leaves a lot of interesting people standing on the sidelines.
Sometimes it does take a later generation to shine a little light into the corners and discover some one who may have eluded attention in the earlier age.
Sent from my iPhone
> On Sep 22, 2014, at 9:44 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Hi Mike:
> In fairness to Petrusich, she addresses the issue of obscure Paramount and other blues sides being hyped up through the "blues mafia" and associated reissuers, so they take on unwarranted prominence in the cultural "canon." And, this comes at the expense of blues records that actually WERE popular and sold thousands of copies when they were new and different (Bessie Smith, Lonnie Smith, others). One of the modern reissuers calls Skip James a "freak" who couldn't get a Victor or ARC contract.
> I think part of this is the same thing driving Avakian and Keepnews/Grauer jazz reissues in the late 40s and early 50s, plus the Harry Smith anthology -- each new generation collectors (generally but not always social outcasts and people not of the mainstream cultural tastes or norms) has to "discover" some "neglected gold" and create a fetish around it. There's also an underlying ecomic element, especially with the blues records, in fact one could call it hucksterism intended to keep prices high and this maintain collection values. This is much more pronounced in modern times and with blues records vs "jass" records in earlier times, although collectors like John Tefteller and Richard Nevins generally reissue at reasonable prices records for which they've paid mega-bux. In any case, it's the age-old fact of history -- each succeding generation distorts the past context and usually the past facts to suit its own perspectives, tastes and prejudices. Petrusich also touches on this, but on scratches the surface of the issue.
> Overall, I found her book to be entertaining enough to read through quickly, but lightweight in authority and very short on new facts or perspectives. The fact that she really digs the music is a plus as far as readability, but not as far as adding anything new to the facts or conversation. As always when he's involved, Joe Bussard entertained me the most. He is a rare bird anyway, but super-rare in that he's an extrovert in a collector-world of introverts. I'm sure other 78 collector-cultists resent the attention Joe gets, but they aren't nearly as interesting so they shouldn't be surprised.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Biel" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 8:49 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>> I kept on expecting Alan Funt to appear.
>> If this guy had recorded on Paramount -- especially if they had put
>> this 15 minute piece out on a set of 2-78s, then Amanda Petrusich's
>> cult of collectors would be going apesh-t over it and fighting to bid
>> tens of thousands of dollars on it. I'm unimpressed with this and am
>> unimpressed with most of what her cult is overbidding for.
>> (Did you really listen to ALL 15 minutes of that crap????)
>> Mike Biel [log in to unmask]
>> ------- Original Message --------
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>> From: Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>> Date: Sun, September 21, 2014 7:56 am
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Let's be clear, this is the "artiste" discussed in the essay:
>> If 15 minutes of the same 3 chords with often out of tune humming
>> along is your thing, then have at it. Many people play acoustic
>> guitar into a portable home recorder. Very few of those recordings
>> are worth hearing. Almost none of them are worth canonized as
>> "undiscovered gold."
>> I understand the frustration with modern commercialized popular
>> music, but the modern impulse (often by younger writers with little
>> historical perspective, writers "born digital" and raised on digital
>> pop music glop) to "discover" performers from what is glorified as a
>> "wonderful past," many of whom don't really deserve to be canonized,
>> is annoying. It seems to be an academic, navel-gazing pursuit.
>> And, it smacks of ignorance, of not listening to enough
>> commercially-released music from the same time periods. That sort of
>> listening will often reveal that there were many excellent examples
>> in the selected genre, musicians who could actually play and thus
>> make commercially viable recordings.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "WS" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Friday, September 19, 2014 6:35 PM
>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>>> The link below is an excerpt (published in WIRE magazine) from David
>>> Grubb's upcoming book called "Records Ruin The Landscape".
>>> I thought it might be of interest to some ARSCLIST members, as it
>>> explores the implications of recorded material from an earlier era
>>> that only finds an audience much later than it was created.