Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One Man's junk . . .

So what is junk?

Junk was a slang term for heroin in my youth, but I don't hear it used that way anymore, though a heroin addict is still called a junkie.

In the late 1970s, the junkman who collected metal and paper and old furniture stopped being a junkman and became a recycler. I know all about that, because when I was a punk I was in the scrap metal business. We were not junkmen, were were recycling engineers (nor were we junkies).

One man's junk is another man's collectible. Everything your parents discarded from their attic when they sold the family house became the treasure of some urban gay household; and now your parents are decorating their retirement home with the same items they are now buying from antique shops in Dade County!

Those of course are all noun forms of the word junk. The adjective forms of the word junk are much more amusing.

The website dictionary.com defines the adjective form of junk as:

- Cheap, shoddy, or worthless: junk jewelry.

- Having a superficial appeal or utility, but lacking substance.

I often refer to fashion, music, literature, television, food, mail, or other forms of expression and communication that I find beneath contempt as junk. Designer labels, boring commercial music releases, sitcoms, McDonalds, advertising circulars and the such all deserve the monicker of junk. And we thrown those words about readily (unless it refers to something we like or admire).

In the 1980s a number of financial scandals shook the American market when many people, especially elderly people, were bilked of their savings in the purchase of junk bonds. I know a little bit about capitalism, but I still don't know why brokers are allowed to sell junk bonds to consumers, and I don't know why McDonalds is allowed to sell its food to consumers, and I don't know why Sony is allowed to sell that music to consumers, but . . . I can't know everything!

Yesterday I read an article that discussed Bowie Bonds. If you don't know what they are, I will try to explain . . .

In 1997, rock god David Bowie decided that he would like his royalty payments up front. Whey wait around for people to purchase your records and play your songs to get paid? It's a brilliant idea, and other musicians followed-suit. The bonds were given a rating of A3 which was fantastic for a bond issue that was so strictly experimental at the time.

David Bowie raised $55 million in the bond issue, which was purchased in total by Prudential-Bache Securities. In 1997, $55 million was still a lot of money, and rumor is that Bowie parlayed that cash infusion into a remarkable fortune. Some say he is worth half-a-billion dollars, he modestly insists it is much less. His current net worth is neither here nor there. We all know he is wealthy and I applaud him for his business acumen. No other man, save Milton Berle, has made such a long, storied, and successful career by starting off as a drag queen.

OK, so you take umbrage at me calling the David Bowie of 1972 a drag queen. If that wasn't drag honey, I'm not a white guy!

Anyway, as usual, I digress . . .

Yesterday's article was a shocking revelation that Moody's, the company that rates bond issues, had dropped the Bowie Bonds rating from its lofty and impressive A3 to a disturbing and near-valueless Baa3! This new rating is one step above junk-bond status. I think this means that, even though the interest has been being paid from royalties earned, those royalties earned are no longer expected to be able to support the issue.

Now, I own a lot of David Bowie records. I own some David Bowie art. I attend every David Bowie tour. David Bowie could tell you that Dick Mac is a fan. I have spent a lot of money on David Bowie, and I know many who have. So, how can this have happened to his bond issue? I am perplexed, but I do not understand the intricacies of the bond market. But, because David Bowie has been one of my heroes since I was fourteen years old, it is hard for me to accept that anything connected to his name could be junk.

I wonder if the guys who run Moody's actually listened to David Bowie's latest record and suspected it ain't gonna bring home any bacon, never mind the gravy for the bond holders. Is Moody's as fickle as a fan like me? Maybe the president of Moody's tried to attend one of the shows on Bowie's current tour, then learned that you could only purchase a good seat if you also purchased a $1,000 hotel room, so he passed and took a lesser seat then yawned through this rock star languishing on a spartan stage singing songs that he cannot convincingly deliver (maybe he will sing his good songs whose royalties are not part of the bond issue). Maybe someone at Moody's joined David Bowie's website for six bucks a month only to learn there is no discography or tour history or participation by the rock star and is really not a representation of the future of the internet as it was a few years ago. Maybe someone at Moody's has a modicum of social consciousness and was appalled to see that David Bowie, a champion of children's charities, accepted money to do an advertisement for Nestle, the corporation on this planet that does more harm to infants than any other two corporations combined. Maybe someone at Moody's opened GQ and saw the appalling advertising campaign that Bowie has done for Tommy Hilfiger and realized that this icon of style and creativity has fallen a few notches.

Maybe in 1997 Moody's had been hypnotized by the beauty and the wonder that is David Bowie. Impressed by the remarkable career, creativity and staying-power of this artistic genius they enthusiastically gave his bond issue a rating the rock star could only have dreamed of, but now they have their doubts as they watch his iconic stature turn to a bas relief of mediocrity.

All of that is unlikely, however. Or is it?

I will always listen to my David Bowie records (will probably buy more), and I still have his art on my walls. I will probably be kinder to him than Moody's is being to Prudential-Bache, but I have to say that "Reality," its tour, the Nestle ad, and the Hilfiger campaign are grave disappointments for this once-unwavering fan.

Definition of junk at dictionary.com:

Moody's Cuts Ratings On Bowie Bonds