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.

February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail