The first thing you notice upon entering the ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC) is the smell—that familiar, sweet, musty smell of aging LP sleeves. An aphrodisiac for collectors like me, and a scent that suggests somewhere in this ridiculously large collection lives every single record on my want list. You wonder what kind of support structure is needed to keep the building from sinking (you’d be surprised how many homes of record collectors have that very problem). Music ephemera of all sorts—an Alan Freed bag, snappy LP sleeves, sheet music, an original copy of Alan Betrock’s Girl Groups discography (!!!!)—are thumb-tacked to the walls, and every inch of free space is occupied by vinyl LPs, 45s, DVDs, CDs, music books, and boxes of new arrivals. You could spend hours just staring.
It’s a lofty goal—tracking down every single piece of popular music released since 1950, but the ARChive’s co-founder Bob George began with his own personal collection of 47,000 recordings and has since grown the ARChive into the largest collection of recorded music in the world. Considering the countless libraries worldwide dedicated to the preservation of the written word, it’s surprising that recorded music hasn’t been given similar treatment. Bob George is clearly ahead of his time.
The staff (including brrrrrrilliant DJ + collector Phast Phreddie) at ARC’s headquarters in TriBeCa, New York work daily to ensure a regular inflow of donations and an updated inventory of the archive’s two million-plus stock. Its board members include Keith Richards, David Bowie, Martin Scorsese, Todd Rundgren, Nile Rogers, and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. Fred regularly donates bits and pieces of his multi-genre vinyl collection, and yesterday Eilon Paz (from vinyl photography site, Dust & Grooves) and I met Fred at the ARC for an interview and photo shoot.
Fred arrived with a bag full of LPs (the full list will be posted along with his interview on Dust & Grooves) and posed with each record for the camera. I snuck in at the end of the shoot to grab a quick photo with Fred and his “Happy Hooker” LP. He’s been digging since the ’70s and he made sure we knew that this small pile wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. When we asked if anyone has actually seen his record collection, he reminded us of an interview he did with New York magazine where he was photographed in front of his wall-to-wall shelves of records.
The ARChive opens its door to the public every December for their weeklong holiday record fair. This year it runs from December 7 – 15. Those who wish to further explore this music treasury are encouraged to become a “Friend of ARC” via various donation options, which will give you greater access to the archives and an invitation to the ARC’s bi-annual cocktail parties.
Visit the ARC online here: http://www.arcmusic.org/begin.html
p.s. I just found an original copy of Alan Betrock’s “Girl Group Discography” on eBay. Huzzah!
p.p.s. Thanks to Eilon Paz for this shot of Fred Schneider, the Happy Hooker, and me!