From: The Bootleg Reader <BR@nonet.net>
Subject: Kozzin NY Times boot article
Date: Tue, 09 Dec 1997 20:42:52 -0500
Bootlegging as a public service: no, this isn't a joke
by Allan Kozinn. The New York Times Oct 8, 1997
v147 n281 pB2(N) pE2(L) col 3 (26 col in)
About a year ago, the police raided two shops in Greenwich
Village that sold bootleg CD's, the unauthorized recordings of
concerts, radio broadcasts and studio outtakes that collectors
prize because they give a broader perspective on a musician's
work than can be had by listening solely to commercially released
recordings. Bootlegs cover the waterfront, from jazz to symphony
and opera: wherever there is a devoted audience, there are
Record companies loathe bootlegs, of course, as do some (but by
no means all) musicians. Bootleggers do remove certain creative
prerogatives from musicians' hands -- what to release and what
not to -- and they generally don't pay royalties or studio fees.
Yet some musicians secretly love them: owners of several
Greenwich Village shops say touring rock bands are avid
collectors. Paul McCartney once told me, "I have no problem with
bootlegs, although every time I say that, my lawyer says, 'Oh yes
Bootlegging has been a felony in New York State since 1995, and
selling bootlegs has long been illegal everywhere. Last summer's
raids turned out to be the opening salvo of a record industry war
in several states. In Greenwich Village, Dennis C. Vacco, the
State Attorney General, posed for news cameras, disks in hand,
and declared: "People are being ripped off by the people running
this shop. They are paying top dollar for these knockoffs, but
they are not getting top quality."
It was clear to all serious record collectors that Mr. Vacco was
not one. By speaking of bootlegs as if they were pirated
recordings -- copies of commercially available disks -- he was
blurring an important distinction. He was incorrect on purely
technical grounds: collectors who seek these hard-to-find disks
attest that many bootlegs offer sound quality and packaging far
superior to commercial labels. This is not a consumer protection
Bootlegging involves a complex web of personal, artistic and
commercial rights and ethical issues. Most collectors would be
happier buying this material from legitimate sources. But from a
broader cultural perspective, bootleggers are doing something
Perhaps their most significant contribution is preserving
recordings that would not otherwise have been kept, including
material taped from radio. A spectacular illustration of this is
"New York Philharmonic: The Historic Broadcast 1923 to 1987," a
10-CD set that the orchestra is releasing this week in a private
edition that will be sold for $185 through the Internet
(www.newyork-philharmonic.org) and by telephone (800-557-8268).
For connoisseurs of this century's great conductors, this is an
incredible compendium. It includes Toscanini, Reiner, Klemperer,
Stokowski, Walter, Stravinski and Bernstein performing works that
they never recorded commercially, as well as collaborations
between soloists and conductors that are not otherwise preserved
on disk. Because these are live recordings, they capture an
electricity that more pristine studio recordings lack. They also
let a listener track changes in taste and performance style over
the decades and changes in the orchestra's response to different
If not for home recording, though, much of this set would not
exist. Until the Philharmonic established its own archives in the
1960's, it did not save its broadcasts. Devoted collectors,
however, recorded the broadcasts, at first on 78 r.p.m. disks. In
some cases, the only surviving source was a single battered disk.
In others, bootlegged copies helped the set's producer and
engineer trace the best sources.
There are similar tales in pop. In 1982, Kevin Howlett, a BBC
producer to assemble a program of recordings the Beatles made in
the BBC's studios, including about three dozen otherwise
unreleased songs. When he discovered, to his horror, that the BBC
had discarded virtually all the original tapes, he advertised in
a music magazine, imploring listeners who had defied BBC's
admonitions about the illegality of taping broadcasts to lend him
their tapes. He also drew freely from bootlegs, as did EMI when
it released its official "Beatles at the Beeb" set in 1994.
The obvious thirst for bootlegs, moreover, has helped legitimate
companies identify a fresh market. In 1975, six years after
bootleggers compiled some of Bob Dylan's private rehearsal tapes
under the title "Great White Wonder," Columbia released "The
Basement Tapes," with similar material. In 1991, Mr. Dylan issued
"The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1," with a broader expanse on
unreleased work, much of it revelatory, some of it never
Frank Zappa, irritated by the multitude of bootlegs devoted to
his work, made his own pressings of 20 classic bootlegs and
released them in two boxed sets called "Beat the Boots." And Mr.
McCartney, realizing that his appearance on MTV's "Unplugged"
show would inevitably be bootlegged, released it himself as
"Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)."
Virtually all these releases, official or bootleg, illuminate the
creative process. Mr. Dylan's version of "Like a Rolling Stone"
in three-quarter time and the Beatles' first take of "Strawberry
Fields Forever," with its different instrumentation and verse
order, show how composing choices are made. The Philharmonic's
live recording of Arthur Rubinstein playing the Chopin First
Concerto with Bruno Walter conducting captures an otherwise
It is argued that creative artists should maintain absolute
control over their work and that recordings they have not
approved should not bear public scrutiny. But perhaps that notion
is flawed. The best artists, after all, are severely, self-
critical. They are also, naturally, more interested in current
projects than in examining their own processes.
The Beatles proved this when they produced their six-disk
"anthology," packed with unreleased tracks, many of them longtime
bootleg favorites. For years they had insisted that their
unreleased work was not up to their standard. But as they sorted
through session tapes in 1995, they found themselves as charmed
and surprised by some of their abandoned work as bootleg
collectors have always been.
Musicians tend to regard their discards as discards, not as
avenues of study. Brahms, for example, was certainly within his
rights when he burned his unfinished manuscripts shortly before
his death in 1893. Yet it is difficult not to regard that as an
act of cultural vandalism. By comparison, the bootleggers who
preserve our musical heritage should be regarded as cultural
heroes, not as criminals.
Imagine that: a writer for the NY Times considers the prosecution
of theft a "drag". Does Kozinn have the same protective feelings
Paul McCartney told me -- and I have it on tape -- that he has no problem
with bootlegs. Ringo doesn't seem to care about them either: I've given
him plenty of tapes, and he's never said, "hey I don't approve of you
having these." Lennon was an avid collector of bootlegs: he spoke about
them in interviews as well. And Harrison has discussed bootlegs in
interviews as well, with an attitude closer to amusement than
condemnation. It's their work, and if it doesn't bother them for
collectors like us to have them, that's fine with me.
THIS MONOPHONIC MICROGROOVE RECORDING IS PLAYABLE ON MONOPHONIC AND STEREO PHONOGRAPHS. IT CANNOT BECOME OBSOLETE. IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE A SOURCE OF OUTSTANDING SOUND REPRODUCTION, PROVIDING THE FINEST MONOPHONIC PERFORMANCE FROM ANY PHONOGRAPH.