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Entertainment & Arts

All you need is love for the Beatles to make a living

It says so on Rodolfo Vazquez’s business card: He’s the owner of the world’s biggest collection of Beatles memorabilia, a claim backed by none other than Guinness World Records.

So how did an accountant from Argentina — which seems about a million miles away from Liverpool, England — amass a staggering 8,600 Beatles-related items? Hint: Being a self-confessed pack rat helps.

“My history shows there is a virtue in collecting things, and I think schools should do more to encourage kids to do it,” says Vazquez, a gregarious, heavyset guy with a ready laugh, often directed at himself and his obsession. “Collecting teaches you to be methodical, orderly and to do research. And even make a living.”

Because it’s more than a hobby for the 53-year-old Buenos Aires native. He’s turned his fixation on the Fab Four into a booming local business and tourism magnet.

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The centerpiece of his Beatles domain is a new museum in downtown Buenos Aires where much of his collection is displayed. Inside, there are of course all the Beatles album covers, but also rare photos of band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr plus autographs, Beatles playing cards, posters, musical instruments, a box of condoms that Lennon owned, and much, much more.

It all started when someone gave him, at age 10, the Beatles album “Rubber Soul,” which he says “exploded in my brain.”

Vazquez says his collection is helping keep cultural patrimony from disappearing.

“This preserves an era, a place and a history that might otherwise disappear forever,” he says. “We owe the Beatles much of what we’ve become today as a society. You could reduce it down to ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll,’ but it’s more than that.”

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By his early 20s, Vazquez was doing more than just wearing out the vinyl grooves of his records. Working a day job in his father’s accounting office, he started to amass a collection of anything that the Beatles touched, signed, wore, endorsed or posed for, or that was written about them.

In 2001, when Vazquez owned only 5,600 items, Guinness certified it as the largest extant Beatles memorabilia collection, a six-month certification process he acknowledges he had to pay for. (He declines to say how much.) He’s added 3,000 items since then. Until the museum opened in January, his collection was partly kept in storage and partly lent to special exhibitions that traveled to various cities in Argentina.

In the early days, he used to think of it as just a collection, one of several he maintains, including tequila shot glasses, Simpsons paraphernalia, and 800 DVDs and videos of western movies. It wasn’t something that he thought he could make a living from.

Until 1997, that is, when he lent several hundred pieces to a commemoration in Buenos Aires marking the 30th anniversary of the release of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP. He observed, dumbfounded, as 25,000 people trooped in and out of the Borges Cultural Center during the weeklong show to see his collection.

A light bulb went on over his head, and he resolved to someday to build a permanent shrine. It took longer than he envisioned, but 13 years later Vazquez is lord and master of a mini-Beatles empire. His complex has become a magnet for what he has found is a sizable market: Beatles fans willing to pay the $4 admission for Argentines, $10 for foreigners. And they’re not all graying veterans who want to relive the 1960s but also, he says, a surprising number of kids.

“It started as a hobby and became my business. I employ 30 people, you know,” Vazquez says during an interview at the Beatles Museum, which includes a theater and a bar called the Cavern Club, named after one of the first musical venues in Liverpool where the group played.

The money to finance his passion came from his job as an accountant. But friends and acquaintances have given him scores of collectibles as well. Several visitors to his museum have given him objects worth thousands of dollars, he says, “because they know I will take care of them.”

Vazquez says he doesn’t really know or care how much his collection or individual items are worth. He is especially attached to his Lennon autographs that sell for $5,000 on up. Among the score or more of individual or group autographs is one photo signed by all four that he says is worth $10,000.

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Forty years after the band ceased to exist, his passion is apparent when his face lights up to trade Beatles gossip, such as Pete Best’s dismissal from the band (“They traded up. In Ringo they got the best drummer in England”); or McCartney’s recent decision to remarry after his short, expensive marriage to Heather Mills (“Some people never learn”); or whether Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, should be paroled (“No, and I refuse to say the killer’s name. He is unnamable here”).

Vazquez says there is no special item that he covets, although he acknowledged that he envies singer George Michael for having acquired Lennon’s white piano. “What I would really like to have most is a cup of coffee with Paul McCartney.”

Finally, as the museum’s lights go out, an interviewer asks Vazquez for the third or fourth time: “Why?”

“Their music is fresh and never out of date. They provoked a cultural revolution that we feel today. They made it possible for us to express ourselves,” says Vazquez, who has written two books, one of which is titled “The Passion of Collecting.”

“But the Beatles and their greatness were also a puzzle,” he says. “I’m still trying to explain it to myself.”

Kraul is a special correspondent.


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