Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Friends Went to EschaCon and All I Got Was This Lousy Attitude

I have a cat who needs a trip to the vet's, a friend who spent last night in jail, and some sort of respiratory infection that just won't quit. Lots of my online friends are at EschaCon in Philadelphia right now, and despite having been practically ordered to show up, I couldn't because of transportation logistics...and it seems as though it would have been better to have stayed home, had I even tried to go. (How does one cross an international border by rail, anyway?)

Not that I'm, you know, bitter or anything...

Update: Hello to friends from FDL! And thank you Spocko for mentioning me. As always, you're way too good to me. Maybe I can make it to EschaCon or whatever's passing for YKos next year. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, birushalayim ba'shana haba'a...)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cab Calloway and Klezmer: A Maven Speaks

According to the associated page information, on July 2, 2007, noted klezmer musician and theorist Hankus Netsky, weighed in on the subject of Cab Calloway and klezmer music at Cab Calloway: On the Yiddish Side of the Street. Great minds think alike. Fools seldom differ. Mr. Netsky can pick, if he likes.

My essay on the subject is from January 8, 2007, and is called "Just Tell Her Klezmer Joe Was Here and Had to Go." (Naturally, I had the better title; Netsky is the real musician here, and I'm just a writer with pretensions of know-some-of-it-ism about music...)

Speaking of know-some-of-it-ism about music, I am thinking about writing an essay on rail references in acoustic blues of the 1930s. In the meantime, please go to and enjoy the vocal and guitar stylings of the enigmatic lost legend Geeshie Wiley, probably one of the best blues guitarists of the period, and an absolute genius of an arranger, who recorded a grand total of six sides in two sessions in 1930 and 1931 and then disappeared again. And did I mention that Geeshie Wiley was a woman?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Tourist's Guide to the Foreign Country Called the Past

Part of the way my perspective on history has been shaped by my background in English literature is that I've developed a real love for primary sources. My anti-authoritarian streak also compels me to go straight to the sources instead of relying on the judgements of historians more professional than I. The internet is actually a wealth of primary-source historical information, all digitised for easy access. (It's like a giant library that just appears at your house! How cool is that?)

Here, presented for your at-home history study pleasure, is a small annotated linkography of primary-source information on the web.

  1. The Internet Archive, which is probably the biggest single collection of primary-source information. (It's not just the "Wayback Machine.") Particularly noteworthy and useful in my estimation are:

        The Prelinger Archives, a collection of digitised films that spans roughly the period between 1920 and 1960, and features a lot of ephemera, such as commercials and public-service films

       The 78 RPM Collection, a library of over 2000 digitised 78 RPM disc and cylinder recordings (I spotted both recordings from both wax and celluloid cylinders). Highlights include some classic Delta blues sides dating from between 1920 and 1940, and a recording of the last living (and only recorded) castrato singer, Alessandro Moreschi.

       The Conet Project, a compilation of recordings of numbers stations.

  2. The World War I Primary Document Archive (thanks to J. Plotke for making me aware of its existence). This resource contains HTML-transcribed versions of documents from the First World War.

  3. The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record recreated online. These are photographs from pre-Revolution Russia, most of them dating to around 1900, that were produced using a unique glass plate negative process that allowed colour images.

  4. The Yad Vashem Museum (you can access their central database of names from the main page) and the Nizkor Project, two of the best Holocaust research sites online.

  5. The Mudcat Cafe, an online collection of information about, lyrics, and music for folk, traditional, and blues, with an emphasis on North American music forms.

  6. Early Recorded Sounds and Wax Cylinders, an archive of early recordings, usually in cylinder format.

  7. The World's Earliest Television Recordings -- Don McLean's site on early British 30-line analogue television disc recordings made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The site includes Real format video for viewing.

Of course, there are lots more historical resources out there, but being someone who specialises in ephemera and media in a small way, I enjoy these ones the best.