Selling My Soul
Before Bart Simpson did it, though long after Faust, I sold my soul. This prank permanently cemented my status as a vaguely remembered factoid: “The guy who sold his soul on eBay.” My friend Kennan helped me orchestrate the prank at the height of the late-1990s era of irrational exuberance. We knew that reporters wouldn’t be able to resist the story if I sold my soul on the hot auction website of the moment, and the fact that Kennan worked at the time for a New York City PR firm also helped. Below is a commercial for the second version of my soul, which I sold in 1991 at James Madison University.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was a snotty 17 year-old who was worried about compromising my principles once I went out into the “real world,” so I made a piece of art called Kembrew’s Soul. It was a 13″ x 7″ x 3″ cardboard box that resembled a cereal box, and the silk-screened design featured my screaming face on the front. (Two of the boxes were displayed in my old high school auditorium, as shown below.) The back sported a “find your way out of the bureaucracy” maze game and a mail-away offer for “Reality Shades.”
I wrote at the time, “Reality Shades offer an alternative for those of us who can’t deal with modern life. Enjoy a variety of mind-numbing visuals that are created by the makers of American sitcoms.” The box also had coupons for friends’ souls, a recipe (“Soul Crunch: Cut up one’s soul into squares and bake until the flakes turn a golden brown. Wait one half hour to cool then coat with a dull glaze”), and some PR information: “In a groundbreaking marketing venture, Kembrew literally and metaphorically sold his soul, packaging and mass producing it in a cardboard box.” I sold 50 boxes at $4.95 a piece, which helped by for my senior prom.
About four years later I decided to update the packaging. This time it came in a 4 oz. glass jar filled with little plastic toy prizes, stickers and a certificate of ownership. I made 300 bottles and sold them all, primarily to friends and others who I accosted on the streets. At this point in my life, about 350 people owned a piece of my soul. Around this time, my old friend Terry Harrison helped me produce a television commercial for my soul:
People ask me if I’m worried about selling my soul, and I’m not in the slightest, because I see my soul as a renewable resource, just like water. And just like Poland Springs bottled water, I can sell as many bottles as I want and still not worry about running out.
In 1993 I introduced to the world the third, new and improved edition of my soul, and to date over 300 satisfied customers have purchased it (bringing the total of Kembrew’s Soul consumers to nearly 700). To quote from my note to distributors: “Kembrew is offering a new, improved (and as the current marketing slogan reads, ‘funky fresh’) soul for the pleasure and conspicuous consumption of the general public. Kembrew’s Soul is packaged in a 4 oz. glass jar and is filled with gimmicky contents sure to entertain even the most cynical member of the demographic group he is targeting.”
This edition of my soul contains 10 screwy slogan stickers, a certificate of ownership signed by me, a note to distributors, an advertising page, and wacky plastic toys like the ones found in 25 cent machines.
After the story broke, for about a week I spent my afternoons on talk radio shows getting into theological arguments with people over whether or not my soul was a renewable resource that could be bottled. When talking to reporters I played it straight, though I also tossed out plenty of clues that allowed them to form their own opinions about how serious I was. During interviews, I played a greedy capitalist who was out to make money and who was prone to say things like, “The great thing about America is that you are rewarded for selling your soul. That’s what makes this country great. I’m sure Jesus was a free market capitalist.” Or “I may not have a soul, but I have a new car, and I’m doing great.”