By JOSH BOARD
After hanging outside of venues and waiting for autograph opportunities for so many years, I see some of the same people also waiting for autographs. One collector became a dear friend of mine, and he helped me get the autographs that I couldn’t, out of his own generosity. He was a model fellow collector.
At a Pearl Jam show last year, I got singer Eddie Vedder to sign a CD. He was only signing one item per person for a crowd of about 10. My friend, Victor Gonzales, told me he didn’t get Vedder’s autograph, but that he’d get him inside the venue.
“Do you have another Pearl Jam CD?” he asked. “I’ll get it signed for you when I go in.” I gladly handed it over, feeling guilty for already having one signed.
I first met Victor five years ago, when he told me about his collection of autographs, and I began seeing him around at autograph stakeouts. We would trade stories about the people we had met and who we got autographs from, or didn’t.
At 5-foot-7-inches, it was easy to lose Victor in the crowds. But he never pushed his way to the front, even though he was usually there first. And when someone was bummed about not getting a signature, he would offer to get an item signed for the person.
While waiting outside a venue where Sinead O’Connor was playing, Victor told me that he’d get my CD signed for me since I had to leave. I learned from a friend that O’Connor was only signing one item per person, but Victor had one signed for me and him. Turns out he worked at the venues. Aside from his job in produce, he did the stage lights and stage sets. He laughed saying, “The artists can be a lot nicer when you are working for the venue, as oppose to standing out with the crowd, where they think you might be selling autographs.”
When James Blunt played, I didn’t wait long for his autograph. He was inside already and I wasn’t the biggest fan. As usual, Victor told me he’d get it for me.
I saw him standing by the backstage door and I waved to him. He didn’t wave back. I thought it was because security was around, and he didn’t want them knowing that he talked to the autograph seekers. But he had no problem handing me back my signed CD. He told me about the opening act, Sara Bareilles and how even though it wasn’t his job, he helped unload her van and truck. He got a CD signed from her, and six months later she had a hit.
As many autograph collectors can relate, it isn’t always easy. Backstage at a ZZ Top show, Victor was turned down. “I had an 8×10 of the band with my index card. I put them out on a table and they walked by, laughed and kept walking. They never stopped to sign. I was mad!”
Another band that upset him was Crosby, Stills & Nash. The manager said the band won’t sign and assured him they’d send one in the mail. They never did.
I became a better collector and overall person because of Victor. I watched how nice he was to people who were pushy. And I realized because of him, that these rude people were just hardcore fans. It wasn’t anything personal.
He told me that he would bring boxes of fresh produce to baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn whenever Gwynn held autograph signings. And he usually stood with Gwynn as he signed for fans. He told me if I ever wanted anything signed by Gwynn to let him know.
A few times I offered to give Victor an extra CD or album I had. He’d always refuse, saying he was happy with his index cards. When he told me that he didn’t drive, I offered to give him rides when an autograph opportunity was happening somewhere far away. He would say, “No, I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
He’s one of the few autograph collectors that would call and give me the heads-up. One time I was going out to lunch, and he found out that Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers were going to be in town. So I started doing the same for him.
When I told him about a party at director James Cameron’s house, he was impressed. I said, “I got two DVDs signed. I’ll give you one.” After refusing on the phone for a few minutes, and me insisting, he agreed to take it. He told me, “I have some bad news, though. I couldn’t get your Pearl Jam CD signed.” I told him it was alright. He had gotten me about 10 CDs signed over the years. And just hanging out with him made the hours I waited for autographs so much more enjoyable.
As the weeks went by I called Victor about a few concerts, and I didn’t hear back from him. I thought that was odd.
I received a phone call two weeks later from his sister. She had his phone, and said he had passed away. I was shocked.
His sister told me so much about him that I never knew. She told me he had diabetes from the time he was a child, and complications from it made him legally blind, which explained why he didn’t drive, or never acknowledged me from far away.
I later met his dad, who told great stories about his room and all his signed memorabilia, and how he still gets signed stuff coming in the mail. And he told me that Victor once worked for Tony Gwynn, opening his fan mail and helping him with responses to fans. He said, “Sometimes people don’t have return envelopes, and they have no way of getting the cards or items back to the people. Victor got to keep those things.”
One of his sisters told a great story about him being in New York. The Black Eyed Peas were on stage and saw him in the crowd. They remembered him from San Diego and called him on to stage. That’s the kind of guy Victor was. Bands remembered him. The Autograph community has definitely lost one of the nicest collectors around.