Saving Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, And You

Most everyone has a record collection [33s, cassettes, ipods] and most everyone assumes they are theirs to keep. However, time is the ultimate keeper, and eventually most or all will be lost. Which is why the Congress — in one of its rare moments of agreement and foresight — ordered the Library of Congress to better retrieve and preserve “our national history in sound.”

Just like films, almost half of our sound history has been lost. Including some of the original recordings by Sinatra, Garland and Gershwin. Efforts are being made to attack the problem. But when it’s after-the-fact it’s always a long-shot.

Not to Thomas Edison. Before the great inventor died he was focusing on what he called “my greatest breakthrough.” Working from the law of conservation of energy, he postulated every sound in our world was retrievable. It was floating around somewhere in the ethers if only we knew how to re-process it.

His dream? To someday hear the actual voices of Jesus at the Sea of Galilee…Caesar in the Roman Senate…DaVinci and Galileo in their greatest declarations…Henry VIII defying the Pope…Washington at Valley Forge and Lincoln at Gettysburg. The list is forever, and Edison’s vision was equally grand.

It didn’t happen.

We have some scattered notes he left behind, but no results were ever realized. The concept, though, is a haunting one. There are so many fascinating moments we might wish to re-capture. Among them — if we had the courage — some of the things we ourselves said years ago. In a classroom, to a first date, at an anniversary, in the bleachers at Wrigley, and dear god in one of our more stupid moments of self-glory which we have forever wished we could take back.

Humanity is always toying with tomorrow. And yet, how often does that Marcel Proust moment strike when we desperately long for those personal remembrances of things past. If only I could get my hands on his notes….

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