excerpt from interview at www.chicagoreader.com:
Do Not Sell at Any Price looks at what makes 78 rpm collectors tick, paying special attention to the service they’ve provided by researching and reissuing wonderful music that might otherwise have stayed lost forever. Petrusich, 34, interviews veterans such as Pete Whelan and Joe Bussard (who focus on jazz and blues) as well as relative newcomers such as Ian Nagoski and Christopher King (who have much broader tastes).
When you were doing the reporting, how important was the realization that just about every collector was a white male?
Petrusich: I went into this project thinking, “All right, here is the sort of archetype in place regarding what everybody thinks a 78 collector is.” It’s Steve Buscemi or the comic-book guy from The Simpsons. I went into the reporting thinking, well, that can’t possibly be true, and this would be great to write about, to show that lots of people like and collect 78s. But it did unfortunately turn out to be mostly true.
There’s one African-American collector, Jerron Paxton, and then there’s one female collector, Sarah Bryan, who also pops up toward the end of the book. I’m not sure Sarah self-identifies too heavily as a collector—she sort of buys what she likes, so her collection is really personal, in a lovely way.
Coming to this as a music writer, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar—it’s kind of a dude activity. It surprises me, because some of this music is so beautiful it should theoretically transcend all of that. I did have the opportunity to speak to this fantastic neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins about why this is such a male hobby. He had some interesting theories, one being that the collecting impulse is related to addiction, which also skews a little bit more male. Certain forms of OCD and autism have also been shown to trend a little more male.
How would you say your relationship with music has changed? Or has it?
I am a better listener now. Prior to writing this book, there were a lot of these records I hadn’t heard before. I think of Blind Uncle Gaspard, who was a Cajun performer who recorded a handful of sides for Vocalion in 1929. Chris King was the first person who played me a Gaspard record, and I remember feeling like I was having a stroke. I always think of that Barry Hannah line in Geronimo Rex, where he hears a piece of music and it’s so unbearably beautiful to him—like the kind of thing that makes you want to take a rifle and shoot yourself in the heart because it’s too much.
You work as a critic for long enough and you start to think, “Oh, I’ve heard everything.” You get a new record, and all the record people are all excited about it, and you put it on and you’re like that cranky old person: “Oh, it sounds like the last 50 bands that sound like the prior 50 bands.” And some of this stuff, recorded in 1929, sounded so unprecedented to me that it reawakened that excitement. “Aw, there are still records out there for me. There are still things that can really make me cry and make me feel all these things that I maybe thought I was done feeling from pop music.”
I think I have a sense of prewar recordings now. I have a pretty rich understanding of how it’s so unlikely we even have them at all. I thought I was turning into an incredibly lazy listener prior, and I really feel like that’s changed for me.