Petrusich’s Do Not Sell at Any Price, a book about the search for rare blues recordings from the era of 78RPM records (78s were made obsolete with the 1948 introduction of the long-playing record), is generally well-written effort, but a little smug and self-serving for my taste. As with a certain stripe of non-fiction now fashionable, the author decides to put herself at the centre of the action, although she herself is not one of the fanatical collectors interviewed. Some of her anecdotes, such as diving in a river to look for the remains of records which may have been thrown from the nearby pressing plant by idle employees, seem as though they were crafted solely to write about, and end up as empty as Al Capone’s vaults.
If you are a fan of early blues recordings particularly, this book will appeal to you (but if you are one of those collectors, you’re very possibly already in the book: it seems a fairly rarified field). However, if you are interested in the history of recorded music in general, or in other genres of music, there’s basically very little here for you. Many brick-and-mortar record shops won’t even touch 78RPM discs or sets, preferring to cater to the broader interests of those who will buy the albums of Led Zeppelin in 180-gram audiophile reissues. Further, the book conveys that inescapable feeling of self-satisfied superiority that makes it hard for one who is not a card-carrying member of the anointed elite to take part in the hobby. “Audiophiles” and their ilk often live in a world of their own devising, and look down upon those who don’t exist according to the self-determined and arbitrary rules of the gods of Olympus. Imagine the record shop in High Fidelity, but with far rarer discs, for comparison. As background to one particular niche of one era, it’s an interesting effort, but probably not for a wider audience. 3 of 5 stars
Originally reviewed 4 June 2015.
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