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November 13, 2013

Keep on the Sunny Side

Actual value

Steve “Chile” Rigot is the nearest thing to an Andy Warhol Superstar that this town, or more precisely, Jeffersonville, Ind., has ever produced.

Louisville in the 1970s was a grim place for freaks. Life was a constant struggle against a redneck element bent on defending the city’s moral purity from all those who would give themselves funny haircuts. Chile Rigot continues to be a gleaming beacon of glamour.

In 1979, Rigot’s band, The Endtables, released a four-song 7-inch EP that’s so rare and so awesome and so coveted by collectors of obscure American punk records that in October, a copy of it sold on eBay for $1,145. The Endtables’ single has been commanding high prices (especially in the Japanese market) for years.

The EP is not just a rarity, it’s a full-on work of genius. In 2010, Chicago’s Drag City reissued all of The Endtables’ studio tracks. Their music perfectly captured a moment in time, and yet, 30 years later, the recordings still sound completely modern.

No one, not even our beloved local librarian and former CEO of Tuesday Records — a label created exclusively for the release of The Endtables’ single — seems to remember exactly how many copies were pressed. It was somewhere between 300 and 500. The band sold the EP at shows and local record stores, but that was pretty much it for distribution. They couldn’t afford to print enough record covers, so an Endtables’ EP with both the cover and the lyric sheet is truly the bomb.

Assigning value to art has been a struggle since the first hunk of mammoth jerky was traded for a shiny rock carved to look like a naked lady.

What is the value of a thing that isn’t edible? What is the value of something that’s free? I’ve noticed that rich people really love to get shit for free. They get way more excited about it than poor people do.

While in New York City last month, the wildly famous British street artist Banksy set up a stand near Central Park where one of his assistants sold signed, authenticated paintings for $60 a piece. The total sales for the day amounted to $420. The estimated “actual value” of the paintings sold was $250,000. I love this stunt. He’s making fun of so many people at one time, including himself. He only sold seven paintings — actually eight, but a lady talked the salesman into giving her two for $60.

Banksy purchased a painting at Housing Works, a New York City AIDS charity. He altered it by adding a solitary, seated Nazi contemplating a heroic mountain range, signed it, retitled it “The Banality of the Banality of Evil,” and then gave it back to the thrift store. Housing Works raised $615,000 from the painting’s auction.

His art isn’t always political, but the urban areas where Banksy’s paintings appear provide underlying political context. Cities are where the new extremes of income distribution are most clearly on display. I kind of love Banksy.

In this neo-feudal, Gilded Age economy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only reliable jobs for this country’s underclass will soon exclusively involve the care and maintenance of the super-rich — either actually giving them massages, working somewhere along the pipeline that delivers their wholesome organic produce, or maybe working to decorate their environments with beautiful art and music (although, excluding super-rare Endtables singles, no one pays for music anymore).

Recent revelations regarding the recovery of $1.35 billion worth of art (“Degenerate” and otherwise), missing since World War II and found in some squalid, hoarder-style Munich apartment, represent the darkest possible calculation regarding the value of art versus human life. The full story isn’t out yet, but obviously Nazis were involved in the theft of these paintings.

The Endtables’ record was a masterpiece in 1979 when my brother and I went in together and paid $5 for a copy, Banksy’s paintings are mostly a free public service like all graffiti, and I am a huge drag! Warholian Superstars and dirty little punk rockers orbit the same sun. We all need more art and more fabulousness in our lives. What’s it worth to you?

Catherine Irwin plays in the band Freakwater.