What begins as a story about a strange, misunderstood community of collectors who specialize in collecting the world’s rarest 78s – why they do what they do and why it matters – takes a dramatic turn when author and music critic Amanda Petrusich succumbs to the rapture of discovery and learns, first-hand, what it means to, “want what they want.”
Through, gutsy investigative reporting and one-on-one interviews with the world’s most prominent collectors, she dispels some of the stereotypes commonly associated with collectors and the world they inhabit. Such as, collectors come in all shapes and sizes, have challenging full-time jobs, lead pleasant social lives, have sustained romantic relationships and can be charming, funny and sweet.
On the flipside, the nature of their trade is fragile, they are highly competitive with one another and they view themselves as outsiders, underdogs, discoverers, historians and preservationists who play a critical role in preserving musical history.
Do Not Sell at Any Price will introduce you to artists/musicians that have been forgotten by, the tides of time: Geeshie Wiley, Blind Uncle Gaspard, Charly Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson among others.
And a colorful cast of collectors you won’t soon forget: John Heneghan, Christopher King, Harry Smith, Big Joe Clauberg, Jack Whistane, Sherwin Dunner, John Tefteller, James Mc Kune and Jonathon Ward to name a few.
In Chapter 6, titled, We are Not Drowning – Petrusich acquires her scuba certification in order to scour the silt at the bottom of the Milwaukee River, in search of precious metal masters and excess recordings, once discarded by the Paramount Record Plant. In the end, she comes up empty but her action is indicative of the lengths to which some collectors will go to acquire a rare recording.
In the end, Petrusich writes, “ I felt suddenly and fiercely protective of a subculture I had no real claim to. I wanted 78s to continue offering me – and all of the people I’d meet – a private antidote to an accelerated, carnivorous world. I didn’t want them to become another part of that world. I wanted them to stay ours.”
If you’ve ever collected anything, I leave you with this. In his 1968 essay, The System of Collecting, the French sociologist and philosopher, Jean Baudrillard writes, “the collection, with all its attendant pieces, is a complex, multi-faceted statement of self, and the worth of each component is determined by how it interacts with and complements its neighbors. If a specific part of the collection is absent, then a part of the collector is also missing.” Kind of makes you want to go, “Hmmm …”
Amanda Petrusich contributes regularly to Pitchfork, The Oxford American, and The New York Times. She is the author of If It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, The Search for the Next American Music and Nick Drakes Pink Moon (33 1/3 series).