Recovering Musical Treasure

The only clear, flat space in my apartment

A month ago I posted about clearing space on my never-used-as-a-desk desk to make room for a cool gizmo that had just arrived and was still in its (large) box.

It continued to sit in its box till a few days ago. Partly I was busy, partly I was admiring that rare vacant flat space, but partly — maybe mostly — it was that good ol’ excuse for procrastination: “However, when a task presents itself that’s way out on the outer limits of my competence, I get very, very nervous. Like what if I get myself into trouble I can’t get myself out of?”

In this case, it wasn’t really my lack of competence that stayed me; it was the fear that the gizmo, whose reviews on the Hammacher Schlemmer website were decidedly mixed, wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Whereupon I’d have to pack it up, ship it back, and keep looking for a way to transform my old LPs and cassettes into something I can play, e.g., either CDs or MP3s.

Well, finally I did it. I opened the box and set up the gizmo, which has such a long name — LP/Cassette to CD Audio Enhancing Converter — that I keep referring to it as “the gizmo.” It was very handsome. It fit in the space provided. The cord, once I managed to squeeze the plug through the skinny space at the back of the desk, reached the outlet with length to spare. We were off to a good start.

I started with cassettes. They were easy to reach, as opposed to the LPs, which would require serious rearranging to get them out of my long, very narrow closet. Gizmo performed as promised.

Shortly I discovered that Gizmo had a talent I hadn’t reckoned on: it’s Bluetooth-compliant. Once I introduced Matilda the laptop to Gizmo, I could play MP3s and podcasts on the laptop and hear them through Gizmo’s speakers. I like listening to music while I work, but having the music come out of the laptop I’m working at can be distracting, so this is turning out to be a big plus.

A couple of the negative reviews on the Hammacher Schlemmer site mentioned inadequate speakers, but for a studio apartment they’re fine. Maybe I’ll add external speakers eventually, but they aren’t necessary.

So I wasn’t in love, exactly, but I was favorably disposed to Gizmo. Even though I hadn’t yet performed the big test, the do-or-die test, the reason I’d bought it in the first place. (Notice that he/she/it has acquired a proper name.)

A couple of days ago, when I should really have been writing, I wrestled my LPs out of the closet. There were more of them than I remembered.

That’s Joan Baez’s very first album, released in 1960, when she was all of 19. I posted this photo on Facebook, confessing that I had swiped this LP from my father when I left for college in 1969. This elicited confessions from several friends that they had swiped this and other albums from parents or siblings.

It also generated much discussion about the technologies of our youth and the ephemeral nature of recording media. Several people had donated their LP collections to thrift shops decades ago or otherwise disposed of them; one was berated for this by her 20-something musician daughter, whose generation has embraced vinyl, to some extent at least.

Me, I have too many indie-label records that never made it onto CD, never mind MP3. Disposing of them would have meant losing contact with important parts of my life — especially the years spent immersed in the grassroots lesbian-feminist community and the women in print movement. (I’m currently re-immersing myself in those years in my new blog, The T-Shirt Chronicles. Check it out!)

Three albums in particular I really wanted to transfer to a medium I could listen too, either CD or MP3. They’re all by the same artist: Willie Tyson. No one where I’ve lived for the last (almost) 36 years has heard of her. When I lived in D.C. she was a household name, even though her third and last recording came out in 1979. She wrote great songs and had a wicked sense of humor. When I was the book buyer at Lammas, every Valentine’s Day I played shit-kicking anti-love songs on the store record player, and about 3/4 of them were by Willie Tyson. Like these lines one from “Got a Feelin'”:

You go out to the kitchen
To get somethin’ to eat
I watch you pick your bay leaves from a poison ivy tree
I got a feelin’ you’re gonna starve to death when I’m gone . . .

Willie Tyson (right) and Red Satin, from the cover of Debutante

In the title song of her second album, Debutante, a rich fellow’s daughter and prize cow switch places: Red Satin, the cow, makes her debut, while the daughter “turned the sawdust like a whirlwind” at the cattle auction and gives the assembled gents a piece of her mind: “but fools are made by men / and when we come through again / there’ll be no auctions, no more debutante balls.”

One year the Women’s Center dance had a debutante ball theme, and we all had dance cards — lavender of course.

Anyhow, this was Gizmo’s big test: could I successfully record Willie’s albums onto CDs (and were they still in decent enough shape to be listened to, period)?

The answer, I’m thrilled to report, is yes, and yes: Full Count (whose cover features the Lammas softball team of about 1974), Debutante, and Willie Tyson are now safely recorded on CDs, so I can drive around listening to them in my car.

Gizmo, you’re a keeper.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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2 Responses to Recovering Musical Treasure

  1. Hal Davis says:

    “Willie Tyson. No one where I’ve lived for the last (almost) 36 years has heard of her.”

    In a thrift shop on NYC’s Lower East Side around 1978, I came across her album Debutante. It included Peggy Seeger’s “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer,” which I wanted. Which means I got to enjoy her other songs. You can hear a live version of “Levee Blues” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-CgTGqdMFs “If they want white floors in heaven / You know, Jesus gonna have to keep em clean.”

    Album includes “Did You Say Love?”, “Stealin’ Heart” and “Arsenal”.

    Discography and lyrics can be found at https://queermusicheritage.com/apr2012wt2.html

    Like

    • Like I wrote in the blog, Willie wrote some of the best shit-kicking breakup songs ever. 🙂 I’ve still got the liner notes for DEBUTANTE — I think Willie did all the handwriting, which is pretty amazing. Casse Culver was in D.C. at least part of the time I was there, so I got to hear her perform more than once. Aside about “I Was Gonna Be an Engineer”: it seems Willie Tyson did go on to be an engineer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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