Jim Irsay is calling from Pittsburgh, where his Indianapolis Colts will face the Steelers on Sunday, and regretfully not New York’s Theater at Madison Square Garden, where an all-star gathering to celebrate John Lennon’s 75th birthday is about to take place. The NFL team owner is a well-known Beatles fanatic as well as an avid rock memorabilia collector: In the past few months, Irsay has spent millions of dollars adding Lennon-owned guitars and other Beatles-used instruments to his impressive collection.
Following this weekend’s auction of Starr’s estate, Irsay added even more essential artifacts to his collection: Ringo Starr‘s 1963 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl three-piece drum kit (used on “Can’t Buy Me Love” and dozens more essential recordings; Irsay purchased it for $2.25 million) as well as a Rickenbacker guitar given to Starr from Lennon and one of the drummer’s iconic pinky rings. Rolling Stone spoke to Irsay exclusively soon after the auction concluded to talk about his latest rock treasures and how accumulating these instruments is a spiritual reunion of sorts for the Fab Four.
“I was 11 years old when the Beatles broke up. I was a Lennon fanatic – I mean, I loved Paul too, but Lennon was the guy – and there was always this dream of the Beatles getting back together; there was always this hope,” Irsay says, adding that, like the Beatles themselves, these instruments were long separated after making their mark on music history. “It took over 4 million dollars and 45 years, but we finally got them back together. I know it’s a symbolic thing, but it really means a lot to me.”
Despite the heavy price he paid for the Starr kit, Irsay expressed some anxiety over whether he’d be outbid. “The auctioneer started bidding at ‘Do I have $10 million?’ and I thought, ‘What the fuck!’ I thought some billionaire madman might say ‘I have $10 million, what the hell,'” Irsay said. When the opening number was recalibrated to $1 million, the bidding started to heat up, but Irsay finally placed the high bid after some more nervous moments. “It took like five minutes to say ‘Going once, going twice.'”
As for the Rickenbacker guitar he purchased Saturday for $910,000, “John gave that to Ringo, and I can remember when they started to [record] The White Album, and Ringo was like ‘Fuck this, I’m out of here’ with the fighting and stuff. So I know Paul set up a room full of flowers for him, and John gave him that guitar as an apology,” Irsay said. “So getting that guitar is really special, and the fact that it’s a Rickenbacker makes it really special.”
In the spirit of the music, Irsay doesn’t plan on just stashing the famed drum kit behind glass; instead, he says he hopes to throw a party – similar to the Lennon tribute in New York – where artists would perform Fab Four songs using the legendary Beatles instruments he’s housing in his collection. However, the Colts owner expressed some regret about letting Lennon’s “Love Me Do” acoustic guitar slip away at auction, if only because he couldn’t add that instrument to his collection.
“I feel I’m just a curator of history. I’m going to pass this thing on as time goes along,” Irsay said of his collection, which also features Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival guitar, Lennon’s “Paperback Writer” Gretsch guitar and Les Paul’s “Black Beauty.” “It’s just a privilege and an honor.”
Irsay, who serves on the Super Bowl Advisory Committee, also gave his seal of approval for Coldplay, the Super Bowl 50 halftime performers. “I think Coldplay is one of the best and biggest bands of the last 15 years, and I think they’ll bring the energy,” Irsay said. “Coldplay is a great choice. It’s always tough to decide what should go in Super Bowl halftime, but I was all for Coldplay. They really have a magical, spiritual ability to do it live.”