food for thought
I got that exact question recently. I was at a friend’s book launch party and she asked me if I wanted her to sign my copy of her book. Sure. It’s how it’s supposed to be, right? And it was a nice personalized message that made me happy, so in this case it kind of made sense. Kind of. But to be honest, I have actually never understood that whole singing deal. That desire to have your copy of a book or a CD singed by the maker. What is that all about? It’s their work, they actually made it, isn’t that enough? Does it make it more real to have a signature on it? Is that what it’s about? Authenticity?
I had an experience some years ago that lead me to believe that has something to do with it. For a few years in the yearly/mid 2000s Einstürzende Neubauten did a number of tours and at the concerts they would sell CDs with recordings of the show. Like a licensed bootleg. I went to quite a few of these concerts and I got the CDs at each one. A lot of people asked me why I didn’t get these signed. In fact, almost everyone asked me why I didn’t take the opportunity, that I actually had, to get them signed. Same question, repeated a lot of times. And my reaction was always one of complete bewilderment. Why would I have them signed? I got these CDs because Neubauten are great live and they do at least one improv piece every night, plus I suck at remembering the set list, so fantastic deal, right? What the added benefit of also having their signatures on the covers would add I had, and still have, great trouble understanding. Effort was made to enlighten me further: “To show you were there!” Uh, why?! I know I was there and I don’t think I’ll ever be in a situation where I will have to prove that to anyone. I do have a rather vivid imagination, but to think of a non science fiction scenario where that would actually happen, is quite the challenge even for me. But I suppose what was being referred to had more to do with a situation of bragging. Although I have to say that being questioned in that scenario seems equally unlikely, not to mention stupid. But maybe that’s what it’s about, to prove that you have been close to the person. Close enough to hand over your copy of the CD or book and get a signature on it.
But I’ve actually had the whole signing thing happen to me with CDs I’ve bought at concerts without actually knowing it. Without ever handing the artist the CD. It was already on there when I bought it. I have no idea if it’s common practice. Seems very efficient though. That way you don’t have to do the whole signing circus separately. But it does of course take the whole “I’ve seem her or him up close for 10 seconds” aspect of it away.
The weirdest experience I’ve ever had in this area was at one of my best friends record release party a few years back. It was after the show and someone came up to buy a copy of the record and asked him to sign it, which he did. Right before he had given me a copy of the finished album, so I was standing there with it still in my hand. And then he looked at me and the CD in my hand and said “well, I suppose I should sign yours too, huh?” We looked at each other slightly bewildered and I said “yeah, I suppose so.” The thing that made it so weird was that I had been involved every step of the way in the making of that album. From the writing to the recording, in fact most of the songs were written in my living room and some of the recordings were made there too, and for the others I was there to press the buttons so to speak. So the fact that he should sign my copy just seemed rather absurd from the whole authenticity or “yeah I was there” perspective. I mean I was actually pretty much part of it all the way so having a signed copy seemed more than a little absurd. Especially since I even had the pre-masters on my hard drive. But again, the signing thing is what you’re supposed to do, right? No matter how absurd it actually is.
Yes, I suppose I can speculate about this for ages without figuring it out. Or rather, without being swayed to think that the whole signing thing actually brings any added value. Maybe it has to do with my not all that sentimental relationship with things. Sure I have stuff that I like, especially books and records, but it’s not about the things themselves, but about what’s in them. The stories or the music. And of course it’s nice with a booklet for the CD, but mainly for the information. And if you do a real artwork type of booklet that’s nice too, but no matter how nice it is I won’t take that CD out and sit there and look at the booklet everyday. Does anyone do that? Probably. People do all kinds of strange things. And i know a lot of people have a much stronger relationship with their things than I do. Almost as if the objects had some sort of magical charge. And maybe that’s what it’s actually about. Some sort of modern-day replacement for relics. Back in the day you had a splinter from the “true cross” and today you have a signed copy of Sgt. Pepper. I don’t know, but it’s the only plausible explanation I can think of.
Of course there’s the commercial aspect too, you can probably get a shitload of money for that signed copy of Sgt. Pepper these days, but then I have to say I really prefer the whole relic aspect, because art as a moneymaking endeavor makes me cringe with repulsion. Sure, art should be valued, but not mainly in monetary terms. And frankly, the signature does nothing for the music on the record, it’s still the same tracks regardless of whose John Hancock is on the cover. In the end it’s all just things and art is about ideas, especially music and books. I mean it’s not like we’re talking about one of a kind pieces of art here, not in terms of the objects. That a Picasso should ideally be signed is of course another thing, paintings aren’t really mass-produced things, but books and records are. I suppose I really have a problem with the whole materialistic aspect of it all, to put that much value in things, objects. It somehow feels related to the phenomena of consumerism, of hoarding things, even though the whole “signed copy” obviously has more to do with collecting than actually hoarding, but it does feel related. And I’m not so sure it’s a good thing to be obsessed with possessions. The ownership tends to shift very easily, from yourself to the possessions. The more you have the more you’ll fear losing it, right? Yeah, maybe I’m just not getting it, but if anyone has any better explanations feel free to leave a comment.