By Tess Cagle
More than fifty years after the Beatles made their debut in America, forever changing the landscape of music history, the country has a new Fab Four to boast about: four men who have dedicated their lives to preserving music history by collecting Beatles memorabilia. These collectors helped curate the Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! exhibit currently on display at the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus.
For UT alum and Fab Four collector Mark Naboshek, the exhibit’s time in the library is particularly special because he first began his own Beatles collection on the Forty Acres. A small portion of his items are featured in Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!, which showcases more than 400 Beatles artifacts and demonstrates the band’s impact on American culture from the time they first visited the U.S. in 1964.
Naboshek is a true first-generation Beatles fan. He was 12-years-old when the band made their iconic U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964. He says that prior to the British invasion, American music was mediocre, and the industry was dominated by girl groups, folk singers, and novelty and comedy records. “It was kind of a throwover from the ‘50s. Then the Beatles came in, and the best comparison I can make is when you walk into a dark room and flip the light on,” Naboshek says. “It was like when Dorothy lands in the house in black and white and she opens up the door to Oz and there’s color. It was that kind of a shake-up in what we were listening to.”
Although Naboshek grew up with the Beatles, he admits his own Beatlemania didn’t begin until his freshman year at UT, where he studied in the College of Communication, in 1970 — the same year the band broke up. He recalls finding live bootlegs — unlicensed recordings of Beatles concerts — at a record store called the Inner Sanctum. “I bought them, and they were like $2 or $3 apiece,” Naboshek says. “I wasn’t consciously starting to collect. I was just buying Beatles records. At one point, I went, ‘You know what? I’ve got 100 albums. I guess I’m a collector.’”
In addition to buying bootlegs, Naboshek completed his collection of official albums at Discount Records, which was located a block north of the University Co-Op on Guadalupe Street in the ‘70s. But by the next decade, he had moved on from collecting just Beatles records. ““I thought I didn’t need a hundred copies of ‘She Loves You,’” Naboshek says. “I stopped with the record collecting for the most part and started buying the memorabilia.”
Naboshek bought everything from Beatles puzzles and games, to Halloween costumes and toy guitars. His collection now numbers in the thousands, with most items dating back to the ‘60s when the band was still together. Although Naboshek declined to give the exact value of his collection, he emphasized that it is worth a “considerable” amount.
Naboshek discovered more than just his love for the Beatles while at UT — he also met his wife Bev. She says ever since she met her husband on a blind date in 1972, the Beatles have always played an important role in their relationship. “It's part of who we are,” she adds.
Bev says she’s always supported her husband’s hobby, like when she bought him a bootleg 40 years ago or when she attends the GRAMMY Museum events today. She is especially proud of this exhibit, calling it “the culmination of everything Mark had done in his hobby over all those decades of collecting.”
Fellow memorabilia collector and longtime friend Eric Cash says Naboshek was “born to be a Beatles collector.” He recalls the time Naboshek chanced upon a rare Beatles record worth $1,800 in a Half Price Books and Records store and says things like this happen to Naboshek all the time. “Collecting is a very strong, common bond between us,” Cash says. “You don't need it, so the passion to buy it must be strong, and a common, strong passion is a very strong bond between people.”
Naboshek says his most prized item is the original setlist, written by John Lennon, from the Beatles’ first concert in front of an American audience in Washington D.C. just days after their “Ed Sullivan Show” performance. He says the original owner of the setlist had been trying to collect jelly beans thrown at the band at the front of the stage when a police officer approached her and handed her the list. She kept it until 1994, when she sold it to Naboshek for $5,000. “I was the first collector who laid eyes on it, and I’m the first collector — and only — who’s ever owned it,” Naboshek says. The setlist can be viewed in the exhibit.
Along with the setlist, Naboshek says most of the artifacts he contributed to the exhibit come from the early ‘60s, before the Beatles were famous. These include tickets and handbills from the band’s performances in Liverpool. “A lot of people just think they popped up overnight on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ when in fact they’d been together for over eight years by then,” Naboshek says. “So we want to show people that they had a struggle. They struggled like any band in Liverpool.”
Naboshek says that as a first-generation fan, it’s difficult to convey how groundbreaking the Beatles were in the ‘60s. “Obviously, it still resonates today because they’re designated as the top pop act of all time,” Naboshek says. “They’re probably the greatest band of the 20th century. I think they’ll be remembered for hundreds of years, just like Beethoven.”
If the numbers are any indication, Naboshek isn’t alone in his opinion. In the second half of June, 17,365 people visited Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! — the largest number of visitors for any LBJ Library exhibit in its opening month. Throughout the summer, when attendance is typically sparse, the library still brought in approximately 500 people a day. Naboshek says the Beatles exhibit even edged out the GRAMMY Museum’s Sinatra: An American Icon exhibit in New York by 1 percent, becoming the museum’s largest opener ever. “It’s amazing to me that they haven’t even been a group for 45 years, and they’re still influencing generation after generation of people,” he says. “I don’t know of any other group that does that.”
To celebrate the Halloween season, the LBJ Library will host “A Hard Day’s Night,” a Beatles-inspired costume party, on Thursday, Oct. 29. The Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! exhibit runs through Jan. 10, 2016 and is open from daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.