Feel the Music captures its author’s passion and fuels the never-ending search for unusual, inspired sounds.
Ask a seasoned record collector about the catalogs that Paul Major mailed out in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and you’ll invariably hear tales of admiration for the mind-blowing music he disseminated and the elusive rarities that got away. Specializing in psychedelic rock, Major also sought out music that was mind-altering in less conventional ways. He was one of the first crate-diggers to seek out private press records, albums pressed in limited quantities of 300 or fewer. Such idiosyncratic titles as Michael Farneti’s Good Morning Kisses and Fraction’s Moon Blood, among other albums initially released in the depth of obscurity, first caught the ears of the vinyl obsessed in one of Major’s type-written set sale lists, sometimes described in a breathless, stream of-consciousness prose that was the written approximation of what he was feeling as he listened. One-part New York memoir and three-parts record collector’s coffee-table book, Feel the Music: The Psychedelic Worlds of Paul Majors is a wonderful scrapbook-Bildungsroman-want list, but there is one thing terrible about its existence: it will make you yearn to hunt down more records than a well-adjusted member of society should probably own.
Through clippings and photographs, the book’s first section documents Major’s formative years. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he moved to Manhattan in the ‘70s and worked at Greenwich Village’s Village Oldies, which by his own admission was as much vermin-infested party scene as viable business. It was during this period that Major formed the punk band Sorcerers, and the book comes with an EP of music from that group as well as the heavy garage-jam band Endless Boogie, which he formed in 1997.
But chapter two is where the book’s reason for being really begins: “The Birth of Weird Record Dealing.” Through countless bloggers, online dealers and a streaming feed of WFMU, the internet has made discovering weird music much easier, but it wasn’t always that way. Conversational essays from fellow collectors tell of their first encounter with Major or one of his catalogs. Rich Haupt writes about being one of Major’s record moles, a series of likeminded scavengers who scattered the nation in search of some new rarity that was strange enough to list in the next catalog. It was Haupt who inadvertently discovered Palmer Rockey’s Rockey’s Style, a con artist’s vanity project that he thought was just crap—maybe it is, but it’s absolutely transcendent crap!
Rockey is an example of what Major called “Real People” records—music made by such inspired amateurs as The Shaggs, whose lack of conventional musical competence was more than made up for by their spirit and the kind of personal vision that can only come from someone so driven by the passion to make music that it overcomes technical shortcomings. Major and his cohorts plowed through thousands of private press Christian albums for such exemplars of the subgenre as The Christian Astronauts and the concept album There’s a New Dawn.
Essays include pieces by collectors who followed Major’s example with their own insatiable research into psychedelic and private press records: Johan Kugelberg, who compiled Enjoy the Experience, and the late Patrick Lundbourg, author of The Acid Archives, are both responsible for essential reference books. Which leads us to the primary source material of Feel the Music: replicas of Major’s record catalogs in all their small-print glory. This is where the reader will dive in, one hand propping the book open while the other hand looks up something on Discogs or YouTube. There’s space for just three catalogs here, but each is a dense, time-consuming and rewarding read that will send the reader down endless vinyl rabbit holes. Major has dedicated his life to the consumption and celebration of music that may have never reached beyond a private press artist’s close circle of friends without him. Feel the Music captures its author’s passion and fuels the never-ending search for unusual, inspired sounds.