FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

United Under the Sign of the (Record) Groove

Vinyl Freak: Letters to a Dying Medium is not a book for everyone. However, if you have ever had an obsession with collecting certain items, you may find it interesting. This is certainly the case if you “collect” music in any physical format and even truer if you collect (or did so at some point in your life) long-playing records (LPs). Although I am not the record collector I could have been if I had never had children, I have always enjoyed spending hours in record stores, especially those that sell used materials. This book is an inexpensive way to do exactly that. The author, John Corbett, wrote a column for the jazz magazine Downbeat for a dozen years. The column mostly discussed records that were never put on CD. Not only were his reviews intelligent and worthwhile to read, they were also an introduction to some of the most unusual and highest quality music ever recorded in (mostly) LP format.

When I first received this book from the publisher, I quickly leafed through it and set it aside; I had other books to read and review first. When I finally did pick Vinyl Freak up from my pile of books, I began it by reading the introductions to each section of the text. Corbett begins each title of each section with the word “Track” as in Track One, Track Two, etc. These introductory sections discuss everything from the meaning of collecting and the various types of collectors to the idea of culture as material item in an era when streaming media is the norm. As anyone who ever owned any record albums knows, an album is much more than just recorded music. They are also works of graphic art, a listing of songs, composers and performers, and if one is lucky, liner notes that discuss the recorded artist and the work itself. As for that work, many albums are more than just a collection of songs. Indeed, they are an entire set of works arranged in a certain order to create one single piece. As a well-known example of this latter form of record, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band comes to mind.

The bulk of the text is made up of reviews of dozens of records Corbett found in record stores, auctions, online and the want-ads over a dozen years beginning in 2000. The records reviewed are primarily jazz albums and, to be more specific, they are jazz of the avant-garde type. A friend of mine who works part-time in a small independent and locally owned CD and record store in Vermont (a store that has outlived many chains since its opening days in 1980) told me the records highlighted in Vinyl Freak were somewhat hard to find. He would know—he has a few thousand albums that he has been collecting since he was in high school in the late 1960s. When he was leafing through the book at my house, he pointed out which records he owned and like Corbett, had a story about each one; when he bought it and where, etc. He is truly a member of a nation Corbett describes as being “united under the sign of the groove.” When I was reading the book, I found myself going online to YouTube or some other online music streaming service to see if I could find the album being described. Most often, I did. If not the entire recording, then at least some of the songs recorded at another time and venue.

Corbett ends his book with a wonderfully told story of his collecting coup de grace: his involvement in preserving and curating a huge collection of materials scavenged from the home of jazz master Sun Ra’s manager, Alton Abraham. The tale he tells is one of obsession and love. Neither of these are strangers to the other, but to read Corbett’s story of the process of obtaining this collection one is reminded how they can work together in creating something good. From its beginning with an email forwarded to him from Minuteman’s Mike Watt to the final truckload of Sun Ra tapes, papers and other ephemera taken from Alton Abraham’s’ house, the reader is taken into a Corbett’s version of the cable television show American Pickers. As a person who is not quite an over-the-top Sun Ra aficionado but is certainly more than a casual fan, I am forever grateful for Corbett’s obsession. As a person who is always interested in discovering new and obscure music, I am also forever grateful for Corbett and his publisher compiling this collection of reviews. Although I read several of them in their original incarnation in Downbeat, this little book is now my reference guide for music I need to check out. Thanks again, John Corbett.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail