JAIMIE VERNON – POP HAS EATEN ITSELF
We’ve crossed the threshold, folks. We’ve moved from living through the age of modern pop culture to turning it into precious gallery art by way of hedge funds. We’re cynics looking for the next tulip bulb market to turn bullish and are willing to strip mine our own nostalgia to do it. It’s Boomers with money to burn wanting to freeze-dry their childhood memories – and be the envy of nerd culture everywhere. It’s the ultimate revenge by people who got beaten up at school for wearing bell bottom pants and locking themselves in their rooms, donning headphones, and spinning a fresh-out-of-shrink-wrap copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ until Mom & Dad called for them to come to dinner.
In November John Lennon’s legendary Martin guitar – which he wrote many a Beatles song and was lost sometime in the mid-1960s – sold for a nearly surprising $2.6 million.
Last weekend we saw Ringo Starr and his lovely actress wife Barbara Bach sell off most of their personal possessions in an auction to raise funds for charity – The Lotus Foundation. The 1367 items included everything from home furnishings, wardrobes full of clothing and jewellery to Rock and Roll memorabilia. The highlights were the sale of Ringo’s drum kit ($2.2 million), a guitar given to Ringo by John Lennon ($910,000), a guitar given to Ringo by George Harrison ($179,000), Ringo’s personal copy of the Beatles’ White Album ($790,000) and a wrist watch ($179,200). Check out all the results here.
Finally, this week late singer Janis Joplin’s 1965 Paisley Porsche which, by all accounts from those who worked with her, she could barely drive properly because it was manual transmission, sold at Sotheby’s auction house for $1.76 million.
Hell, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ continue to change hands every decade and the value continues to go up – just like so much real estate. When a $3 million pair gets hoisted from the Judy Garland Museum, we’re entering the world of art theft.
With the exception of the usual Elvis and Beatles collectibles finding their way onto the market for a few thousands dollars every decade or so, all of this is new for music especially in the wake of vinyl enjoying a massive resurgence. Even the price of old vinyl is skyrocketing and causing angst for collectors and dividends for sellers. But not everything is collectible or desired. Take the (alleged) fully autographed Beatles White Album by the notorious, murderous, Manson Family.
It isn’t the copy that Charles Manson used as his inspirational playlist but would it even matter? Sketchy provenance aside, nobody wants this. The album remains available for purchase for $67,000 from someone that had interacted with the family and went back to collect the autographs from each members while they were doing hard time in California prisons. Read More Here.
Most of these items are finding inflated market values during the lifetime of the artists themselves – unlike in the days of Van Gogh or Picasso where making a living from painting would pay about enough to get you some supplies, a few good meals and the comfort of a prostitute for a fortnight.
Music is a hard sell now (as I’ve commented on in previous blogs) and acts are finding more ingenious ways to ensure financial longevity. Take the Wu-Tang Clan. In March 2015 the rap music producers had the Museum of Modern Art host an event in New York City to play people a total of 13 minutes of the group’s latest creation – a 31 track album called ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’. This wasn’t to premiere it for media, or fans, or to crowdfund the album (it was already complete) but to bid on the only copy they were going to make available.
It would come in a hand-carved box, accompanied by a leather-bound book with 174 pages of parchment paper filled with lyrics and background information on each song. It would be unique. And the buyer had carte blanche to do with whatever he or she wanted with it except exploit it commercially. They could load it for free onto the internet, they could burn it, throw it into the ocean or hog it for themselves like a coveted trophy.
Disgraced Turing pharmaceutical drug investor Martin Shkreli was the high bidder having paid $2 million for it. Ironically, he’s now looking at investing in other artists whose music he likes in what could resemble a feudal patronage similar to what the Medici’s did for Michaelangelo back in the 16th Century. Shkreli might just become the front runner in a new movement of pop culture patrons-of-the-arts.
This might be a good thing for the music business – shifting the extravagant, bloated wallets of Wall Street brokers away from buying up the tools and related ephemera and excrement of the music creators back to the music itself. Cause right now, no one’s paying $2 million for a copy of the White Album to listen to the songs. They’re doing it to purchase the fingerprints that touched that blank album cover itself. It’s excess at its worst and it’s time to stop turning pop culture detritus into Louvre exhibits…or worse, coffee table pieces in a private castle in Switzerland.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.comhttp://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon