Vivienne Westwood bondage pants
, photographs of Lou Reed and Blondie, badges for the Buzzcocks and concert fliers from clubs like Max’s Kansas City went up for bid at the decidedly nonpunk hour of 10 a.m. Estimates were as high as $1,500 for an original “God Save the Queen” Sex Pistols T-shirt and $7,000 for an autographed Ramones test album from 1976. “We’ve sold punk material before — a T-shirt here, a poster there,” said Simeon Lipman, the head of Christie’s pop culture department, at a preview the day before the sale. “This time around I wanted to explore the punk aesthetic. I love the music, and the memorabilia itself is very, very scarce. It has such a wonderful look to it. It’s very visceral.” That’s certainly one way to describe a used hard-core T-shirt. The timing was fortunate: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex opened on Tuesday in SoHo, with an exhibition about the Clash and with the CBGB urinal under plexiglass
. But with the economy crashing, would anyone really pay thousands of dollars for Black Flag fliers? Mr. Lipman thought so. “A lot of this material is not investment-potential driven,” he said. “For people in their 30s and 40s, these were their heroes and antiheroes. People have an emotional response to it because they were there, or they wish they were there. Or because they think, ‘That would look great in my living room.’ That sometimes bucks trends.” The three-day preview last weekend drew fans who did not blanch at the prices. “I think it’s pretty reasonable,” said Derek Jones, 39, a producer who has managed Ari Up of the Slits, and worked with punk acts like Bad Brains and Dropkick Murphys. “It’s definitely a landmark part of the underground music scene. One day my stuff may be put up here for auction.” Dressed in a black bomber jacket and camouflage pants, Mr. Jones, who goes by Derek TC NYSR professionally, came with his friend Bruce Alexander, who chronicles the music scene for a doubly retrograde publication, the punk newspaper New York Waste. Like emissaries from the pre-sushi-era St. Marks Place, they toured the exhibition for nearly two hours, telling war stories and discussing omissions. “H. R. would do a backflip if he saw this,” Mr. Jones said, referring to the Bad Brains singer Human Rights, whose work was represented by a T-shirt. “A lot of people in the old-school punk scene aren’t here. They should see it and study it. The legacy is very important.
Mr. Alexander, 47, groused that the New York Dolls were under-represented. Still, he said, sounding a bit surprised: “Punk has finally made it into acceptability. It’s just as important as Elvis and the Beatles.” Karen Sheinheit, 43, came just to genuflect — “This is like a museum of the stuff I grew up on,” she said — but wound up bidding on some Patti Smith memorabilia. As younger Christie’s employees danced to the era-appropriate soundtrack put together by Mr. Lipman’s wife, Ashley Hawkins, Ms. Sheinheit snapped photos and recalled her time in New York’s scuzzier clubs. “The people who hung out at CBGB can’t afford to buy this stuff at Christie’s,” she said. “And neither can I, really.” Ah, not so fast: maybe the Man isn’t ready for punk quite yet. Only two dozen or so people turned up for the sale on Monday, about four of them in suits. Even with the addition of Internet and phone sales, bidding was not fierce, and few lots sold for more than their estimate; many sold for less. A collection of Velvet Underground postcards, fliers and a psychedelic handbill from the Canadian club Retinal Circus, estimated at $400 to $600, sold for $100. A set of three photos of Mr. Reed went for just $50; same with a yellow flier for a 1973 Los Angeles show billed as a “Punk Rock
Invasion.” Among the top items was an autographed cheesecake poster of Debbie Harry, the Blondie singer, inscribed with the lyrics to “One Way or Another.” Its high estimate was $1,500, but it sold for $7,000. A group of Sex Pistols posters — including “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant” — also sold for that amount. But the “God Save the Queen” T-shirt fetched only $300
By contrast, a sale of more traditional rock mementos later in the afternoon was more successful: three Jimi Hendrix tapes and handwritten notes that became the basis for the album “Electric Ladyland” sold for $38,000. Even the stuff that an eBay hound could probably uncover, like a collection of vintage concert T-shirts, many of them stained, for the likes of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, went above estimate, $2,800 instead of $2,000. But even without frantic energy, the punk sale was still a good show. Introducing an original Vivienne Westwood/Malcolm McLaren T-shirt with an unprintable insult about your mother, the auctioneer, Tom Lecky, said: “I think that’s the first time I’ve said this up here. In fact I’m sure it is.” The shirt was estimated at $1,000 to $1,500 but, laughs notwithstanding, sold for just $250; ditto the buckled bondage pants. And Mr. Lipman’s prediction that the punk buyers would be driven by nostalgia rather than the market turned out to be true. Michael Waldman, 49, a real estate developer, bought a photo of David Bowie and Mick Ronson (“because he’s my favorite guitarist”), some Patti Smith poetry and several Clash posters ($2,200). “I graduated high school in 1977, and I’m a huge Clash fan,” Mr. Waldman said. He came for one poster in particular — bright yellow with a red star, advertising the Clash’s “only American performance” at the Bond International Casino on West 45th Street in 1981 — because he had been there and bought that poster. “Mine, the yellow is all faded,” he said. Mr. Alexander, the punk chronicler, who planned to cover the auction if he woke up in time, was a no-show, but Scott Wittman, the Tony- and Grammy-winning composer and lyricist for “Hairspray,” was in the crowd. He won several Sex Pistols posters. “I lived through it, and now I can afford it,” said Mr. Wittman, who like many of the buyers viewed the sale as not just music history but also New York City history. “I look at it as revisiting my youth,” he added. “I ran into John Varvatos,” the designer whose pricey boutique now occupies the former CBGB space on the Bowery, “and I said, ‘I used to throw up in that corner.’ It brings a tear to my eye.”
On the Block: Anarchy and Nostalgia – By MELENA RYZIK – Published: November 25, 2008 – The New York Times