2021-03-03T10:00:28-05:00 2021-03-02T15:47:20-05:00

Radiohead demo tapes and Beatle teeth: The true cost of the memorabilia market

Music fans are a soft-centred bunch, as evidenced by the ever spiralling popularity of the music memorabilia auction. In the last month, an old Radiohead demo tape and lyric book both sold at around £6,000 each and, while this no doubt made two mawkish men in their fifties very happy, I can’t see the band themselves being too impressed by this. It is difficult to understand the enduring appeal of the musical memento, especially if you are a proud badge-wearing member of the sneering underground elite. To many, the idea of tangible nostalgia being purchased for a few months’ rent seems a bit laughable. This is music, where the demagogues of the past are scorched from existence to make way for new growth. Yet some cling to these little pieces of the past as though some of the magic will transfer to them and Keith from Sunderland will suddenly be shredding like Stevie Ray Vaughan.

We shouldn’t look down upon these obsessive collectors with scorn, secretly coveting their disposable income, or maybe we should. A tooth removed from John Lennon’s mouth sold for £19,500 to a Canadian dentist. Quite what he hoped to gain from this purchase remains to be seen. Perhaps he hoped some of Lennon’s late-era experimental approach to song-writing might seep into his dentistry. Let’s just hope it doesn’t fall into a bucket of other people’s extracted teeth. Britney Spears’ used chewing gum sold for £10,000 to an anonymous pervert, taking the whole industry into a more sinister area.

While fans of less mainstream genres have traditionally eschewed such traditions of cloying sentimentality, this is no longer the case. Previously, a punk fan would only buy a piece of punk memorabilia to publicly destroy it, a la Banksy, to make a statement in keeping with the spirit of punk. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find a garage converted into a shrine to the Clash, with Joe Strummer’s broken plectrum forming a revered centrepiece. How long before this encroaches on more recent niche genres?  Thanks to the internet, time moves at 5x the speed now, so it’s catching up fast. I give it 2 years before some directionless soul is missing his child support payments to cop Skream’s VIP pass from Glade Festival 2005. In 3 years, an online marketing CEO will buy the remnants of a mushroom brew used during the recording of Anderson Paak’s debut, burned to the bottom of a pan. The inevitable conclusion is memorabilia being sold halfway through the latest hot artist’s 7-hour career. The turnaround will be efficient like a well-oiled machine. Eventually the demand for memorabilia will outstrip the musicians available to produce it. Hair will be ripped out of Youtube parody rappers’ heads and sold before the fame dissipates and it’s just worthless hair again.

Is this where we want to be going? Music fans of every genre, I implore you, resist the sickly sweet call of nostalgia. My earlier predictions may seem extreme, but they are 100% guaranteed to happen. Together we can prevent this by creating our own memorabilia, moments in music which have a unique importance to us, given meaning by the journey they have taken with us. We can change the course of history by not buying pieces of it. I was already bidding on a blunt roach dropped by Redman before I wrote this article, so as soon as I’ve got my hands on that I’ll be right there with you.


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