The world is always changing: the origins of shrink-wrapping records. I saw a tweet about nurdles a bit ago.
Nurdles aren’t a form of sea life. They are these tiny non-biodegradable plastic refuse balls that are showing up in waterways all over the world in alarming numbers. They come from the things we buy and use. That got me thinking about plastics more generally as a facet of our lives, and then about how product packaging got more and more industrialized and polished and perfectionistic as mass production grew and evolved. At a certain point, it became the normal and expected thing to see only fully airtight products on the shelves of markets and stores. And many of the outer wraps end up made of plastic of some kind, whether as a wrap or clamshell package, or encasement. Nowadays the only time you see an item that’s not sealed up is when it’s in the closeouts, manager’s special, or scratch-and-dent sale area. But it wasn’t always that way.
I don’t quite remember why, but from there I started to wonder about when and why shrink-wrapping became the norm with vinyl record albums. I think it was because records were a thing I knew have been mass produced for a pretty long time, and probably even before plastics became a thing and so ubiquitous. And, because I knew that Jazz was a breakthrough popular medium before Rock, and I wondered what it would have been like to go out and buy a brand new Jazz record in 1948 or something.
[Portrait of Herbie Hill, Lou Blum, and Jack Crystal, Commodore Record Shop, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947, from the Library of Congress collection]
I found a fun message board thread (which is the focus of this banana) populated by people purporting to be old enough to remember when record manufacturers started the practice of sealing the cardboard record sleeves for sale in that thin layer of plastic.
There are a few good nuggets in there. First, when and why did record makers start to seal records up in plastic?
Chuck Nessa explains, “In the US they started wrapping records in the mid/late ’50s to accommodate “rackjobbers” who placed lps in grocery and drug store racks.”
So records weren’t always sold sealed up. But what’s a rackjobber?
More from Chuck: “Rackjobbers were a “class” of distributor that put racks of records in non-music stores. Generally they owned the inventory and billed the stores for records sold. Since these establishments didn’t have clerks tending the inventory, the wrap protected the merchandise.”
Aha. Once you had self-service shopping type stores that also sold all kinds of other stuff, there was the risk that people would get their grubby fingers all over them, thus messing them up.
GA Russell added, “I remember when I bought Meet the Beatles in February of ‘64 that it was hermetically sealed in a thick plastic wrap which was not shrink wrap. Subsequent albums were shrink wrapped, so if I had to say when specifcally, I would say 1964.”
Swanky record store listening booth circa 1955. This and lots more in this great gallery on Mashable.
Finally, Bill Fenohr came through with even more color from his own experiences selling records back in the day. From Bill we learn that in his shop (a) covers were out on the floor and the records were kept behind the counter, (b) with the advent of listening booths came the advent of tons of cannabis remnants in the listening booths, and (c) when the industry widely adopted shrink-wrap around records, this particular shop 86’ed the listening booths and thus with it, a primo place to get high while listening to music went away:
“When i started working in the retail record business in the late 50’s we had two listening booths in our store in East Lansing. We had a system where we kept all of the lp’s filed behind the counter and the covers were out in the bins. If you wanted to hear an lp you brought the cover up and we played the lp on turntables that were wired to the speakers in the booths. Once we got into the 60’s those booths became a never ending source for grass roach’s at the end of the day.
Not all labels used shrink wrap at first as i remember. The rackjobbers were only interested in the big hits, so many of the indie jazz labels like Blue Note did not shrink wrap their stuff until later in the 60’s.
Once everyone started using wrap, we did away with the listening booths.”
The difference between a problem and a mystery. I found a thought I wanted to keep and share with you in an essay by Stephen Batchelor in the most recent Tricycle Magazine called “Embracing Extinction,” on Buddhism and how an individual might think about climate change, and the fact that humans will eventually go poof. Throughout the essay, Batchelor offers various frameworks from philosophers and writers we might apply to all this. He does this in part to draw us outside of the frame we seem to always see things through, of technological and scientific objectification of the Earth. One of those I found particularly engaging even beyond the questions raised in the essay:
“For another 20th-century philosopher, the French writer Gabriel Marcel, our existential condition of having been born and being subject to death is not a problem to be eradicated but a mystery to be embraced. A problem, for Marcel, always stands apart from the one confronting it, whereas a mystery is inseparable from the one who embraces it. As the person who falls sick, ages, and is destined to die, I cannot stand outside these processes in order to treat them as problems to be solved. Instead, I can open myself to the mystery of being here and embrace it in wordless astonishment. Unlike a problem, which vanishes as soon as it is solved, the more deeply we penetrate a mystery the more mysterious it becomes.
In coming to view life through the lens of technology, we risk losing a sense of our unfathomable poignancy and strangeness. In order to manipulate technically the physical and mental elements of our world, they need to appear to us as discrete, definable, readily graspable objects. Only then can we confidently embark on bending them to our will. “A world where techniques are paramount,” remarked Marcel, “is a world given over to desire and fear; because every technique is there to serve some desire or fear.”
This is not an anti-science position, or even much of a science-critical position. It’s the recognition that the element the scientific method works so very hard to account for - individual experience and subjectivity - itself has a domain that’s unique and every bit as critical to pay attention to in a different way. I really like this concrete notion of a mystery. It seems like a useful way to classify some deeply affecting things we go through, experience, or witness, but don’t have much language to get at in a secular context.
I shared this essay mainly just for that potentially handy notion, but that’s a small piece of a very thoughtfully constructed essay with lots to offer on how to look at yourself as a puny mortal and simultaneously find a point of entry into negative realities and massive ecological challenges far bigger than what any of us can address on our own.
Highly recommended, and free without login as far as I know.
They call me Jack Soul. They call me pain in the ass, too. 91 year old jazz cornet player Jack Fine got a new home recently, along with a loving friend and caretaker, some cleanup, a helping hand with the little things, and a beautiful profile on Nola.com.
That’s not a makeshift mute, that’s a bottle of Ensure.
Fellow New Orleans trumpet player James Williams, left in the photo, rescued Fine from a bad situation in a retirement community and has given him a place to stay in the small house at the back of his yard. Times-Picayune staff writer Keith Spera does an absolutely phenomenal job profiling both men and how they crossed paths, including Fine’s picturesque life in music from Greenwich Village to Paris to Frenchmen Street.
There’s something about this little writer’s paraphrase-to-quote from Fine that said a whole hell of a lot with just a few words: “Fine still aspires to play “music for the soul. I don’t want to just play entertainment. They called me Jack Soul. They call me pain in the ass, too.” First, I love the self-effacing rascal turn of that last bit. But second, I know exactly what he means about music for the soul, and I think that’s what I’m after as well.
Those are the three bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it’ll go only to me. Thank you.