In 4,000 years what will archaeologists think of my LPs?
I found the "papyrus" in our attic by looking for the ice melter in our garage. It wasn't a perfect storm, but the sidewalk needed the crystals that must have been stored out of sight. I moved the canvas used to bundle fallen leaves. What was that clattering down from a dusty shelf?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It was a cassette tape of "Ben and Sweets," saxophonist Ben Webster and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, dated 1987. Soon other cassettes cascaded from the old zippered case left over from some bygone car cleaning.
"Ben and Sweets" was from an album recorded long before, in 1962. Playing the tape again was like hitting rewind in my memory. Remember the theory that memory is like a recording? Everything is there, you just have to find the play button.
Please tell me I'm not alone as a "recordings accumulator" from ancient days. Others must also have been triggered to realize that slippery sliding cassettes are all over the house, that shelves of vinyl LPs from Bach to Brubeck can be found upstairs and down, and that breakable 78s sing silently in the attic.
Future archaeologists will have a lot of musical papyrus to unearth.
People are well paid and/or obsessively motivated to translate the secrets of Egyptian papyrus into language that's understandable 4,500 years later. Who will comprehend "Ben and Sweets" 4,500 years from now? Or even 20 years from now? Already, commenting on a CD version, "The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD" says, "The remastering will sound a bit lifeless to those who've heard the original vinyl."
While we're plunging beyond CDs to DVDs and iPods, I think of the friend who asked if we still had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I found our old "portable" in the basement, and it weighed a ton. She brought over an old family tape. It barely muttered on our machine, though she heard enough to have it professionally copied onto a CD. (It's good to know that there are still outfits that will translate what's on this papyrus and make it available on more modern devices. But for how long?)
And I heard enough of hers to sample a couple of our own family reels. I can hardly believe I lugged that thing to the kitchen sink to catch the squeals of our firstborn being bathed by a grandpa of the vintage I am now.
Rewinding to the 1940s, I pause on a pale, one-of-a-kind disc of my voice recorded by a needle cutting grooves in the acetate ... a bigger and better disc of our off-hours World War II band in Texas.
It was a radio studio transcription in which the needle moved from the center out - I kid you not, as they used to say.
Am I the only one who recalls the thrill of being able to tape a symphony broadcast in your own home? Or the wonder of going out with a pocket recorder and playing the results - in stereo, no less - through eight-inch speakers?
Uh-oh, here come my childhood echoes. They start with the windup Victrola crooning "Lucky Lindy" in honor of Lindbergh's transatlantic flight. Then there was a small electric phonograph that could be played through the radio for bigger sound.
Now a music teacher has e-mailed me an interactive recording of a trombonist's improvised jazz solo in which you watch the notes on the screen. You can click to repeat passages or go back to the beginning. The player's name rang a bell. Wasn't he once in Stan Kenton's band? I found him in the booklet in the tattered but elaborate box for a set of limited- edition LPs, "The Kenton Era," which was as state of the art in 1955 as that online solo is a half century later.
I never did find the ice melter, but my heart has definitely been warmed.