2003 MAY 14 #134
For 25 years or so, there was a unique event in the city of Skokie, IL, just north of Chicago. It was the Mammoth Music Mart, which was a ten-day charity event, raising money for research into ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). People donated their unwanted albums, 45's, 78's, sheet music, instruments, cassettes and reel tapes (and, in recent years, CDs) for resale to those that would want them. The sale was held for the last time, in fall, 2002, as the charity has decided to pursue alternate means of fundraising.
I became aware of this sale about seven years after it began, in 1985 or so, and I became a frequent attendee, always going one of the first days (typically taking a day off of work to go there all day), and returning several times throughout the sale. A significant percentage of my the odder elements of my collection was accrued at this sale, over the 18 years or so I went.
Although every inch of the sale got my attention, a close friend and I would pore over a section which was innocuously labeled "blank reel-to-reels". This meant they were not factory pre-recorded, not that they were actually blank. Quite the opposite - they were recorded on in people's homes, with all manner of material, from fascinating (Christmas morning with the family, arguments, kids playing around, top 40 radio broadcasts from the '50's and early '60's), to the mindnumbingly uninteresting (endless tapes of classical music recorded off the air, someone's Uriah Heep collection, or even actual blank space).
There would typically be 300-1000 reels to look through, and I would grab anything that looked really old (I know what the early reel boxes look like), had writing on it that indicated something exciting lay within, or (sometimes) those which said nothing at all on them. Almost every year, there seemed to be someone's whole collection of tapes, which had been donated, and which somehow (when everything had been listened to), told a part of that person or family's life story.
In the mid-'90's, I found one such group of tapes. Handwritten on about 12-15 tapes, were the names of songs and, sometimes, the performers. These tapes were dated from 1953 through the early '60's. What became clear to me was that this was a group of friends, including several members of one family, who worked together on music, largely for their own enjoyment. Only one of these people, a man named Don Moreland, clearly appears to have had any professional life in music, based on these tapes. At least a half-dozen people take the lead vocal on songs, but the killer tune, for me, is sung by a young girl, presumably Mr. Moreland's daughter, Marigail Moreland.
The song is called "Reputation", and it is rehearsed repeatedly over these tapes, with at least two "final performances" preserved for posterity, once in 1953, and again in 1957. The two versions are similar, but distinct. I find this to be a first rate tune, and an imaginative, intricate arrangement, particularly the vocal interplay the final sung chord. The guitar playing is pretty fun, too.
This fascinates me on so many levels it's hard to explain. Sometimes, I listen to these tracks and wonder: Who were/are these people? Do they remember making these tapes and songs? Do they have any suspicion that their voices are out there, being heard by strangers? Didn't anyone want these tapes? If you had reel-to-reels that are clearly marked as having your brother, father or sister's musical work on it, would you, COULD YOU donate it to a music sale? I couldn't. I'd hold onto it for dear life.
And beyond that, Where Are These People? Some of them might still be alive. Certainly, Marigale Moreland must be about 58 or 60 years old or so. Sometimes I wish I could let Ms. Moreland (whatever her name may be, today) that I adore her song, and that my twelve year old daughter sings it now. If you were to hear the series of tapes made of rehearsals of this song, you'd know, as I do, that those involved thought it was a special song.
I kind of wish I could let the singer know that others think so, too, and that the song won't be forgotten for many years - 46 years after being recorded, that song has a fan who is not yet in high school - my daughter, who sang it at my 40th Birthday party with me and and a friend of mine, three years ago.
- Bob Purse
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