My Life and Hard Times

by James Thurber, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1933


Doug Boilesen 2020

Two stories in James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times have phonograph connections.

In his chapter "The Car We Had to Push" Thurber tells about his mother's greatest fear in life: "the Victrola."

To provide context for how old their record player was Thurber says it was from "back in the "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine days." This story was published in 1933 and the first Victrola was made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1906. The song "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" was published in 1910 so it was a dated machine. But as Thurber pointed out to his mother, the Victrola was completely mechanical. Electricity that his mother visualized "dripping invisibly all over the house" could not be the potential cause of the Victrola blowing up.

For his mother, however, science didn't matter. The wild-eyed Edison and his dangerous experiments had clearly put her life at risk.

The following excerpt includes Thurber's Victrola phonograph connection.




Publication Date 1910 - (Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University)



In his chapter titled "More Alarms at Night" Thurber provides a worst-case example of a phonograph needle getting stuck in its overly worn groove, repeating the same track over and over. It was that "reiteration that generally got father out of bed."

The Dictionary of Phonographia uses the following Thurber scene for its example of the phrase "Sounds like a Broken Record."

Phonographia also has a separate page "Like a Broken Record" with other popular culture examples.

"More Alarms at Night," James Thurber, Ibid. 68


Listen to "No News," or "What Killed the Dog" by Nat M. Wills, Victor 5612, Recorded October 14, 1908 (Courtesy David Giovannoni Collection,