The Autograph Man

What ever happened to Buddy Holly's fishing license?

"I told [Motley Crue's] Nikki Sixx, 'I used to be a math teacher. I think you're the only one I know in music that has a number for a name.' He said, 'I think you're right.' Flaming Lips, that was their first album, and he [Wayne Coyne] wanted to show it around. He said, 'There were only about a thousand of 'em. I don't even have one.'

"I was on the bus with Nazareth, and the manager took my album and went in the other room and brought it back with an obviously forged signature of the lead singer. You know, why not just not do it?

"I asked Elvis Costello if he remembered playing at the Longhorn, and he said, 'I certainly do, is it still there?' I said, 'Unfortunately, no.'

With his signed photos of boxers and ballet dancers, Hollywood royalty and hair bands, Jim Ashworth has turned clutter into a way of life
Tony Nelson
With his signed photos of boxers and ballet dancers, Hollywood royalty and hair bands, Jim Ashworth has turned clutter into a way of life

"Lou Reed said nothing.

"The only time I've ever asked anyone for their autograph and they've lost their cool was when I asked John Cale to sign this"--Ashworth holds out a copy of the Velvet Underground's first album--"and he pushed it away and quit signing altogether. You'd think that 40 years or whatever would take care of any grudge or whatever.

"Remember Carol Wayne? She was the weather girl on Johnny Carson. She died in an auto accident, so that was a tough autograph." The photo, by the way, is a nude. "John Fogerty said, 'I've met you before!' I said, 'I wish, but we've never met.'

"My aunt knew [wrestler] Gorgeous George, so I got that. Ted Nugent's niece went to Como [Park High], where I used to teach, so I was able to get that. One of my former students is Jack Nicholson's caretaker out in Colorado, so I asked his mother to get me a picture. She said, 'You have to wait for the right time with Jack.' About three years later, she called and said, 'I have your picture.'

"I retired six years ago, and I'm busier than I've ever been. If you have interests, you just find things you enjoy, and you stay busy. Like yesterday, I could have spent all day chasing [Negro League star] Buck O'Neil down. If you're teaching or working somewhere, you can't do that."

As he speaks, the full-to-bursting walls of Ashworth's home press in. He may be at an age when splurging his savings and pension on autographs is his right, but he admits that he's starting to wonder what will become of it all when he's gone.

"I'm hoping to get a student or someone to come stay in the extra room and help take care of the place," he says. "I'm trying to get stuff organized. My only family is my brother, and he just hopes he goes before I do so he doesn't have to deal with it. I think he sees it as a mountain of accumulation, whereas I treasure each thing."

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or jwalsh@citypages.com.

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