Brian Uzdavinis, a New Jersey deputy attorney general in the appeals section of the Division of Criminal Justice, studied art history in college and criminology in graduate school before he went to law school. In between he worked as a journalist and a juvenile probation officer. So it is not entirely surprising that Uzdavinis, 39, a 2007 graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Camden, has yet another interest – acoustic phonographs. He collects and restores the 100-year-old machines, which are cranked by hand and not powered by electricity.
Q. What’s a young guy like you doing with a hobby like this?
A. I’ve always been into music from the teens and the ‘20s, and I like history. Around 2001, I went to an antique auction with my father. I had bought a house in Woodbury and needed some furnishings. I saw a Victor-Victrola 80 there – I had seen pictures, but never been around one. It was a love-at-first-sight situation. My parents bought it for me as a housewarming gift.
Q. Wasn’t one enough?
A. My interest in the hobby took off really quickly. Basically, I started trolling around for these machines. I’d find cheap ones and work on them. I really liked bringing them back, it was kind of sad when you found them in this terrible state of repair. Before long I had a few dozen project machines in the basement. I had a girlfriend at the time who used to refer to them as my mistresses.
Q. What did you like about tinkering with them?
A. They gave me an outlet, something where I could allow my brain to shut down a little bit and focus on using my hands. It started out as a great diversion from working at a newspaper, and later, law school. I’d pull in, grab a beer from the fridge and head to the basement for hours.
Q. Was the introduction of the phonograph a big deal in American life?
A. Yes. Don’t forget, this came at a time when people had to entertain themselves. There was no radio or television. This brought music into everyday life. It was technology that could reproduce recorded sound. Today our expectations of technology are in the stratosphere, but back then the phonograph was the stratosphere.
Q. How many of these machines do you have right now?
A. I sold the house in Woodbury, but at any given time when I was living there I’d have 100 of them. I only have about 25 right now. But I’m looking at houses again. Once I find one, I’m sure this addiction will return.
Q. Do you actually play vintage records on your phonographs?
A. I do. I buy the records by the crate or the case. I’ve got hundreds of records, but I’m not really a collector. The phonographs are much cooler.