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August 15, 2005

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Greg Williams

During the '70s, my father taped a series of interviews with longtime residents of our small town - Prairie du Chien, Wis. Although my brothers and I knew about the tapes, we didn't actually listen to them until Dad died a few years ago. (By that point, it's likely that EVERYONE on the tapes had passed away.)

Although copies of the tapes are kept at a local musuem and in the archives of the state historical society, it's unlikely that they'll ever be heard by more than a handful of people. With this is mind, the experience of listening to these conversations seems even more strange: Long-dead and mostly-forgotten small-town folks discussing life at the turn of the 20th Century. Tales about one-room schools, button factories, breweries, moonshiners, presidential visits, and food preparation before the days of refrigeration (which, in the case of meat, apparently involved large stockpiles of lard).

As you've obviously found with the Cobain tapes, the experience of "eavesdropping" on long-forgotten private conversations can be powerful, disconcerting and even a bit eerie.

Good luck with your film!

AJ Schnack

Greg,
Thanks for sharing that. When my family traveled on trips when I was younger, my father would record a narration/diary of the days sights. "Today we went to the Lincoln Memorial" and the like. While their value is limited to my family, these tapes are priceless. There is a undeniable power to the human voice - and hearing it unimpaired by the accompanying visuals can be even more striking.
Let's all vow to record more conversations with those around us. I think we will be pleased (as well as our children) that we did.
AJ

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