There is a wonderful story in the New York Times about Zero Freitas, a Brazilian businessman who, the headline reads, is “buying up all the world’s vinyl records.” It is a great testament to his love of an impressionable childhood memory, a cherished bygone era, and a personal obsession gone just slightly over the edge.
Paul Mawhinney, a former music-store owner in Pittsburgh, spent more than 40 years amassing a collection of some three million LPs and 45s, many of them bargain-bin rejects that had been thoroughly forgotten. The world’s indifference, he believed, made even the most neglected records precious: music that hadn’t been transferred to digital files would vanish forever unless someone bought his collection and preserved it.
Mawhinney spent about two decades trying to find someone who agreed. He struck a deal for $28.5 million in the late 1990s with the Internet retailer CDNow, he says, but the sale of his collection fell through when the dot-com bubble started to quiver. He contacted the Library of Congress, but negotiations fizzled. In 2008 he auctioned the collection on eBay for $3,002,150, but the winning bidder turned out to be an unsuspecting Irishman who said his account had been hacked.
Then last year, a friend of Mawhinney’s pointed him toward a classified ad in the back of Billboard magazine:
Freitas is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. ‘I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself.’
RECORD COLLECTIONS. We BUY any record collection. Any style of music. We pay HIGHER prices than anyone else.
That fall, eight empty semitrailers, each 53 feet long, arrived outside Mawhinney’s warehouse in Pittsburgh. The convoy left, heavy with vinyl. Mawhinney never met the buyer.
LP Anniversary Song
by Michael Harper
33 1/3 revolutions to the turntable
is good enough for any longplaying LP
and so you both sing above the freeway
which the mayor says will become
a goldmine when they move 195 over the bay
and we will be back in the wellspring
of high capitalism, high above the rodeways
of the arterial world; veins, the grooves
of this LP are of the mutings of Miles Davis
Lady Day and the Basie ensembles from KC
I would wish you, while you straddle the jeep
you are still paying for, long avenues of swing
on the Hedisan dancefloor, and know the jewels
on wayward fingers were parsed by immigrants
and so remember their songs from the rafters
in chestnut beams and German windows in need
of adjustment: you are among the gentry of art
freebasing the atmosphere of noisy streetlife
traffic from the students who steal our parking
spaces, but are on the ground while you spring
up onto the horizon, forgiving the trucks
at easement with turnstyles we can only fathom
after cd’s have gone out of style
your own LPs beautiful in vinyl equipoise
a happy couple
in the new house
of happy feet
John Forasté © Brown University
About Michael Harper
Michael Harper is one of America’s most celebrated poets, having received honors and appointments from artistic organizations and academic institutions across the country, ranging from National Book Award to a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is much sought after for poetic readings, guest lectureships, and visiting professorships, and served as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993, and as Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University.
His poetry is highly influenced by the music he loves: jazz and blues sound through the lines and often appear as inspiration, metaphor or rhythm in individual poems. His poetry is filled with references to his past; history, experience, and family are strong inspirations which reverberate throughout his work. His ancestry, to which he refers frequently, is filled with fascinating and inspirational individuals. Paraphrasing Ralph Ellison, Harper once said: “Relatives are people that you are born into, and have no choice about them. Ancestors are people you choose.” His ancestors live on and their voices can still be heard in the lines of his verse.
– From Brown University Library