Somehow, in the days of Amazon and eBay, we forget how essential a library is. When you go to a good library, you’ll probably find good books that you’d like to buy, but instead can borrow for a month, read, and return. Okay, that’s obvious. More advanced readers probably also know that when you go to a good library, you can get out-of-print books, classics that haven’t continued to sell the thousands of copies a year required to stay in print. The Reykjavík City Library performs an additional function, it provides an extensive collection of out-of-print CDs.
If you pay your 1,000 ISK-a-year membership fee, you can check out ten CDs for two weeks at a time. For the typical visitor, this is a pleasant, but not quite essential function: if you’re looking for pop or recent hits, it’s unlikely you’ll be the one to score Demon Dayz, for example. But in one genre in particular, the selection of out-of-print CDs is extraordinary: American blues.
Oddly enough, one key reason for this is the connection American blues has with Icelandic culture. As was recently reported in the local news, lifetime achievement Grammy Award-Winner Pinetop Perkins came to Iceland in 1991, where he toured with a group of local musicians. The musicians would eventually record a celebrated blues record, Pinetop Perkins with the Blue Ice Band. Perkins was a highly credentialed bluesman, a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the Crossroads, the town Robert Johnson was poisoned in, and the home of Muddy Waters. Like Muddy, Pinetop travelled to Chicago, where he would help reinvent blues as an electric, popular music.
At the Reykjavík City Library, you can check out most of Pinetop’s works, to say nothing of his fellow Mississippians Son House, Skip James and Muddy Waters, and a few hundred more artists. On the Grapevine’s recent visit to Clarksdale, Mississippi, we found that the CDs we’d been listening to for free at the library were hard to get even in the home of the blues.
Talking to the manager of a local music store, I explained my fascination with the great Slim Harpo. He asked me where I heard Slim Harpo recordings.
“I picked up a the UK version of I’m a King Bee at the local library.”
“That’s a trusting library. I would have stolen that in a second,” he told me.
The Blues Collection of the Reykjavík City Library is one the fifth floor of Grófarhúsið. Tryggvagata 15, 101 Reykjavík. You can do an advanced search at www.gegnir.is.