The Question of Spending During a Pandemic

This week I received another offer. This time, it wasn’t for a tote bag. Rather, it was a picture, an 11 x 14-inch print. It was clearly one hell of a deal in that there on the page was $433 and directly beneath it “Only $39.”

A couple of points about that. First of all, who comes up with a price like $433 for something, in this case a photographic print. Obviously the print as object doesn’t cost $433, as there is a piece of paper, 5.5 inches wider than a piece of what has historically been known as “typewriter paper,” and some glossy ink on it. Now the photo as subject and as execution certainly might have some value, but again, given that this is a proposal that was widely emailed out to who knows how many people, it is not as though there is some sort of exclusivity to it, unless you think that ordering a McDonald’s without pickles makes it somehow different than the billions sold. Then there is the question of going from $433 to $39. That is a $394 difference. Or approximately a 90% discount. What can you buy that has a 90% discount? It all seems rather bizarre, and all the more so when you know that if you buy the photo for $39 you get (actually this should be in the past tense because by the time you see this the “deal” will have expired) something that the purveyor says is worth $39, so your effective cost is $0, which is a whole lot less than $433 or even $39.

The picture is that of The Who, taken in 1971 at the Oval Cricket Ground, Kensington, London. There’s Roger with his hands above his head in the foreground, with the Ox slightly behind him to the left, presumably moving nothing but his fingers. Between them in the background is Keith, holding a pair of drumsticks crossed above his head. And to Roger’s right and several feet behind him is Pete in flight. It is an oddly static black-and-white photo, and as it is shot from stage left across the stage rather than from the front of the stage, there isn’t a particularly good sense of the musicians at that particular moment.

Which leads me to wonder about who is going to be interested in that picture of The Who, whether it is for $433, $39 or $0. I suspect that it might be people in my generation (no allusion there) who might want it, but then I wonder. I had the opportunity to see The Who—yes, the real The Who, in that it had that lineup, which is the only authentic one in my estimation, though I will accept the post-Moon Kenney Jones band as somewhat legit—and have an interest in music (or so it seems) yet that photo would hold no value for me. Perhaps had I been at that show on September 18 , which was in support of the people of Bangladesh, I would have been interested in the picture, but having learned that the lineup also included The Faces, I might be a bit more interested in a photo of that, though that is unlikely, too. Presumably some fans would be interested.

The deal, such as it is, was on offer from Wolfgang’s, the seemingly endless archive of the late concert promoter Bill Graham, who’d established The Fillmore. He’d had his crew record shows that occurred at that venue, and in the years since his death in a helicopter crash in 1991—he’d been attending a Huey Lewis and the News concert at the Concord Pavilion, where he’d been discussing the possibility of staging a benefit concert for the victims of the Oakland hills firestorm (and here we are, all those years later, and the area just north where he died is on fire)—the archive has grown with recordings for an array of other venues as well as all manner of original and replicated memorabilia.

Those who get that picture of The Who get a free year of Wolfgang’s Music, a streaming service that includes more than 20,000. And for those who are buying, say, other pictures of The Who or lots of other performers, or posters or swag of various manifestations, there’s free shipping. Which, for people who are interested in music of that era, in particular, isn’t a bad deal: a year-long Spotify premium subscription is $109.98 (another bizarre price: it is $9.99 per month but you get the first month free; the subsequent year, presumably, would be $119.88; while marketing mavens note that people are more inclined to buy things that don’t have a price like, say, $10 per month, I suspect that was more of a reality when people were looking at actual stickers on objects; now it strikes me as silly).

But I feel compelled to wrap this back around to where we are now, still in the midst of the pandemic, when concerts are in parking lots of drive-ins or simply on line or in venues that allow social distancing, when there are about 1,000 people dying per day, when there are those fires raging on the west coast, and when people in the southeast are recovering from the flooding caused by a hurricane. Just a normal time in the Age of Disnormalcy.

The list of performers “from the last 70 years” on Wolfgang’s starts at Aerosmith and ends at Wilco “and 10,000+ more.” An incredible lineup by any metric, one that seems wholly comprehensive regardless of one’s particular taste in modern music.

Is it better to sit and stream a concert from an archive than buying a ticket to a virtual concert that is being performed live by an actual musician or group, rather than one who is actually gone (e.g., Warren Zevon) or functionally non-existent (e.g., Steely Dan: there is no band without Becker)?

With the economic situation being as precarious as it is, there need to be decisions made.

Do you get that print for free?

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