Set aside an hour-and-a-half sometime in the next week and take a look at Desperate Man Blues, director Edward Gillian’s 2003 film about Joe Bussard, known in record-collecting circles for his love for and devotion to 78s. Bussard seems like a curmudgeonly old fella who lights up once he drops the needle on one of his many rare discs. He chain-smokes his cigars, stomps his feet to the old blues and bluegrass and old-timey jazz that he collects, and rails against rock-and-roll as “the cancer that killed music.”
The part of the film I loved was traveling with him as he talked about searching for records, reminiscing about some of his amazing finds — some 78s he has are the only known copies in existence. He describes crossing streams to get to remote homes, flea markets, and dusty shacks lit by oil lamps, down on his knees, looking at for forgotten recordings by forgotten artists in a format that is not only part of a nearly-lost format, but the least-accessible type of that format.
On one of his trips to look at 78s, he views the man’s records and declares that they’re not old enough, rattling off a bunch of artists’ names. When the two men don’t recognize the names, he takes them to his pickup and plays cassettes for them. When Kokomo Arnold’s “Milkcow Blues” comes on, one of the men begins singing along and for a moment, all three are united in the experience. It’s a great moment, and it’s immediately recognizable for music lovers.
Desperate Man Blues (Pitchfork.tv) – available until February 6.