There it is, sat on a forgotten shelf, in a lacklustre charity shop, at the rougher end of the average high street. It has passed through many hands, more often through the mid 1930’s and early 1940’s, than over the last few decades, but it has had number of new homes right up until it landed here. Its brown outer paper sleeve had mellowed to a darker beige over the years, black script with the word ‘Brunswick’ signed across in jet black, the smaller print faded somewhat over the years, but still legible, inside, the slick deep black shellac still had its semi gloss and deep grooves, a moment, captured in time, recorded upon it.
It has since been superseded by vinyl thirty three and a thirds and the smaller forty five’s, compact tapes, mini discs, compact discs and now the ever popular MP3 down loaded from the supplier to your device, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks of the year, with you still enshrouded in comfort of your lounge. One of the only purchases we make and allow in to our lives with little, or no suspicion, we just open our arm and allow the content to envelop our private worlds, whisking us away to greener pastures, it brings us joy and sorrow in its vibrations, and still we succumb to its melody.
This 78, as they have become know, had its message embossed upon it in 1936, its first recording in English. This blank disc of shellac, with its misty black sheen, smooth and wrinkle free, was removed from its previous resting place and was scarred with its message, this was the first ever copy produced, and by the turn of the millennium would be known for its number of victims, it was not the disc that was the container of evil, but the message itself. The order of the words and breaks, topped of by the composers own melancholia, an emotion far more powerful than any other. With these ingredients aligned, and the freedom of the human mind while listening to melody’s, it was a perfect storm for premature death and the over emotional frame of mind.
‘Gloomy Sunday’ had first been composed in 1933, by a Hungarian pianist Rezso Seress, first called ‘Vege a Vilagnak’ (The world is ending), it was about the despair of war, ending in a quiet prayer, for the piano in c-minor. Another version of the lyrics were rewritten by poet Laszlo Javor entitled ‘Sad Sunday’ in which the protagonist commits suicide following his lovers death. Since then it has been recorded by Hungarian Pal Kalmár, Hal Kemp, Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday, amongst many others. In each reincarnation the curse grows in power, almost like the previous version led its next composer to refine the code. It has been banned by a number of radio stations, including the BBC claiming it as ‘being detrimental to wartime moral’ a ban not lifted until 2002.
The composer himself also committed suicide in 1968, and the band leader whom recorded this version, was killed in a car crash, before being able to re-launch his career as tastes turned from ‘sweet’ jazz to swing, his band fell apart within two years of recording this disc, he was dead at just 35. This particular copy, sitting here, long forgotten and silent has twelve victims to its credit, soaking up emotions like a dehumidifier removes moisture from the air. Each peak of suicidal energy is infused within the delicate shellac shell, vibrating through its grooves, prowling in ever decreasing circles for its next victim, and still absorbing the negative emotions that fill this little dusty shop.
Its price is considerably higher than the one pound fifty it shows on the tag that adorns its near pristine paper label, without even considering its perfect grooves, scratch free. Its not the first time it has been in a shop like this, forever the home of un-wanted item from a house sale, over looked and looked past in a search for gold, hidden treasures or more notable recordings from popular culture. It will be discovered one day, by an enthusiast, a collector of the bygone music format, the wind up gramophones and tins of needles are all searched for by those that love the crackle of pre iTunes recordings, a band of people even fewer than those that love its vinyl replacement. As life becomes more sterile and error free, computers correcting our past misdemeanours, it brings us back to places and times we hold dear when we listen to old records in vintage formats, it brings us back to the moment you smell its special odour as you remove the airtight cellophane, the rasp of the inner paper sleeve against the internal raw cardboard of its outer cover, the hiss of static as we carefully remove the record from it paper wrapping, careful not to dull its notes with greasy fingerprints, the rush of air that escapes as the disc falls towards the rubber clad turntable when placed over the spindle, the scratch as the needle looks for its place to start. All now sanitised by the all encompassing off spring of Charles Babbage’s Difference engine.
It will be found hiding here one day, there is not a doubt, excited finger will grasp it, unable to believe what they have found. Fumbling for the price tag, unable to believe what they see written upon it, removed from the pristine sleeve, blown free of dust and examined up close for any imperfections. The joy felt at that moment will be shared by both the purchaser to be and the dusty 78, soon it will be returned to such a shop once the individual has followed the course of many others before him, as this deathly disc goes unnoticed to another estate sale or house clearing. One day, maybe, its value as a commodity will outweigh its value as a piece of entertainment, and may never feel the scratch of cold steel again, but until then it will hide in plain sight, waiting.