Permanent Record

Posted by Morgan Clendaniel, George Langford, Max Joseph, Henry Joost, and Tyler Gillett

Bob George doesn't own a single record. He doesn't have to; he can listen to anything he wants at work. In a nondescript building in downtown New York City, George oversees the ARChive of Contemporary Music, the largest collection of popular music in America (and, quite possibly, the world). With more than two million recordings on vinyl and CD, the ARChive serves as a repository for any recording released since the end of World War II, from blues to German techno to Christian self-help. Basically, as long as it's not by a classical composer, it's pop. "You have no idea what people are going to be interested in," says George. "That's why we don't censor anything."George founded the ARChive in 1985 because he could not find a library willing to take his collection of nearly 47,000 punk, reggae, and early rap records amassed during his years as a DJ and record producer. No one thought the music was worth saving. "It takes a while for these large institutions to move quickly," says George. "Lincoln Center said 1995 was 'The Year of Jazz.' I thought it was 1932." The mission of the ARChive is to obtain a copy of every single new album, while also constructing a comprehensive record of the past. Like a musical Noah's ark, the ARChive keeps two copies of every thing in its collection, and will add two more for any substantial change in packaging or recording. Funding comes from the sale of triplicate records, research fees, and sympathetic musicians: David Bowie, Keith Richards, and Lou Reed are among its board members.For now, the ARChive remains closed to the public. But talks are in progress for Columbia University to take over the collection as the centerpiece of the country's first center for the study of popular music at a major university. This isn't just a boon for record nerds. These myriad recordings are an unmatched resource in expanding our knowledge of the recent past. "You have a better idea of what things were really like through these artifacts," says George. "Popular music chronicles the times in a way that textbooks often don't."Related GOOD Video: "Permanent Record"