GETTING MORE TALE #659: Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
It is one of a kind, but it wasn’t the first of its kind. Jean-Michel Jarre made one copy of his Musique pour Supermarché album, for an art exhibit. He then destroyed the master plates. To this day, the only music that exists from that album are poor quality bootlegs from an AM radio broadcast. So, the Wu-Tang Clan were not the first to press up only one copy of an album.
The big difference is that Wu-Tang never intended to destroy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. They intended to sell it as a one-off work of art.
Wu-Tang leader RZA made Once Upon a Time in Shaolin as a statement of the devaluation of music in the Spotify generation. The single copy would be made available by auction to a fortunate buyer, who then had to sign a contract agreeing that the album could not be sold commercially for 88 years. There is an unconfirmed and bizarre clause in the contract that only the Wu-Tang Clan or Bill Murray could rightfully steal the album back. It sounds like one massive publicity stunt, except that it wasn’t. The 88 year clause ensured that nobody would be getting rich off this for a long, long time (if ever).
Wu-Tang spent six years recording the double album. The tracklist has never been confirmed, nor the artists appearing on it. The auction house, Paddle8, assembled a list of working titles: 26 tracks spread over two CDs. Reportedly, Cher sings on two songs. It is assumed all the living members of Wu-Tang appear on it too. The packaging is an elaborate silver box with a key lock built in. The Guinness Book of World Records calls it the most valuable album of all time, exceeding even Bob Dylan’s original Freewheelin’ LP with the four removed tracks still intact, or the Beatles’ “butcher cover”.
How much is the “most valuable”? Once Upon in Shaolin was purchased for $2 million US by “Pharma Bro” and general scumbag Martin Shkreli. Shkreli bought the CD before he became notorious for raising the price of a life saving AIDS drug by 5000%. Had this happened before, Shkreli would likely not have passed the vetting process. Wu-Tang wanted to ensure the album went to a fan who would appreciate and honour its value. Instead it went to one of the most despicable human beings on the planet.
Shkreli thought about destroying the album, or putting it somewhere so hard to get that hearing it would amount to a religious pilgrimage. According to the contract, Shkreli could have broadcast the album for free. Instead he taunted fans and played a couple snippets online. Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah called him a “shithead”. In an act of what surely must be bad comedy, Shkreli then made a video with three masked thugs appearing to threaten Ghostface. “You’ll be a ghost for real, motherfucker!” says one of the henchmen.
“Dennis…I’m going to call you by your ‘government name’. You’re not a ‘ghostface killah’. I’m sorry.” — Martin Shkreli
Is Shkreli a fan or just a rich troll? He says he bought the album because he loves hip-hop but also relishes being a musical “villain”. He claims he hasn’t played the whole thing. Shkreli tried to sell the album on Ebay, where he wrote: “I decided to purchase this album as a gift to the Wu-Tang Clan for their tremendous musical output. Instead I received scorn from at least one of their (least-intelligent) members, and the world at large failed to see my purpose of putting a serious value behind music.” There was a winning bid on Ebay of over a million dollars, but it is not clear if the sale went through.
Speaking of “intelligent”, someone should tell Martin Shkreli that threatening people on video is not very bright. Nor is committing fraud, of which he was convicted. He followed this by stupidly offering anyone $5000 for a lock of Hillary Clinton’s hair. The judge presiding over his case saw that as a threat of assault, and sent Shkreli to jail. Do not pass “Go”, do not collect $2 million dollars.
In a twist of karma, Martin Shkreli now has to forfeit the album as part of his fraud convictions, if he still owns it. He may also face 15 years in jail. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, but what the hell are the Feds going to do with a Wu-Tang album?
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
DISC ONE – Shaolin School
“Entrance (Intro)” (1:57)
“Staple Town Pt. 1 (Interlude)” (0:44)
“Staple Town Pt. 2 (Interlude)” (1:10)
“The Pillage of ’88” (6:52)
“The Widow’s Tear” (3:55)
“The Saga Continuous” (6:58)
“Shaolin Soul (Exit)” (3:41)
DISC TWO – Allah School
“Sustenance (Intro)” (0:43)
“Since Time Immemorial” (2:32)
“The Slaughter Mill” (6:31)
“The Brute” (3:24)
“Poisoned Earth” (4:34)
“Freedom (Interlude)” (2:25)
“The Sword Chamber” (4:05)
“The Bloody Page” (5:09)
“Salaam (Outro)” (1:31)