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Prairie Pop: Sell your soul; you’ll feel better


Photo by Zak Neumann

Photo by Zak Neumann

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.” I orchestrated the prank at the height of the late-1990s dot-com era, when eBay was the hot new auction website of the moment. This provided a great hook for media outlets to spread the word about the sale of my soul (soon after, other imitators also offered up their souls — and even their virginity — for sale on eBay).

But first, I’ll start from the beginning. In 1989, I was an anxious 18-year-old who was worried about compromising my principles when I graduated from high school, so I poured my angst into a piece of art called Kembrew’s Soul. It resembled a cereal box, and the silk-screened design featured my screaming face on the front.

The back sported a “find your way out of the bureaucracy” maze game and a mail-away offer for Reality Shades (“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”). I sold 50 boxes at $4.95 a piece — which helped me pay for my senior prom.

About four years later I updated the packaging. This time it came in a four-ounce glass jar filled with plastic toy prizes, stickers and a certificate of ownership. I made 300 bottles and sold most of them, primarily to friends and others who I accosted on the streets. Then, in 1994, I introduced the third, “new and improved” edition of my soul.

That version contained ten 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 vending machines. (A quote from my note to distributors: “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.”)

I had some extra inventory left over in the late-1990s, so I decided to sell my soul on eBay. Because the press was salivating over all things Internet at the time, I knew the then-novelty of eBay would prove irresistible. I enlisted friends to bid on it, driving up the price to $666 until it finally sold for over a thousand dollars.

I ripped up the check written by the winning bidder, my friend Kennan, but several other people I did not know bid on it as well. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Springfield Union-News (now The Republican):

In all, McLeod’s soul elicited 28 bids by 13 different bidders, starting at $15 by a T. M. McLeod. Two bidders offered $666. Jack Martin of Philadelphia said last night he bid $150 and, “to be quite honest, I’m sort of relieved I got outbid.” Martin, 32, a musician, said he usually buys records and was looking for albums by soul singer Al Green. When his search for soul turned up McLeod’s strange offering, Martin was intrigued.

Details magazine noted:

EBay madness has reached absurdist lows. People are now putting their souls up for sale online. And getting bids on them. It’s a sad day when the Internet makes Satan obsolete.

After the story broke, I spent my days on talk radio shows — where I got into theological arguments with people over whether or not my soul was a renewable resource. When talking to reporters, I played it straight, though I also tossed out plenty of clues about my motives.

During interviews, I played a greedy capitalist 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.” It was my cheeky comment on the late-1990s era of irrational exuberance, when people were selling their souls left and right during the go-go Clinton years.

Leading up to the 2016 holiday shopping season, I realized that Kembrew’s Soul was long overdue for a reboot. The fourth edition of my soul is being merchandised as a die-cast metal keychain inside a plastic acorn vending machine capsule, offered at the low price point of $6.66! (Unlike my previous souls, this sturdy keychain is quite practical; it’s important to have a useful, functional soul.)

Kembrew’s Soul debuted locally at an art auction fundraiser for Public Space One, and is now being offered to the general public at White Rabbit — as well as, of course, on eBay. Join the hundreds who have consumed Kembrew’s Soul, which has been transforming an intangible life force into a material commodity for over a quarter century, entertaining and satisfying customers every step of the way.

Kembrew McLeod has been offering his soul for sale for 27 years, and its price has only risen from $4.95 for the 1989 version to $6.66 for the most recent edition — a fantastic deal for a soul, when adjusting for inflation. Kembrew’s Soul makes for a great stocking stuffer! This article was originally published in Little Village issue 211.


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