When a Beatle decides to clean out his closets, odds are the outcome will be a cooler-than-average yard sale.
Sure enough, as Ringo Starr and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, swept through Julien’s Auctions house in Beverly Hills on Tuesday night for one more look at all the “stuff” they’ve decided to sell off for charity, eyes popped and jaws dropped at the lifetime’s worth of objects — more than 1,300 — that the couple has collected.
Dozens of framed gold and platinum record awards for Starr’s recordings with the Fab Four and on his own, distinctive outfits he’s worn on stage and while hanging out with his superstar rock pals, a plethora of Beatles collectibles — Ringo’s “Yellow Submarine” lunch box and thermos, anyone? — Ringo rings and other jewelry and, perhaps most tantalizing to Beatles fans around the world, numerous musical instruments, a few among the most iconic in the history of popular music.
The latter include Starr’s signature Ludwig drum kit with “The Beatles” logo on the bass drum head, which has a pre-auction estimate of $300,000 to $500,000, and two guitars formerly owned and played by bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison. Lennon’s 1964 Rickenbacker electric is expected to fetch $600,000 to $800,000, and Harrison’s 1962 Gretsch “Chet Atkins” Tennessean model is estimated to sell for $100,000 to $200,000.
Then there is Starr’s own copy of the band’s 1968 double album “The Beatles,” commonly referred to as “The White Album” for its plain white cover, with only the group’s name embossed in raised letters and the serial number stamped into each copy—in Starr’s case, number 0000001.
“I wanted to make it special,” Starr told The Times on Tuesday evening in a back room at Julien’s, flanked by Bach, her sister Marjorie, and Marjorie's rock star husband, Eagles guitarist-singer-songwriter Joe Walsh.
“So besides all the household goods, we’ve got John’s guitar he gave me all those years ago,” he said. “I played it a bit, but it’s been in a vault for 30 years. The White Album has been in a bank vault. It was like, why? If you’re going be be serious, let’s make it great. And that’s why I put some of the really good stuff in.”
The beneficiary of the Dec. 3-5 auction, which a Julien’s representative said is expected to generate $4 million to $6 million, is the London-based Lotus Foundation that Starr and Bach set up in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated vast areas of Southeast Asia. The organization supports a variety of causes including homelessness, cancer, substance abuse, cerebral palsy, brain tumors, battered women and children and animals in need.
That gave Starr and Bach motivation to part with things they’d collected individually, and together since their marriage in 1981. They filled six massive containers of items from their houses in Los Angeles and London for the auction.
“We have all this stuff,” Starr said. “And this is just some of our stuff. We had to go through it all, and there are a lot of great memories. We didn’t think of that. … There are still some pieces we couldn’t let go of, but we’ve let go of all of this, and it makes a great effort for the first one.”
In fact, the two-volume auction catalogue — which itself sells for $500 — lists items more than 650 pages. The first volume is largely devoted to items from Ringo’s career, and the second contains Starr-Bach acquisitions, many consisting of art, jewelry, sculpture, paintings and other artworks, furniture and assorted items they’ve had in their homes.
Among the latter is a 12-foot-long wood refectory table with two benches that had belonged to Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, that they left behind in a home in Tittenhurst that Starr took over from them. It’s estimated to bring $5,000 to $7,000.
The process that led to the auction began years ago when Starr was approached by officials at the Grammy Museum to loan items for an exhibit they wanted to put together spotlighting his career with the Beatles and his solo efforts after the group disbanded in 1970.
Going through his archives, much of which had remained in boxes for decades, Starr not only came up with dozens of items that were displayed in the Grammy Museum’s 2013-2014 show, he also turned up photographs that he assembled for his book “Photograph” that likewise generated money for the Lotus Foundation.
At 75, Starr said he felt it was a good time to divest himself of many of the material things he’d amassed throughout his life.
For a musician, however, it might seem that musical instruments could be difficult to let go of.
“Someone was asking me about the drums — that IS the studio kit,” he said referring to the Ludwig set he used in dozens of Beatles recording sessions and many television appearances with the group. “The people who know, know it was on all those records. But I still have the Shea [Stadium] kit, I still have the Ed Sullivan kit, I still have the maple kit. It’s not like I’m kitless.”
Did his well-documented studies with the other Beatles of Eastern philosophy with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late '60s, when they were exposed to ideas of non-attachment to worldly things provide, come into play during the divesting process?
“Let me tell you,” he said with a laugh. “We were in Aspen [visiting a monastery] and there were these Buddhist monks doing a mandala with the sand. We went to get a bit closer and they were like --” Starr raises his hands in a gesture of warning or resistance. “We said, ahh, letting go, eh?”
Walsh praises Starr and Bach for parting with so many things, saying, “I’m going to have to do this at some point too. They’re very brave.”
Yet Walsh couldn’t help eyeing the Rickenbacker once so closely associated with Lennon, and the Gretsch that had been in Harrison’s hands so often.
“I have way too many guitars already, and a lot of those are in storage,” he said. “But I think I could find room for one of those.”