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Roberta Miner just spent $3,350 on a used cassette that holds one song, "Eugene Sue," recorded by the Mountain Goats in May of 2001. She just wishes it would have cost a few thousand dollars more.
"I was kind of disappointed," says Miner, laughing. Her maximum eBay bid for the tape was $5,555.55, but, after a weeklong online auction, no one would compete with her high bid. "I was thinking it would be worth a lot more."
Two things are surprising about Miner's scenario: First, she's not some outrageously rich executive with more money than interests on which to spend it. Rather, she's the Tours Director at the Seattle Architecture Foundation who tithes her salary each year, meaning she distributes a certain percentage to her favorite charities. Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle sold the tape—the only copy in the world, he says—to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders, which supports recovery efforts in troubled parts of the world, after the recent tsunami that struck Japan. Miner's maximum bid was her annual charitable allocation.
What's more, Miner insists that she's not an obsessive Mountain Goats fan. She doesn't know every song on every album, and she can't rattle on for hours about the cassettes the band released for the better part of a decade. On a friend's recommendation, she saw the band play six years ago before ever hearing their music; she was immediately taken by Darnielle's words and the raw presentation.
"It's really hard to capture pathos in a way that's not mundane, and that's what John speaks to—the beauty of when things go wrong," she says. "For someone who writes a lot of songs with a lot of negative subject matter, he really conveys the beauty of the human experience."
That's actually the perfect synopsis of Miner's story, too. Last year, her father died, leaving her with a lot of money she didn't want. "I would have rather had him back than that money," she says. That money helped buy the tape; Miner also used it to fund a recent trip to the East Coast, where she followed the Mountain Goats on an eight-concert trip from Richmond to Toronto. She took her assistant from work, whom she actually met through the Mountain Goats' message boards. It was her gift to herself.
The tape, though, is a gift for other Mountain Goats fans. When Darnielle sold it, he gave the new owner control of the song. They could share it on the Internet or never let anyone else hear it. When the Mountain Goats play the West Coast later this month, she vows to squeeze as many people as she can into her living room for the track's big premiere.
"I am," she says, her smile nearly audible, "going to share it."