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Music Mementos 

The art of collecting rock memorabilia

Ask just about any music fan -- and remember, fan is short for fanatic -- if they've got a memento or two tucked away in their closet from their favorite artist or concert, and chances are they'll bend your ear for a minute or two (more likely 10 to 15) on what they've got and how they got it.Of course, some people will take the modest approach and act as if it's really no big deal that Elvis Presley once handed them one of his sweat-drenched scarves from the stage, or that they have a napkin signed by Jimi Hendrix proclaiming them as a co-heir to his estate -- er, actually dozens of folks supposedly have one of these -- but you see where I'm going.

In fact, the once innocent hobby of collecting rock & roll memorabilia has exploded into a huge online market. Last week, eBay had over 100,000 items up for bid under its Music Memorabilia category -- anything and everything from Britney Spears refrigerator magnets and Kid Rock promo stickers to autographed guitars, albums or posters from the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Dave Matthews and Metallica. And eBay isn't the only place you can find music memorabilia. There are plenty of independent dealers out there who've made a living from buying and selling music merchandise for years. For example, there's the New York-based It's Only Rock n' Roll (itsonlyrocknroll.com), originally established in 1975. Among the thousands of online merchandise they have on auction, you'll find anything from a David Bowie press kit (hmm, now there's a thought) to a Ringo Starr vending machine card which was originally sold in the 60s in, you guessed it, vending machines.

Of course, proceeds from some of these auctions can go to support a charitable cause and not just some lucky schmuck who went to high school with, say, Bruce Springsteen and is willing to part with their yearbook. Sotheby's.com, presented by eBay, has hundreds of music items, many of which benefit the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, which "exists to confront the state of emergency that threatens today's neglected populations." OK, so while that foundation does seem a little vague about its intentions, VH1 on the other hand hosted an online auction in support of its Save the Music Foundation, which benefits music programs in schools where funding has been cut or isn't adequate. The music channel also produced a short-lived television show fashioned after Antiques Roadshow which strictly featured music collectors and fans.

With the continued surge in popularity for online auctions, don't think you have to become a music journalist or something of that nature in order to obtain cool memorabilia from your favorite artists. I purchased concert programs from 1969 and 1973 for the Rolling Stones through the VH1 auction, and where else could I have found those, considering I wasn't even born for the first show and was just a toddler during the second? But some of my most prized possessions are things I've simply collected through my many concert journeys over the years, which inspired me to ask around the CL office and other places as well to see if anyone else had interesting music memorabilia.

On a long list of Beatles memorabilia that's been collected by Managing Editor Ann Wicker over the years, there's Beatles talcum powder (which to this day remains unused mainly because "it smells terrible"), the Beatles board game "Flip Your Wig" (still sealed in its original wrapping), and a beach towel of the Fab Four which she picked up for a couple of bucks at a dime store (and, unlike the other items, has been used plenty).

Editor John Grooms has an extensive collection of original 45-inch record sleeves from the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, the Beach Boys and, "just about anyone else making music back then." He also likes to tell a story of when he met Tom Waits long ago at a show that took place at the UNC-Charlotte outdoor amphitheater (you got me on where exactly that could've been) and shared whiskey sips with Waits. Like any true fan, Grooms managed to keep the Old Crow Bourbon bottle -- or maybe Waits just had a little too much that night and forgot about it. We also have it on very good authority that another staffer's mother obtained some very unique and personal items of Elvis' when a certain situation presented itself. We will protect her identity, however, and just say that the amber-colored vials were probably in the King's hands quite often.

Penny Craver, owner of Tremont Music Hall, also has an interesting collection of memorabilia. Along with numerous autographed photos and posters from bands who've played at her club, she actually has a demo tape of Marilyn Manson from around "93 or "94 which was sent to her by a Sony Records A&R person from Atlanta. She's also got a photo of her and her right-hand man, Lawrence, hanging out backstage with Melissa Etheridge. Craver also had the singer sign a copy of The Advocate with the headline "America's Great Dyke Hope?" She must have also shown some Southern hospitality to a few bands over the years, as she's received personal postcards from Ian MacKayee of Fugazi and Kelly Hogan, formerly of The Jody Grind (an Atlanta band of which half the members were killed in a car wreck in Alabama).

Charlotte resident and full-time band manager Mark Zenow has a few items of interest as well. Zenow spent a few years working for Hootie & The Blowfish's management company, Fishco, in the early 90s. Among his Hootie collection are gold record plaques from the band's Cracked Rear View and Fairweather Johnson releases and an autographed copy of the band's first independent release, Kootchypop. But his most coveted piece of memorabilia, however, is from another rock act: Kiss. Zenow was front and center at a show once when Paul Stanley smashed his guitar, which crumbled into three large pieces and he was able to snatch one-half of the body (which he also managed to get autographed). He also obtained the set list from the show, which included special notions beside each song like "Gene flies across stage" and "Gene spits blood now" and so forth. He had all the goods along with the ticket stub mounted on red crushed velvet in a glass case, which of course has made for a great conversation piece, to say the least.

So the next time you're at a concert and one of the guys in the band throws out a guitar pick or, better yet, smashes the guitar within arm's reach, for chrissakes, go for it! You never know what you might get for it on eBay.

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