Thursday, November 07, 2013

Voices from the past

While I was cleaning out my grandparents' house, I came across two mystery records, with weeks and several rooms separating my discoveries. The first one was marked "Marty 1949" (Marty was my grandmother's nickname) in pen, and looked like any old 45. There were no clues as to what might be on it, and I put it aside to try listening to it at some point when I was near a functioning record player. The second one was stuffed inside the old 1970s Curtis Mathis console, along with a stack of children's 45s and some defunct 8-tracks. This one was in an old mailer that said "phonograph - do not bend" on it and said that it had been recorded at the San Diego Army and Navy YMCA. It was addressed to my grandpa's mother, in his handwriting, so it seemed pretty clear that he'd recorded himself and sent it to her. I couldn't make out the date on the postmark. Once I got the console fired up and found that it worked, more or less, I tried to play both records and found out they were 78s, so I had no way to listen to them.

I had them put on CD yesterday, though. A friend with whom I've kept in touch thanks to facebook--we all have so many of those now!--is a record hound and general fan of *media*, and he digitizes old recordings just for fun. He saw my post about the recordings and offered to transfer my grandparents' records for nothing, which was amazing, and I paid him in beer. I went over to his boho apartment, a 4th or 5th floor walkup in a former (very former) luxury hotel, nestled into a couch in a room filled with records and CDs and laserdiscs and scores and guitars and an old Nintendo, and got to hear these voices out of the past. Surprisingly, I did not burst into tears. But it was still an incredibly cool thing, to hear these young, high voices coming out of the speakers, talking blithely, just as if these wouldn't end up being their only audible artifacts of that era.

I put the recordings on soundcloud for the family to listen to, and I'm linking one here. Grandma took a Dale Carnegie class when she moved up to St Paul to work, and I'm guessing that's where this was recorded--they had to give little speeches, I think. The record had deteriorated some at the center, so we lose the end of the story, but I love that she talked about something borderline scandalous, or maybe that most people would keep hushed up, and talked so obliquely and tactfully about some of it, and then basically made a plug for daycare. Pretty cool.


  1. So. Great. BTW, would have digitized this for you in a heartbeat but glad you had someone nearby who could. "Druckle and nervous drain" are my new words of woe. How is it that oldey timey voices sound so darn oldey timey?Also love the skips at the end!

  2. I think she's saying "struggle and nervous strain" but I like your interpretation better.

  3. AMAZINGAMAZINGAMAZING!!! You are so lucky to have this. What a super cool thing and yay for friends who are into obsolete media! Now that you have a digital recording, any thought of donating the original record to a local community archives?

  4. I have my father's bar mitzvah speech on 78, probably recorded in one of those boardwalk recording booths. I really need to listen to and digitize that suckah.

    Recently I came across an answering machine tape from senior year of college. One message is my mom excitedly telling my machine (since she couldn't get in touch with anyone else) that my brother had been accepted to Penn State. To hear my mom (now 23 years older and unwell) sound so young and happy, alternately thrilled me and broke my heart.