Does the future of vinyl rest in a taco bowl?
My daughter, Keshia, has always been good to me on Father's Day. She goes out of her way to be creative — to make something for me — just to make me feel special. Well, a few years ago I dropped the ball on this practice. I snuffed out her creativity. I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, I thought I was crafting a unique learning experience for the both of us. Let me explain.
On this particular occasion, my daughter wanted to make me something audio-related from her crafting bag of tricks. In her travels, she had run across some uniquely-shaped bowls made of old vinyl records. A quick search on the Internet, and she, too, had the recipe. She picked up several LPs from a second hand-shop and retired to the kitchen to begin the crafting process. After a few trials, she easily mastered the technique of heating the 12-inch plastic discs in the oven until they could be molded into a taco-shaped bowl, and found that some of the older records handled the shape-shifting more readily. She put a new necktie in the bowl, wrapped the gifts, tied a bow on top, and eagerly awaited the unveiling.
On Father's Day, I was pleased and surprised to open my present. She always has great taste in selecting my neckties, and her crafting expertise continues to develop as she gets older. At this point I should have left well enough alone with a thank you and a hug. But, no. I couldn't stop myself. My inner archival-audio guru was nagging at me. Someone, besides my daughter, had gone through an elaborate process. They had created songs, recorded them, and come up with the funding to preserve their efforts for posterity in the form of microscopic bumps embedded in concentric grooves on a plastic disc. My turntable was just a few feet away, and yet I could no longer relive the creativity stored on this piece of vinyl. It had been morphed through the ultimate warping process and now its audio archives were impenetrable.
Was it fair to derail someone's musical publications? Was it moral? Should I say something? Maybe I didn't need to. Maybe my daughter had selected a musical artist whose work didn't deserve musical preservation. Maybe she had selected someone whose creativity should have stayed in the vault. She might have selected one of the many 'artists' from the '60s that we really shouldn't have had to listen to in the first place. There were enough of them. My mind raced — Tiny Tim, Bobby Goldsboro, The Trashmen, The Archies, Herman's Hermits, Ohio Express... Yes, I could think of some artists that should be denied their place in posterity. We know by now that too much sugar sugar is not yummy yummy, and if the second verse is the same as the first, then the first verse probably shouldn't stand a ghost of a chance to live on in antiquity. But what artist had she sentenced to silence?
Francis Craig and His Orchestra. Side A: 'Near You'. Side B: 'Red Rose'. Hmmm. I didn't know this artist. An unknown? A nobody? Someone unworthy of preservation? Time to hit the Internet.
Oh no! Even Wikipedia knew who this guy was. He lived from 1900 to 1966. He was a songwriter and a bandleader in the Nashville area. His recording of 'Near You' reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on August 30, 1947, and lasted 21 weeks. It even made it to the #1 spot for 17 weeks and beat the hit song 'White Christmas!' But wait, there's more. According to researcher Dr Robert Ikard, 'Near You' was one of the first songs produced in the Nashville area. He further maintains that the success of this 1947 Francis Craig song, the first hit for the small independent Bullet label, was important for the foundation of the music industry in the Nashville area. Keshia, what had you done? Could we go on Ebay and get another copy? Could we find the song on iTunes? YouTube? Could we fix it in the microwave?
I'm sure the frantic nature of my research and revelations did not translate well into a learning experience between me and my daughter. And although I apologised to Keshia several times for my rude reaction to her well-meaning gift, I can't help but wonder if all vinyl will eventually suffer the fate of the taco-bowl. Well, Keshia, at least you know I liked the necktie. Love, Dad.
Tim is an audio/digital media professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and his recent vinyl archival work is on file at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.