Friday, Jan. 16, 1998 Page C 16

1998 San Francisco Examiner

Big money for rock memorabilia

CYNTHIA ROBINS

WHEN YOU hear a word like "provenance" - particularly when it's associated with Christie's, one of the world's top auction houses, you think: Important jewelry, Van Gogh paintings, Japanese buyers inflating the market. But rock 'n' roll?

Hey, guys, with the prices Christie's assumes they'll get for some of the effluvia in their Feb. 4 "Pop" rock 'n' roll memorabilia sale in New York, who knew? I mean, you shoulda kept hold of that roach you shared with Jim Morrison or maybe the empty bottle of Southern Comfort that Janis left in your car way back in the late '60s. They'd probably be worth a mint today.

There's no underestimating the public taste and the collecting public's hunger for items of "provenance," stuff with a provable history of belonging to somebody famous and preferably deceased. So Christie's is expecting some phenomenal prices for such items as a piece of marabou fluff that belonged to Janis Joplin, a typewritten manuscript with scrawled corrections from the Lizard King, a k a Jim Morrison, Hank Williams' 1950s Gibson six-string guitar or Bob Marley's Hohner 12-string, which he kept by his bed just in case the muse hit in the middle of the night. (Christie's catalog estimate on the guitars: $150,000 to $200,000 per).

Thursday night, 40 of the 200 pieces in the sale were on display at Planet Hollywood, including a piece of signed and decorative blotter acid from the estate of Timothy Leary. It's Leary's "stuff" that is the centerpiece of this particular auction. Including love beads . . . well, actually strands of multi-colored Mardi Gras beads and a pair of his white tennis shoes together in a lot estimated to bring $800 to $1,000, and an ornate Egyptian hookah water pipe which Rosemary Woodruff Leary, the second-to-last wife, said, "was in our living room. But you're not going to get me to say if I smoked anything out of it." Rosemary Leary's contribution: an autographed first pressing of an album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (estimated sale price: $2,000 to $4,000).

Organizing the sale for Christie's was Nancy Valentino, VP for popular art, who used to work for Warner Bros. Records. "Who collects this stuff? People like me," she said. "People who used to be rock and rollers. I would wait a whole year just to see Led Zeppelin and then get in line at 5 in the morning to make sure I could get tickets. I remember seeing the Doors open for Simon and Garfunkel when I was 12 years old."

Chet Helms, who seems to be everywhere these days, said he didn't have anything to put in any of these sales. "I got parted from most of that stuff by the hippie lifestyle," he laughed. "I'd store stuff with a commune and come back for it five years later and it would be dispersed." Helms took a look at what Christie's thought Bob Marley's guitar would bring and commented, "I doubt it . . . but then, I may be wrong."

When Lee Houskeeper pointed out that they just might get $150,000 or more, Helms harumphed: "If that's the case, I'm gonna scrounge in old pawn shops, find a beat-up old guitar and say, "Gee, Janis strummed this.' "

Chewing on Planet Hollywood sushi and chicken strips were Winona Ryder's parents. Her father was Timothy Leary's archivist and probably knew everything about what was going up for bids. (Leary was Winona's godfather). Hummm. Should have asked him about the silver plastic Tuff-Lite water bottle that Leary customized with a yellow face plate. It was the prototype for the container in which Leary wanted to preserve his cryogenically-frozen head. Estimate sale value: $800 to $1,200. Like I said: You can never underestimate the taste of the American public.