I could do with the money (you know that I could)
I’m so wiped out with things as they are (you know that I could)
I’d send my photograph to my honey
And I’d come on like a regular superstar
About the time Bowie was writing the above lyrics, he was also writing the lyrics to “Suffragette City.” He probably could have done with the money the hand-written lyric sheet sold for at auction this past week: £89,000. Previously, the hand-written lyrics for “The Jean Genie” sold for £57k.
All this makes me think of how my mother has saved things that I wrote or drew or otherwise created from childhood. These days she will often send me them, often as one-off gifts. My instinct is that they should all be kept together. But also, I’m not exactly sure what value any of it has. Saying that these things are nostalgic only has so much meaning. So what? Right? What is nostalgia, anyway?
So what’s the value of the Bowie documents? I’d tend to think that he probably didn’t think these things had inherent value, however he seems to have saved them, so maybe Bowie was sentimental, or had a great sense of his place in history from an early age. To the extent these documents have value, however, I think they would be better in a museum than a private collection. These aren’t autographs, or artifacts that had noting to do with Bowie’s creative process.
At the end of the day, a document like this is a curiosity. The real value is in the song itself. Some individual will own the piece of paper, but we all get to hear the song, pretty much whenever we want. Imagine a world in which only one person could hear “Suffragette City”— and the right to be that person went up for auction. I’m guessing it would go for more than £89,000. But then, if nobody knew what it was, maybe it would have no value at all.
I’m re-watching the movie Basquiat, in which Bowie plays Andy Warhol, for the Hooked to the Silver Screen series. In the movie, Basquait was giving away art early on, and when he first started selling pieces, they would go for a few thousand dollars in the early 1980s. Today, his works sell for tens of millions; at least one sold for close to $100 million. The value is what we say it is. It’s kind of funny to think about Bowie in the early 70s or Basquiat in the early 80s bartering lyric sheets and drawings for groceries.
Anyway, I thought all this was worth noting. Stay tuned for my comments on Basquiat.