Beep, beep, yeah! Beatles exhibit at PNE follows the Fab Four from the beginning to the end
By John Mackie, Vancouver Sun August 21, 2015
Saturday is the 51st anniversary of the Beatles concert at Empire Stadium, a wild affair that is burned into the minds of the 20,621 screaming teenagers who were in attendance.
The 27-minute show was immortalized in a bootleg album put together by the wily disc jockey Jack Cullen, who surreptitiously recorded it with a direct feed off the public address system. He pressed 1,000 copies before Capitol Records found out and put a stop to it.
Jim Cushman has a copy of the Beatles’ Empire Stadium bootleg at his home in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. So when Cushman arrived in Vancouver this week, he made a pilgrimage to Empire Fields, on the site where the Beatles played.
“I walked onto the field,” said Cushman, “and it was just an awesome, awesome feeling. Fifty-one years ago this was the scene of total chaos.”
Then Cushman walked over to the Garden Auditorium, where Beatlemania, circa 2015, is about to unfold.
Cushman is one of three Beatles collectors whose memorabilia forms the foundation for The Magical History Tour, a walk through the Beatles story through over 200 Beatles artifacts.
There is the drum set from the Quarry Men, the skiffle group where John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison first played together in the late 1950s.
There are some drop-dead gorgeous posters of early gigs, a copy of the legendary Mersey Beat “Beatles Top Poll” newspaper from 1962, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder that belonged to Beatles producer George Martin.
“We have some really exceptional pieces that are pivotal in the story of the Beatles,” said Geoffrey Curley, who helped design the exhibition.
“We have some of the instruments that they played, some of the clothing that they wore, signed pieces, and some really interesting documents. There is a legal document we have called The Breakup Letter, which is the document that essentially broke the Beatles up.”
Naturally, the exhibit includes Beatles records, including their debut 45 with Tony Sheridan and a copy of the famous Butcher Cover. But the most valuable record on display is also the most controversial.
“We’re going to have the album that John Lennon signed for his killer,” said Cushman.
Lennon autographed the album for **** the same day Chapman shot him.
“It was signed at approximately 5 p.m. on Dec. 8th, 1980, before Lennon left for the studio,” said Cushman.
“(Lennon) came back at approximately 10 minutes of 11, (and) his killer was still waiting there and gunned him down. A guy found (the album) a day afterwards, when there were thousands of people outside the Dakota. He found out what it was, and turned it over to the police department, who fingerprinted it and dusted it for evidence.
“The guy got it back and sold it for quite a bit of money. We had the contacts and it’s going to be at the show. It’s been sold a couple of times.”
Cushman is a John Lennon guy — his collection includes a pair of long underwear that Lennon wore when he and Yoko Ono visited Yoko’s ex and their daughter in Denmark in 1970.
Seeing Chapman’s Double Fantasy album is a chilling reminder of the murder. Some fans might think it almost sacrilege to put it on display, but Cushman thinks it’s a part of the story.
“It’s an emotional thing,” said Cushman.
“It’s like talking about Princess Diana — my wife’s a big Princess Diana fan — and not talking about her (death). To talk about John Lennon’s life, you have to talk about his death.”
Cushman has been doing Beatles shows for two decades, and says fans often get emotional seeing Fab Four material.
“People cry, people get excited,” he said. “Stuff like this tugs at the heartstrings.”
He knows, because he’s been hooked on the Beatles since he saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964.
“After we saw the first Ed Sullivan Show, with 73 million people watching it, we went back to school the next day and everyone was just flabbergasted: ‘Did you see those guys?!!’, ” he said.
“And ever since then, nothing’s ever been the same.”
He started off collecting Beatles bubble gum cards and magazines. He slept on a Beatles pillow. But he didn’t become a “serious” Beatles collector until 1985, when he bought a set of Beatles autographs.
“Back then, it cost about $500,” he said.
“Now a set of all four could set you back anywhere up to $10,000, depending on the quality and what it’s signed on.”
A lot of his stuff is on display at the PNE, alongside memorabilia from fellow collectors Dennis Toll and Pete Miniaci, who both live in Toronto. But one of the key items on display comes from Victoria — John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce, which is now owned by the Royal BC Museum.
Cushman was at the PNE when it arrived this week, and was beside himself.
“The guy let me sit in the back,” he said. “It was like Christmas in August, I was like a little kid again.”
Curley said the exhibit will try to show the Beatles story from the band’s point of view. There are some incredible behind the scenes photos by Curt Gunther.
“He was with the Beatles for the American tours,” said Curley.
“He took photographs backstage, of the hotel rooms they stayed in, of the Beatles in cars. You’re able to see from their perspective what it must have been like to be surrounded by these huge crowds of people.
“People who really had very little respect for their own lives, (trying) to get close to the individuals they were worshipping — they would crush (the Beatles’) cars and all that.
“We’re able to see through Curt’s work a glimpse of what it must have been like every day on the road.”
Red Robinson got a glimpse of that life when he was the MC of the Beatles show at Empire Stadium back in 1964. And even he’s excited to see what The Magical History Tour has in store.
“Once in a while you get to see stubs from the Beatles show here in ’64, but when you get to an exhibit like this, it’s extensive, stuff you wouldn’t normally see,” he said.
“I think it’s cool, because we never get to see it, because it’s in private collections.”