“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” – Walt Disney
One of my favorite animated films is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and the reason it’s my favorite is because of the Wind in the Willows segment. And the reason that’s my favorite is because of J. Thaddeus himself. It’s natural for us to want to identify with fictional characters, either because we think they’re cool, we happen to act like them in our own lives, or because life is so miserable we want to put our heads in something slightly more fantastic. J. Thaddeus Toad and his story? He fits under all three reasons. Most importantly, to me, is his fickleness. He’s a flake. And I am fortunate that the spirit of this eccentric toad and others like him is festering inside me. It’s one of the few intrinsic things I like about myself. If you look closely on the plaque over the entrance of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland, it reads “Semper Absurda.” Semper Absurda, indeed. I’ll drink to that.
The reason I’m speaking of J. Thaddeus right now is because I got to thinking how relatable he is after I (only just recently) started on my newest mania. My red, hot-looking motorcar. Something I might’ve signed the deed to Toad Hall away for if I had the deed to Toad Hall. A phonograph. A functioning piece of antiquity. A link to the past.
I need a link to the past. It’s the only place in which everything’s good. I get along with everyone there. Because I don’t have to interact with them, there’s no room for awkwardness or hate. And if there was, it could easily be chalked up to the disparities in eras and the mindsets of our respective times. We all need a link. It helps us appreciate our forefathers, what they’ve done, what they’ve built and so on. More can be taught from people and events that have already happened than our own ridiculous opinions and speculation about what is going to happen.
The acoustic phonograph, then, is a perfect relic to cling to. It’s classic, quintessential, interesting and fun. Very fun. The one I just acquired is a 1924 Victor Victrola. A common model that, even if you don’t know anything about these machines, exhibits exceptional humility. At the time of this machine’s release 88 years ago, it was an entry-level model. Nothing fancy. No extra bells nor whistles. Just an honest, quality, good old American phonograph for listening to all your favorite 78’s on. See? When we actually produce goods in this great country of ours, they’re pretty damn good.
Now that I’ve got the machine, I get to get to the really fun part – buying 78’s. Almost all of my favorite songs are, well, old. Bechet, Sissle, Calloway, Whiteman, Goodman, Dorsey, Cole, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The classics and the standards are a delight to listen to on these old machines (I just picked up a record of “Sing, Sing, Sing” that I hope won’t send me into a coma of giddiness when I play it for the first time once it arrives.) But then there are songs that you’ve never heard of. Just random, catchy melodies that haven’t been played in a hundred years. Literally.
Such is the case of one of my first records that was thrown in with the machine, a Brunswick record of Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)” performed by the Regent Club Orchestra (the singer himself is not labeled on the record… how mysterious!) I personally cannot think of a more appropriate, if not more haunting, song to sum up the novelty and thrill of playing these machines. Think about it: this song is most definitely ended. How many people are honestly familiar with it these days? But the melody lingers on… the melody lingers on, indeed. Very haunting. When I first played this record, it caught my ear in a way that was driving me insane – I was certain I had heard it many times before. And sure enough, a search in my iTunes library revealed an ever rarer recording from the 1895 Ruth Carousel Organ from Crescent Park Carousel, one of the most exquisite carousels in the country and a frequently-visited landmark of my youth. Here’s a brief snippet of the song being played on the machine.
If anyone is interested in me publishing videos here or on YouTube of some recordings, drop a comment here and I’ll see what I can do – I’ve got a lot of the classics arriving soon, and recordings of some are nowhere to be found online. I would like to do a service to anyone who would be legitimately interested in hearing them.