I’ve been a fan of concerts ever since the mid 80’s when I first started going to them. One of my very first was to see New Wave keyboard guru Howard Jones at the Kingswood Music Theatre (part of the Canada’s Wonderland theme park) in June 1985. I would have been just 13 at the time. I saw him again at least 5 or 6 more times over the next 3 decades, including a really cool acoustic show at a small downtown club where I got to meet him. He was also a large part of the reason I decided to take up playing keyboards, something I still do semi-professionally to this day.
I’ve heard a theory that whatever music we listen to until around age 25 will be the music we keep coming back to for the rest of our lives, because it’s the most imprinted with meaning and memories. As we get older, we’re generally less interested in discovering new music and new artists, which is why “classic” radio formats do so well. As much as I wish that weren’t true, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I wonder how much of the music we consider ‘classic’ has little to do with the quality of the actual music, but is simply a product of where we were and who we were with when we first heard it?
And I wonder how I would have turned out if my first concert had been something like Ozzy Osbourne??
ITEM #8: Collection of Vintage Toronto Transit (TTC) tickets
Acquired: early to mid 1980’s
I know I’m dating myself, but I can remember when it used to cost only 10 cents to ride the TTC (for kids, anyway.) According to this “fascinating” report on the history of transit fares, (and I mean “fascinating” in the most dripping-with-sarcasm way possible…) a child’s fare was 10 cents from 1973-1981, at which point it was doubled to a whopping 20 cents. I still have memories of my grandmother handing me a shiny dime to put in the collection box on our way to go shopping at Bloor West Village, where all the other Ukrainians went (and still go.)
Later on, I used to take the bus everyday to & from high school – hence my collection of unused tickets from various eras. But actually, I’m struggling to find much else to say about them. I think I really just kept them because they kept changing the colours every so often, and I knew I might never see the old ones again once they were discontinued. I think it’s an example of what the Significant Objects Project would categorize as a “Fossil” – an object bearing witness to a vanished way of life, or a childhood. They don’t mean that much to me really, but looking at them does take me back. So I suppose I’ll hang on to them for now. They do, after all, say “valid until further notice” – and nobody has ever notified me yet.
ITEM #7: Kaleidoscope
This next unassuming object is a kaleidoscope. But this one’s nothing like the gaudy rainbow-coloured cardboard contraptions you last drooled over as a five-year old. This is a kaleidoscope for the serious, discerning adult. It’s a kaleidoscope with confidence – one that doesn’t need to constantly draw attention to itself or scream out “look at me” like some sideshow circus clown. This kaleidoscope is classy, and even a touch subdued, with its minimalist single-leaf design and oh-so-sophisticated brass viewfinder.
That is, until you look into it, and the deception is revealed. No matter how it tries to disguise itself, it’s still just a toy at heart. It has no other practical purpose than to add a little bit of fun to your day and help you see the world a little bit differently. Although these days I barely pick it up more than a few times a year, I’m still glad I own something with such a singular, lighthearted purpose. And it looks good on a coffee table too.
As an outside observer it’s hard to imagine how a short fictitious story could prompt a rational person to pay $54 for this beat-up diving mask. But it happened, and The Significant Objects Project proved that it can be done repeatedly, legally, and entirely ethically (since the buyer had full knowledge of the concept and knew that the item had little monetary value.) Although I’m sure there were plenty of examples of buyer’s remorse, a good story can be used to add meaning and emotional connection, and therefore value, to otherwise worthless objects.
This may seem trivial on the surface, but the implications are wider-ranging than you might think. Good marketers do this sort of thing all the time…
Dive Mask | Significant Objects.
Item #6″: “Spin Art” painting from Ben & Jerry’s “One World One Heart” festival
Acquired: Jun 24, 1995
Back in the summer of ’95 I was approached by some fellow grad students at Queen’s University about taking a road trip to Vermont for a festival of live music, camping, and all the free ice cream you could eat. Although it seemed too good an offer to be true, I couldn’t resist going along to see if there was any truth to the crazy rumours. As it turned out we were going to the 4th annual Ben & Jerry’s “One World One Heart” festival, which was essentially a shareholder’s meeting for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but open to the general public. And, yes, admission was entirely free, and so was the ice cream, music, and a host of other fun diversions. One of those was the “spin art” maker, a spinning platter onto which you poured drops of paint to form masterpieces like the one shown above.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, were the quintessential ex-hippies who had started out in the late 1970’s selling ice cream from their VW minivan, growing it into a nationwide success story in a little over a decade. This festival was their way of thanking not only their shareholders, but anyone who cared enough about the brand to hear about the festival (which was mostly through word of mouth in those pre-social media days). And although in the back of our minds we knew the whole purpose of the festival was to build-up brand loyalty and ultimately sell more ice-cream (which I can personally attest that it did!), the event still managed to seem completely authentic and uncontrived, closer to a real family picnic than a corporate marketing event.
But perhaps we were all fooled. Just a few years later, in 2000, Ben & Jerry sold out to Unilever for a cool $326 million, the festival was cancelled, and the brand was never the same again. (You can read more about it here.) But I still have fond memories of those simpler times, and this piece of spin art.
Item #5: Saucer-shaped metal & wood music box
This was one of my favourite things to play with at my grandparents’ house when I was really young. To my memory, it had always been there and had always looked the same – not like a toy at all but a strange metal bowl-like object with a wooden back and single dial that, when turned, plinked out a cheerful melody (Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz, to be precise, but I didn’t know that at the time). In fact, some of my earliest memories are of playing with this music box while my grandmother did her sewing, being fascinated by it, turning the dial over & over again, and I’m sure, adding a few dents of my own to its already world-worn exterior.
All I can remember being said about it was that it had been brought from France, where my grandparents lived during WWII and where my Dad was born before moving to Canada at a young age. It looks like it may have once been the base where a figurine stood, but I may never know for sure. Whatever it was, it had been thought important enough to be included among the rather limited possessions that took the voyage across the Atlantic with them.
I forgot all about it for years, until my Grandmother died. Most of the few things she left behind had already been cleared out of the house, and I was taking one last walk through before everything else would be thrown away and the house put up for sale. And there it was, in the corner of the basement, a little bit warped but still functional. It was the only thing I took.
Here’s an intriguing article about something called the “significant objects project”. The brainchild of author Joshua Glenn, the project showed how fictional stories written about “nearly worthless thingamajigs” could increase their resale value (via eBay) by as much as 2,700 percent. But the idea was no scam, in fact, the concept was completely transparent to the buyers, as no attempt was made to pass off the fictional stories as real.
Makes me wonder how much value could be added by a true story?
Mr. Glenn’s website and accompanying book Taking Things Seriously bring up a number of interesting theories about the nature of the things we keep, which I’ll be exploring in later posts.