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Friday, June 19, 2015

A Piece Of The Sun

You know those silly commercials offering you a chance to name a star after yourself or a loved one and have it included in a "star registry"? Now there's a woman in Spain who wants to sell you a piece of the sun. She says that while there is an international agreement that no country can own a planet (or the moon), there's nothing barring a private citizen from making such a claim. She started selling her solar real estate on eBay a few years ago -- and had 600 buyers, who I assume were planning on visiting their plots at night -- but her page was closed because "the item on sale could not be touched or transported." That didn't stop eBay from taking its commission, so she took the company to court and recently won the right to sue it.

The story reminded me of a band called Black Oak Arkansas (you may know their hit "Jim Dandy To The Rescue"), which in 1973 put out a live album which contained a deed to one square-inch of their land. I found some details on the blog of Racan Souiedan, in a piece he wrote a couple of years ago:

In an act that can only be described as baffling with the benefit of hindsight, listeners of the group’s 1973 album Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live were treated to their very own square inch of Heaven. Included in each copy of the record was a title deed granting the holder to “honorary ownership to one square inch of Heaven on Earth, with the compliments of the legal owners, Black Oak Arkansas.” The band had effectively subdivided their single acre of Heaven, Arkansas into over six million square inch title deeds. Regarding the group’s precise aim in sharing the land, as noted in the description featured on the title deed, Black Oak Arkansas claimed that Heaven, Arkansas was for “the expressed and specific purpose of sharing with everyone who believes in the universality of man.” In another slight to gender-neutral language, the “spiritual deed” acknowledged “that no man owns the land, but merely occupies space on it, and that it is the duty of all mankind, now and tomorrow, to feel a responsibility for those with whom he shares possession.” Closing with further hippy-dippy sentiments, Black Oak Arkansas promised listeners “if good is within the individual, it is within us all, and Heaven is not so much man’s destination as a reminder of his destiny.” Totally heavy stuff. Problem solved, see you there.

So forty years later, what ever became of Heaven, Arkansas? Obviously the subdivision of Heaven hardly represented the most practical way for fans of Black Oak Arkansas to own a plot of land, but the group’s efforts nevertheless marked an interesting, if only symbolic, experiment in utopia-building. Did anyone ever come to collect? That seems a bit hazy. The legality of the title deeds themselves is pretty questionable. The important distinction between “honorary” and “legal” ownership of Heaven, Arkansas, as expressed by the band in the title deed, offers a clear indication that Black Oak Arkansas truly had no intention of sharing the land with their fans. Why give away a shrewd real estate investment like that? The gesture was probably just a sign of the times.
Souiedan goes on to explain that no fans ever gathered together enough of those deeds to take over Heaven, Arkansas, and if they did, they would have had a hard time even finding it, since it's not on any map. Which makes those certificates about as valuable as the sun and the stars.

By the way, Black Oak Arkansas is still around, with Jim Dandy singing lead. I have no idea how many other original members remain in the band, but I'll bet none of them dress like they did four decades ago: