He Can’t Take It With Him, After All

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Image by thecomeupshow

Last March, I advised you all about the release of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the literal one-off album by the surviving members of critically acclaimed hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. It appears that, as of November 25 of this year, the group’s online sales agent found a buyer, negotiated a price, and has completed the transaction.

The identity of this buyer is no longer a secret. Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old hedge fund manager who earlier this September became more hated than the dentist who shot that lion, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Mel Gibson combined by raising the prices of life-saving medication produced by a company under his control from $13.50 a pill to $750 per pill, and according to unnamed “sources” at about the same time he agreed to pay two million dollars for the album and its accompanying artwork. Repeat: it seems that Shkreli’s negotiations to purchase Once Upon A Time In Shaolin began at about the same time as the drug price increase which turned into an Internet Outrage Of The Day.

He hasn’t listened to it yet. Apparently he wants to use it to seduce Taylor Swift at a “private listening party.”1 Seems like a waste, I guess, but really, is this all that different from a wealthy person paying a large amount of money for a painting or a sculpture or some other work of visual art?

But my favorite bit was something I saw on Twitter. According to this source, there is a clause in the contract providing that Wu-Tang and/or Bill Murray can legally attempt one (1) heist or caper in an attempt to re-take ownership of the album and if they succeed, Shkreli is ass out and they get to keep it.

I don’t know if that’s true, but if it isn’t, well, it ought to be. I report this last bit of information to you, because it is awesome.Notes:

  1. One suspects that he may not have been 100% serious when making that remark. []
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21 thoughts on “He Can’t Take It With Him, After All

  1. Wu-Tang and Bill Murray attempt to infiltrate pharma-bro’s well appointed bunker to liberate their special CD? I don’t think I’d shell out dough to watch it in theaters.

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  2. RZA claims that a “significant” portion of the sale proceeds will go to charity. So there’s that, I guess. The way this got PR judo’d on the Wu is hilarious.

    I think according to the contract Shkreli can’t release the music for profit, but AFAIK he might be able to release it for free (but he’s already said “why would I do that?”). I also assume he probably wouldn’t mind turning around and selling it for more, if he can.

    I’m curious about that heist/caper clause, and how such a thing would work in reality if attempted.

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    • Consent is certainly a perfect defense to certain types of battery (or most sex would be a crime). Consent is also a perfect defense to robbery, or getting a present at your friend’s house would be a crime.

      But I still think the local police and prosecutor would take a dim view of the shenanigans surrounding the heist, and they are not parties to the contract. Plenty of prosecutions occur over the victim’s objection (domestic violence being the most common).

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      • That’s not exactly what I was wondering about. It seems like ‘consent’ would get even MORE sticky, if Shkreli took any action to defend from the heist.

        What if Shkreli got a big vicious dog, that mauled Bill Murray when Murray broke in; or Shkreli shot Murray in the face, when Shkreli awoke to find Murray in Shkreli’s bedroom?

        Could Murray sue, or Shkreli get slapped with criminal charges of some sort, since according to the contract, Murray had a right to be there for the heist attempt?

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  3. I would pay good money to see film of the listening party, especially where Taylor rips off her facemask and it is Bill Murry.

    Nothing is unpossible!

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  4. is this all that different from a wealthy person paying a large amount of money for a painting or a sculpture or some other work of visual art?

    Well, yes… Those are by their nature of limit distribution–at least if we are talking about the originals. Music–especially recorded music–by its nature lends itself to widespread distribution. This is why paintings whose creators have won the Art World Lottery go for millions, while it is hard to get people to shell out $15 for a CD, no matter what music is on it. The owner of a painting can ameliorate this if he wishes. He can lend it to a museum or otherwise make it available for public display. Or he can hang it in his living room to impress visitors (or even perhaps to contemplate). Or he can put it in a warehouse for later resale. None of these are as douchey as hanging it in a special room he doesn’t normally enter, expect to impress chicks he hopes to nail.

    The closest analogy I know of in music is Allegri’s Miserere. The Miserere is a liturgical piece, traditionally performed just twice a year, on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday. Allegri’s setting was composed for the Sistine Chapel in the 1630s. It is gorgeous. The Pope recognized quality, and forbade the copying of the score, on pain of excommunication. This mostly held until, as the story goes, 1770, when the young Wolfie Mozart visited Rome. He attended the Wednesday service, wrote out the score later that day, went to the Friday service to make minor corrections, and that was that. The Pope was so impressed by this bravura display that instead of excommunicating Mozart he knighted the lad. I am agnostic about how much to believe this story, but I gather that there is some actual evidence supporting it.

    This is still less douchey than the instant case. The Pope(s), depending on how you take it, was likely using the piece as marketing. You had to come to Rome to hear it, but this was not impossible. He wasn’t only holding private performances for chicks he hoped to nail. (In fairness, any self-respecting Pope of that era could nail any number of chicks without musical inducement.)

    Oh, and if you have six minutes to spare:

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    • In the spirit of playfulness, allow me to fence with you just a moment. Why would a wealthy and powerful man seek to patronize the visual arts, commissioning new pieces by prominent active artists, and then place those visual arts on display to the public? From history, take a guy like Lorenzo de Medici. From more contemporary times, take a guy like Eli Broad or Steve Wynn.

      Isn’t one of the reasons to demonstrate to others just how effing rich and effing powerful they are? That seems like it has a pretty high douche quotient as well.

      And again, not an exact match, but the owner of a painting can authorize reproductions and prints. The original will always be better, but if prints are available, a large number of reasonable facsimiles can be distributed at prices within the reach of those of much more moderate means.

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      • not an exact match, but the owner of a painting can authorize reproductions and prints. The original will always be better, but if prints are available, a large number of reasonable facsimiles can be distributed at prices within the reach of those of much more moderate means.

        Definitely not an exact match, since in this case, in my understanding, Shkreli cannot release the music for profit (though he may be able to release it for free).

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      • Yes, the guy who conspicuously performs an act that benefits the public, making sure that his name is suitably prominent, is less admirable than the guy who discreetly performs an act that benefits the public, considering the benefit to be sufficient reward. But the beneficiary of an act of benevolence enjoys its benefits, regardless of the motivation. (I was trying to work “nota bene” in there somewhere, but couldn’t make it work. Let’s make up for it by naming the rich guy “Benny”.)

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