Fans: Curatorial Masters of the Web

Now in their 1970s, my parents have belatedly come around to Beatlemania, suggesting strongly that either my fandom genes are inherited from parents who’d simply failed to express them, or there’s some kind of reverse inheritance going on in which my parents have picked up fandom from me. Either way, John Paul George and Ringo are getting a lot of loving and critical dissection from this pair of retired literature professors.

One of the discussions we had was when I visited over the holidays was about the lack of a proper Let It Be DVD despite the ease of finding low quality bootleg versions through Amazon and other online retailers. My mother explained how the guy with all 72 hours of footage couldn’t bring himself to go through it all to reedit the film. I said this sounded like a perfect project for fans, who would surely do a magnificent job.

So it was fun this weekend to see the curatorial wonders of Beatles fans popping up in a New York Times article. The question posed by the column was what’s wrong with the music business that it can’t reissue material people actually want to purchase:

And how many record labels, just now, are facing an army of consumers who are saying, in effect: “We’ve bought this music several times already — on mono and stereo LPs, on picture discs and audiophile vinyl, perhaps on cassette and most recently on CD — but please, we beg you, sell it to us again.”

But fear not:

While EMI and Apple have been squabbling, collectors have taken matters into their own hands, pooling unreleased tracks and compiling anthologies that are far more ambitious than anything EMI is likely to release. Usually, these unauthorized desktop bootleg projects which are of course illegal have attractive cover art and copious annotations, and these days money rarely changes hands for them: the people who compile them distribute them freely and encourage others to do so either on home-burned CDs and DVDs or, increasingly, on the Internet.

Some are curatorial masterpieces. A label called Purple Chick has assembled deluxe editions of each commercially released album, offering the original discs in their mono and stereo mixes, along with the singles also in mono and stereo released at the time, as well as every known demo, studio outtake and alternative mix.

What can Purple Chick offer my mother, the Let It Be fan?

And if you want to begin the new year by commemorating the 40th anniversary of the “Let It Be” sessions, which ran from Jan. 2 to 31, 1969, you still have a few days to find Purple Chick’s “A/B Road,” which offers nearly 96 hours of those sessions on 83 CDs.

96 hours. 83 cds.

And people put them together lovingly because of their passion for the band and the knowledge that the fruits of this creativity would be savored with appreciation by others.

Too bad about that “which are of course illegal” part…