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June 25, 2007

Aural Sex

Can't wait to get a copy of Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s -- a CD full of obscene stories and lewd poetry from the days of the Victrola. Just the kind of thing that kept Anthony Comstock up at night.

You can listen to some of the less eyebrow-curling passages here (scroll down). From the catalog description:

The commercial recordings on this CD are the only known copies that Comstock's men missed. They were preserved by long-time Edison Recording Manager Walter Miller and are now in the vault of the Edison National Historic Site. Scarcity and suppression have kept them silent for a century. They were stories told readily in the bar; yet they became legally actionable offenses when fixed in wax and played on a phonograph in that same bar. Brace yourself. Just because they are from the Victorian era does not mean they are tame by today's standards--far from it.

They are so indecent that Russell Hunting was imprisoned in 1896 for making and selling them. Up to that point Hunting had been doing a brisk trade selling his bawdy cylinders to the exhibitors on Coney Island who had certain "discriminating" customers. Although he recorded under pseudonyms such as "Charley Smith" and "Willy Fathand," his voice was so well-known through his "Casey" routines that he was identified as the creator by aural evidence alone. Hunting's recording career never fully recovered, and he left the U.S. in 1898 to make a fresh start in England.

....In two unique recordings from early in his career, Cal Stewart assumes his familiar Punkin Centre dialect in "Learning a City Gal How to Milk" and performs with an Irish accent in "The Tapeworm Story." James White, who rose to prominence in the Edison organization as the director of many of its early films, performs the most bawdy routines in this collection. "Sim Hadley on a Racket" is a piece that White inherited from Hunting, and he surpasses his mentor in making it filthy.

Hat tip: Rob MacDougall and Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.

Posted by smclemee at June 25, 2007 5:43 AM