Over the last several years, I had been looking for an old friend—Scott Whipple--through occasional Google searches and other internet sleuthing, all to no avail. Whenever I talked to someone with whom I attended undergraduate school at Appalachian State University in the early 80s, I would ask if they knew what had happened to him. Outside of the odd rumor or two, no one seemed to know what had happened to him.
Two weeks ago, I was tipped off that Scott was mentioned in an advertisement for a poster for sale over on eBay (believe me, this wouldn’t be the strangest way that I have found an old friend). When I opened the link I had been provided, I found a poster for sale, with a description provided by an early roommate of Scott’s, describing the circumstances under which the poster had been made. Exchanging information with the seller, I found another dead end when I was told that he, too, hadn’t heard from Scott in over 20 years.
Nonetheless, I was absolutely charmed by what he had for sale: an old mimeographed piece of paper advertising an R.E.M. show at PB Scott’s Music Hall in Blowing Rock, NC back in 1983. It was a show that Scott had sponsored and organized, early in the band’s career (when you could book them for a thousand dollars), and Scott had done it on guts alone, as he didn’t have the money to cover the fee if it had failed. (Sidebar: the show was in Blowing Rock rather than Boone, the home of ASU, because Boone was in a dry county).
OK, so I’m looking at the so-called “poster” (pictured above), and I can’t help but smile at a large array of memories , of R.E.M., of who I was at the time. Ultimately, I decided to bid for it, even though it is literally a Xeroxed sheet of typing paper. While my resources are limited, I stupidly didn’t expect it to go for much. Afterall, we are talking about a Xeroxed copy of a copy of a copy. And, as we’re repeatedly told, authenticity is dead. If so, I could make my own poster. Why do I bid? I supposed I did feel that nostalgia was a bit more warranted in my case, as this is a material piece of my own history. I was there, in Boone, when those posters were hung. Like everyone else, I have something of a soft spot for my own mythical past.
While I felt a bit silly bidding what amounts to a full tank of gasoline on a sheet of paper, I was absolutely stunned when the bidding went to almost $250.00.
While I know this isn’t a new question to ask, I couldn’t help but wonder in that moment, “What the heck is at stake in a purchase of this type,?” especially if the bidder, unlike me, wasn’t there. While I understand that one might purchase a collectible as an investment, what was this other than an investment? What do any of us want when we’re buying nostalgic bits of this nature? Is it our youth? Is it material evidence that we hope shows others what we were? Is it an attempt to show provide others with evidence of our commitment to a certain set of memories (i.e., “I loved this so much that I spent $250.00 on it”).
More importantly, what is this “poster” for someone who wasn’t part of Boone, NC, subculture back in 1983? Remember, this isn’t an item that gives us access to something that the purchase alone can see. Indeed, you could enlarge the very photo on this page to regulation size, print it, and hang it on your wall. While not yellowed and fading, while not “authentic” in the sense of “having been there,” it’s essentially the same piece of paper to the degree that the original, the one sold on ebay was always already a copy, a Xeroxed copy of a Xeroxed copy (and not even a Xerox of something of high aesthetic value). Obviously, there is something valuable—even for the purchaser--about the piece having “been there.” Despite claims about the death or originality and authenticity, something of it lingers in a case such as this one.
Ultimately, I find something strangely hopeful about the fact that the “poster” was so valued. Perhaps we, as a culture, still have more space for romanticism than I normally suppose. And while I know that nostalgia and romanticism are often put to use to political ends with which I might not agree, the very fact of its existence somehow makes me smile. Now, does anyone have any idea what I can do with this happiness?