There was something discombobulating in the news accounts regarding statues stolen from parks that were then sold to be melted for their metal. It brought back memories of the period where the logos on automobiles were being ripped off so they could be worn as oversized jewelry. Thieves have literally moved on to bigger things, and I have long since donated my Buick LeSabre gas cap cufflinks to charity.
The brazen theft of park statues, copper plumbing, and streetlight wiring is due in part to rising prices for metals. But it also seems to indicate some new adjustment in the parameters of theft. Years ago, rare attempts to cart-off an ATM machine were greeted with derisive laughter as security tape of the failed heist closed the nightly news “Wacky Crime Report!” Now there are regular attempts at boosting ATM’s, abetted by the broadcast of the instructional videos we’ve all been watching.
In the most recent statue event, two men were arrested for grand theft after taking a bronze statue of a gold prospector they had yanked from a public park to a Los Angeles junkyard to sell. Since they’re clearly brilliant at planning crimes, I’m aching to hear the creative story they offered the junkyard proprietors. “It was my uncle’s. He collected, uh, statues of guys with rocks in pans. He’s dead. A statue fell on him.”
Scrapyards are required by law to take down the identifications of anyone selling metal. The atomic scientists that stole the prospector statue further demonstrated their street smarts by leaving their names with the junkyard. But if we’re agog at the brazen nature of yanking park statues out of the ground… then what’s our reaction if an even bolder crime has been alleged, one that victimizes legends of American culture?
Reuters reported last week that more than a dozen giants of American popular music, including the estates of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, were suing Universal Music claiming they had been cheated out of more than $6 million dollars in royalties since 1998. The suit alleges that Universal, which bought recording companies that represented the artists, provided false accounting information to the parties involved for nearly a decade. Included in the group of artists and their estates are the works of Woody Herman, Patti Page, and Sarah Vaughan.
So it’s not like somebody forgot to mail a check to Feist. It’s more like finding out that Mr. Coffee never got around to paying Joe DiMaggio. Universal believes the claims are “baseless,” but dude… that’s a lot of big names all operating under the same false assumption if in fact the claims are “baseless.” And even if time proves that there’s been a misunderstanding and no real wrongdoing, why would a huge corporate music concern neglect any detail that could damage their relationship to music figures of this caliber?
Universal Music isn’t pulling statues out of parks, but if statues are artifacts that link us collectively to the great achievements of the past then one feels a parallel vibe when hearing allegations that someone’s cheating the icons of swing and jazz music.
A story: Years ago, when “advances” in car audio were fueling theft, I was approaching my car in a movie theater parking lot when I noticed smashed glass on the pavement. Someone’s car window had just been broken. I looked up and saw a crouched figure hiding behind another car. What to do? I froze, he froze. I could hear his breathing. He ran. I ran after him but… what was I going to do? Wrestle him to the ground and hold him until the cops arrived? For broken glass and a radio he may not have had the time to steal? As he disappeared across a busy intersection, it all felt desperate and sad.
The LA Times article on the statue thefts described them as bringing the crime to “a new level of audacity and waste.” Two palookas so hard up for fast money they’re plundering public parks. Desperate and sad. Do we feel the same way when the “perps” wear neckties and eat expensive salads for lunch? Remember that audio tape of the Enron execs bragging about stealing money from “Grandma Millie?” Maybe we should have a statue of those guys somewhere, to remind us that criminals come in all shapes and sizes. But if we do put up that statue, let’s build it out of plastic or fiberglass, not bronze.