FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail