Nights Lights column, as published in Berkshires Week, June 25, 2009
Being named Abby, I’ve always felt a bit of an obligation to be a Beatles fan. When I was younger I would tell people that I was named after the album Abbey Road, even though I would later find out that I was actually named after a character in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (thanks Mom). In high school, I had a teen music column in the North Adams Transcript named “Abby’s Road,” and I even wrote my college application essay on how the song “Let It Be” is a source of inspiration and emotional healing to me. All in all, I feel that I’ve been a sufficiently avid fan.
That is, however, until I spoke to collector Jim Cushman.
Cushman, a retiree of the state from Matapoisett, is no ordinary Beatles memorabilia collector. Sure, he’s got the lunchboxes, concert tickets, vintage records and autographs–all the usual suspects. But the buck doesn’t stop there.
“He’s got everything,” says Lisa Berkel, director of development for Lenox Library — “Beatles hair, things from Stuart Sutclifee who was in the early Beatles, original writings in longhand of songs…it’s just amazing.”
And this Sunday, he’ll be bringing the best of his collection to the Lenox Library for its third annual Beatles Day celebration.
The Lenox Library Beatles Day celebration began in 2007, when the library staff approached Dr. Jeremy Yudkin, professor of music at Boston University, to teach a course about the Beatles — instead he conceptualized the day-long event to raise funds for the library. The great success of the day led to another, equally successful one last year.
Cushman will be a new addition to the celebration this year, which will be held in two parts. First will be a symposium on the music of the Beatles at the library from 2 to 4 p.m., with lectures from Yudkin, Michael Nock, and Joshua Rifkin.
The fun continues that night with a concert of local bands — including the Osgoods, the Shaffer Brothers, Ivy and Rick’s Rockalicious, Lennon impersonator Tom Raider, and David Grover & friends — playing all Beatles covers from 7 to 9 p.m. at Lenox Middle and Memorial High School.
Cushman’s collection will be on display before and after the lectures, during which he will have a chance to answer questions and tell stories about his items.
Berkel is very excited to have him coming.
“I got back from being away and there was an email from saying ‘Would you give me a call? I’m interested in coming to the Beatles Day.’ And so I gave him a call — he’s hysterical, he loves what he does and he’s very knowledgeable…he’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart for us,” she said.
Normally, Cushman gets approached by others about sharing his collection, not the other way around. For years he’s been traveling the country and the world, lugging his massive collection behind him.
“We’ve been everywhere…over 11,000 miles in total,” he said.
But Cushman thinks he’s done with all that. After so many years, it’s beginning to be a big hassle to pack everything up and travel all that way, he said, especially when traveling to Canada and having to go through customs with all his belongings. Needless to say, Cushman and his wife are very excited to simply drive a few hours across the state.
“Plus, we love it up there [in the Berkshires],” he said. “It’s beautiful.”
Because of lack of space, Cushman won’t even have to haul his entire sprawling collection along.
“We’re going to put him on the ‘runway’ in the library,” said Berkel, “that’s the long hallway that runs from the front of the building to the back.”
There’s no need to feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick, however, because when Cushman says he’s bringing the best of the best, he means it. Who cares about vintage lunchboxes when you can see a t-shirt worn by John Lennon during the recording of his final Double Fantasy album at the famous Hit Factory in New York City? Or how about long johns he bought on a 1970 trip to Denmark?
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for two of Lennon’s personal bath towels from his Kenwood apartment, where he lives with ex-wife Cynthia Lennon until 1968. And don’t forget about the other famous mop-tops — Cushman mentioned bringing a pair of Ringo’s drumsticks and George Harrison’s guitar case, not to mention hair clippings, pieces of hotel bed sheets, and autographs from all four members.
While same people may find some of these things a little on the creepy/obsessive side, that certainly doesn’t stop anyone from gawking at them.
“It’s the strange stuff that people really like,” Cushman said, “because they’ve never seen anything like it before. Some people even ask me ‘Is this for real?’ And it’s just a whole other thing to see things they owned and touched and used. I’m lucky enough to have this kind of stuff. They ask me what’s it like to have this stuff in my house, and I say it’s great, it’s amazing.”
Cushman understand how a band from his generation can still impact young people today. He told me about a 13-year-old boy he met recently who was just beginning to be a Beatles fan.
“I showed him [Lennon’s] hat and some other things and he just loved it and thought it was so cool. He and some of his friends where starting to learn guitar and were learning Beatles songs. It’s amazing how…when you consider the stuff you’ve got today, it sounds as fresh and as new as ever.”
Cushman’s story made me feel a little better about how insignificant my fanhood seemed in comparison to his Beatles dedication. For, while I can’t vividly recount seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that historical night in 1964 like he can, I was reminded that it doesn’t really matter how much you lived through or how fanatical you are — the point is that the music has impacted you in some way.
And, after we discussed our favorite songs, I felt vindicated when, before hanging up, Cushman said, “See you soon, Abby Road.”