Henry Rollins: The Column! The Ugly World of eBay Hustling
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Last October, I went across America shamelessly promoting my last book, which I won't be so gauche as to mention here. I was signing them at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh one afternoon when a young boy came up to me with a large stack of records and a large amount of downloaded color prints of my face.
He wanted them all signed. Not only did he want the album covers signed but all the vinyl as well. I signed a few things and then said he should perhaps not be so crass and that he was going to be very disappointed at how little he was going to get for the items on eBay. He mumbled something and said his father had put him up to it. I told him to have a nice day. Security gently asked him to leave.
About three days ago, I was back in Pittsburgh, on the tour that never ends. Waiting outside the bus was the same kid. I recognized him immediately. He had an even younger girl with him. I figured it might be his sister. They had with them all the things I didn't sign last year, as well as a bunch of new additions to the pile. Along with the items, the telltale blue ink marker. eBay vultures seem to prefer blue.
I am programmed not to disappoint, so I signed a few things and asked him what he was going to do with them and implored him to tell the truth, amused that at such a young age, he should even think of trying to fake out a man with so many laps around the track. He admitted that he was going to put some up for sale.
I wondered if his young female accomplice was there for sympathy or something. I wondered if the father was standing by in the getaway vehicle. Seems like a great way to turn your kid into a hack and turn him off from music. Who knows, perhaps the kid is a self-motivated free-market entrepreneur, the girl the Bonnie to his Clyde, the Hewlett to his Packard.
This kind of thing has been an industry for some time -- no surprises there. What I have noticed is that there seems to be a lot more of it these days. As I sit here writing this, I can see some people outside the bus with stuff of mine to get signed. It's hours before the show and they probably won't be coming; that's not what it's about for them. It's business.
Several months ago, I was doing a run of shows at the wonderful Largo at the Coronet Theater on La Cienega Boulevard. After the show, I was in the alley behind the venue talking to people when a man approached me with well more than a dozen pictures of me.
He had his blue marker. I try not to let this kind of thing offend me. It's not the end of the world, it's just another racket. I signed a few of the photos in an effort to be a good sport and then stopped. The guy told me to keep signing. That was the wrong thing to say. I asked him if he was able to meet women when he told them he pulled his weight in the world by pestering aging alternative icons two decades past their use-by date to sign high-resolution images downloaded from the Internet.
I asked him if that was really knocking it out of the park, or a monumental fail. He cranked up his attitude and told me how much he had paid for the printing. I thanked him for his candor and started talking to someone else. He walked away and started yelling obscenities at me while everyone else laughed. A girl wrote me days later and told me that, on the way back to where she was parked, she found the rest of the photos on the windshields of cars with some racial sentiments that the guy had signed my name to. Classy!
A few days ago, I went to eBay to see if I could find any of the many things I have signed at shows over the last several weeks. I was amazed that I was able to remember quite a few of the items, and even the very people who asked me to sign them.
I am not immune to the lure of a signed record, flier or set list. The fact that your music heroes potentially had, in their own hands, the record you now have in yours is kind of cool. When the musician has departed, it can give the thing a unique power.
There are a lot of items out there that, unsurprisingly, are forgeries. A man from a record store sent me some JPEGs of some albums of mine to ask if the signatures were real. All of them were fake. Too late, he had already bought them.
While there are a lot of hustlers out there, at least the music remains good. It is too bad that someone would prey upon the good nature of a fan and swindle them. It shows me that music has such power that people are willing to get taken for a ride at great cost.
It seems to me that the real way to do it is to get the autograph live and in person, otherwise you never know what you're going to get. Perhaps the best idea is just to dig the music and not worry about the rest.
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