Two Turntables and a Cactus Thorn

Gloria Swanson drops the needle.

This made me think of my good buddy Gamma Fodder, who is DJing his first real club gig in Toronto this week. It’s a magazine article on messing with the phonograph from 1917. Scratching and needle-dropping sixty years before Grandmaster Flash? “The street finds its own uses for technology,” indeed.

Before I got my phonograph, I suspected that the advertisements might be exaggerated. But I found that they had not even mentioned its most interesting features. They tell how you can play on it but not a word about how you can play with it. They do not hint that by moving the speed regulator back and forth you can make a monolog into a dialog and a solo into a duet … They do not tell you how you can quite transform a record with little drops of water and little grains of sand and little spots of candle grease scattered over it. They mention various needles, steel, fiber, tungsten, and jewels, but not a word about how you can cut up your old combs, be they rubber, celluloid, ivory, or tortoise shell, to make needles. A hard wood toothpick, suitably sharpened, will turn a ten cent record into a seventy-five cent one. A friend from Utah tells me that the progressive people of the West have discarded the boughten needles and are using cactus thorns, with the end rubbed off on sand paper. I wish I could try it, but cactuses don’t grow in New York City except in the Botanical Garden, and there is a policeman on guard there.
—Edwin Slosson, The Independent, October 27 1917.

Go, go, Grandmaster Edwin.