Thursday, August 19, 2010

Off the Record

A couple nights ago, I was watching POV on PBS. One of the short films that aired was based on record collector Paul Mawhinney, who has been trying (unsuccessfully thus far) to sell his collection of 2.5 million vinyl records. The 7-minute-feature (shot two years ago) can also be seen here, and I highly recommend it, as the direction is top-notch, and the lighting of Mawhinney's cramped archive is truly gorgeous.

Judging from the majority of responses on the POV site, people see Paul Mawhinney as a martyr who spent his life devoted to collecting an artform that society has deemed basically worthless.  People see him as an ultimate victim who has sought after and cared for these items, yet now in his time of need he's unable to sell them for even pennies on the dollar.

I'm clearly in the minority, because I see him as kind of an asshole.

Obviously, Mawhinney's health concerns inspire a large part of the emotional response, and indeed it's sad to see these ailments taking hold of his body, understanding that he could no doubt use the money this sale would bring. But a significant amount of Mawhinney's own commentary raises some red flags as to A) his status as a "collector" vs. "dealer," and B) His understanding of the marketplace.

My issues started literally within the first 20 seconds of the video, with Mawhinney showing off this supposedly priceless artifact by pawing at it, slapping his entire palm over it like a gorilla ready to toss its own feces. And he doesn't say anything along the lines of "Imagine the history of what I'm holding, etc..." He just mentions (twice!) that it must be worth a boatload.

Throughout the rest of the video, I have a hard time seeing this guy as someone who's truly in love with what he possesses. The way he talks about records is the exact same way that show dealers at Eastgate Mall talked about baseball cards when I was 11 years old. They enjoy what makes them money, and they are always in sell mode when showing off what they've got.  When he shows off The Rolling Stones crown jewel of this collection, he doesn't make mention of how many copies were printed, or whether it's a UK or US edition, or any of those music nerd details. But he sure as shit knows the price range for it. Of course, his range of $6k-$10k is pretty wide, and a copy sold on Ebay last month for less than $1,800, so perhaps he sould take it easy with throwing that 10 grand figure around. By that same token, Mawhinney's dealer-enhanced claim of the collection being worth $50 million means nothing without a buyer. Shit, how about if I hereby appraise the entire collection of Ken Griffey Jr. Starting Lineup figures through the years at 15 grand! Do I hear a bidder?  Act now and I'll throw in every Dante Bichette model from 1995-97!

I'm highly skeptical of his claim that 83% of the music in his collection isn't available through other media formats. We live in a time where releasing reissues with a built-in and known demand is a far safer business proposition for labels than bankrolling new bands, so it would seem a safe assumption that most of the music in his collection that legitimately won't be re-released to the public is most likely not that valuable to being with.

Granted, Mawhinney's commentary about people "not giving a damn" about vinyl have been disproven in the time since the video was made, so he can't be chastised for not knowing that in the time since he made those comments, vinyl sales would be the ONLY media form of the record industry actually thriving. But Mawhinney's insistence to sell the collection as one lump all-or-nothing transaction seems...well...stupid. If these albums truly mean something sentimental, why not keep them and pass them down when death comes knocking? If they don't hold that attachment, sell what people are willing to buy.  Either way, Mawhinney's act of martyrdom seems played out at this point, nearly a decade after he first had a deal fall through with the U.S. Library of Congress.  I'm guessing that deal (which he rejected) was for more than $3 million.  That small plot point wasn't mentioned in this feature, but I'm guessing it just didn't fit the narrative.

1 comment:

Ross McLochness said...

Wow. Listening to him BREATHE through John Miles's "Music" was 30 of the longest seconds of my life.