Sean Brickell kept the same book at his bedside for more than 30 years.
Aged by years of sunlight, the faded orange copy of “The Cantos of Ezra Pound” remained on the nightstand days after Sean — a much-beloved music promoter and fan — collapsed in his Virginia Beach public relations office. He died shortly after at a nearby hospital.
His wife of 32 years, Robin, never once so much as thumbed through it, its hundreds of pages littered with the 116 cantos that made up Pound’s incomplete poem.
That is, until one morning when the dusty and tattered green bookmark tucked betwixt its pages, the same one she’d walked by nearly 11,000 times, caught her eye.
The first page she flipped to some 500 leaves in was covered in Sean’s scrawl. Little notes, asterisks and markings all over the pages.
Her eyes fell on one particular note in the bottom left-hand corner: “The most important thing Pound ever said.”
“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross. What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee. What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage,” Pound wrote.
“It just gave me goosebumps,” Robin said, standing in the couple’s sun-drenched bedroom, book in hand on a recent afternoon.
It was a near-perfect sentiment to stumble upon, she said, especially after the weekend she’d had, decorating the few empty walls of their Beach home with the mementos from her husband’s life that meant the most to him.
Sean’s heritage was, at its foundation, music. At one stint in his career he wrote about it for The Virginian-Pilot and other outlets, later worked for a major record label, and started his own entertainment-centered public relations firm.
Ever caught a show on the sand over the last couple of decades? Sean likely had a hand in making it happen.
That love for music led to an incredible collection of various mediums revolving around the art form. Books, posters, records and instruments. Thousands of buttons, pins, ticket stubs and backstage passes.
You name it, Sean probably had it.
His office and home library were stuffed with all of it, leaving his home resembling more of a museum than a place to hang your hat each day. Now in his absence, his Earthly treasures passed on to those he loved most — Robin and their three children, Alex Snyder, Lesley Snyder Shook and Quentin “Q” Brickell.
Amassed over a lifetime, his collection started with a single ticket stub from 1966.
When Sean was 13, his father, Ed, took him to see Bob Dylan at the Norfolk Municipal Auditorium, a former concert and event hall that is now part of the Harrison Opera House. The tour marked Dylan’s official hotly debated switch from acoustic music to electric after he himself debuted his new sound at the Newport Folk Festival the year before.
“That was his first live rock ’n’ roll experience. I think it really did serve as the jumping-off point for where all of these memorabilia came from,” Q said in a phone interview.
The stub and an original handbill from that night are framed together and hung in Sean’s Brickell & Partners office for years. Now, it hangs in Robin’s living room, surrounded by her husband’s other mementos recently moved from his office.
Rare artwork by Beatles frontman Paul McCartney. Framed and signed records and tour posters from the Sex Pistols, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones. A wooden spoon with the time-aged signature of another Beatle, John Lennon. A paint-splashed print signed by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. An honorary Blues Brother card bearing his official nickname, “Rebel,” given to him by John Belushi himself.
And a 6-by-6-foot painted wooden sign made to promote Bruce Springsteen’s album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” signed by the Boss himself and various members of the E Street Band. Several times, Sean lugged the massive piece of art to a Springsteen show to collect signatures.
“He took it backstage to a show in Norfolk once and that’s where Bruce signed it,” Robin said, though she isn’t quite sure how Sean got his hands on it in the first place.
Determined to get all of the E Street members to sign it, Sean once lugged it up to a show at the Capital Centre just outside Washington, D.C.
“I came home one day and he had a truck with a governor on it and he said, come on, we’re going to get this thing signed!” Robin said. “I just thought, are you kidding me?”
He wasn’t. But even without a plan, Sean was successful.
When they made it up to the arena, Sean left the piece with members of the crew he’d tracked down who could help him get the signatures he was after. He left the piece with them and went inside to enjoy the music.
“I totally thought it was going to get lost or stolen,” Robin said.
Three days after the show, Sean’s phone rang. He could pick up his art piece, now with added signatures.
“We had to get a courier service to go get the thing and bring it back down,” Robin said, a hint of disbelief and amusement still lingering in her voice all these years later.
He repeated the whole process a few years later when the band came to Charlottesville, finally getting the signatures of Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) and Max Weinberg.
“It’s just a typical Sean story. He was always doing crazy stuff,” she said.
Two cups carved from coconuts sit on a shelf in what was Sean’s home office and library, bearing red, yellow and green paint. He got them when he was studying coral reef ecology in Jamaica during his college years.
Sean didn’t buy the hand-carved cups, though. They were passed off to him by reggae pioneer Bob Marley just months before he died.
“Sean sought him out,” Robin said. “He went to Kingston looking for him. When he found Bob, Sean told him how much his music had meant to him.”
Marley ended up giving Sean the two cups, and they became some of Sean’s most coveted possessions.
The Hunter S. Thompson piece? Sean tracked him down, too, armed with a poster from when Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, in 1970.
“He had a real knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time,” Robin joked.
While he was an avid collector and scoured the internet for pieces of history he wanted to own, Sean also collected many of his mementos while on the job.
He kept every single story and review he ever wrote for the newspaper inside scrapbooks.
That’s where many of his backstage passes came from.
“That first concert review he did, he started collecting them and never stopped,” Q said.
Later when he worked for Atlantic Records, Sean made connections and friendships with artists and actors, holding onto items to remember his experiences.
A framed credit card hangs just above the Thompson poster. It was once tucked into the wallet of a beloved pop icon, but Sean became its owner one random day in the Atlantic office.
“Madonna had just gotten a new credit card and (Sean) just happened to be there. When she said to throw the old one away, he asked if he could keep it and she said sure,” Q said.
Sean had a few favorite bands, made evident by some of the pieces he adorned his walls with, including an original skull and roses Grateful Dead poster and a series of numbered John Lennon posters by graphic artist John Van Hamersveld. He had several original Beatles posters, including ones for their “Help!” and “Let It Be” films.
Beneath his computer monitor at his office, he had a vintage manual Beatles calendar still showing the day he died, March 3.
“I’ll never change that date,” Robin said, holding the calendar in her living room weeks later. “He was just the biggest Beatles fan there was.”
Nearby hung a wooden spoon signed by John Lennon, framed in a shadowbox. Sean received the spoon in 1980 as an invitation to Lennon and Yoko Ono’s annual holiday party.
A fan fatally shot Lennon outside his New York City home on Dec. 8, and Sean would never meet his musical hero in person.
“He sent Yoko a telegram after John’s death. We just found a copy of that a few days ago,” Q said.
Of all the posters Sean had, Q pointed out a brightly colored cartoon hot dog lounging in the sun. The poster now hangs in Robin’s kitchen across from an impressive collection of vintage lunchboxes she and Sean built together (some of which have been donated to the Smithsonian Institution).
It’s “baking itself,” he said laughing, but it’s special because it’s a show that exists because of his father’s compassion and ability to use music as a tool for healing.
“It was for the memorial concert at Virginia Tech after the shootings up there. Dad and his friends put that whole thing together, and everybody did all of the work pro bono,” he said.
Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Phil Vassar, and Nas headlined the 2007 show, and free tickets were made available to students, university faculty and staff.
“He just had a huge, huge heart,” Robin said, and much larger than she ever knew. After he passed, she found out he had been doing free work for clients who couldn’t afford to pay him because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While cataloging and moving his belongings from his office to their home, Robin found a few boxes full of buttons, pins and laminated backstage passes. She started decorating the curtains in their living room with the buttons and pins, and created a makeshift curtain by stitching the laminates together.
The concert passes were such a staple in his life that for his funeral, his family created a laminate to hand out to those who loved him. On it: a picture of Sean wearing a flower crown, a knowing smile spread across his face, one hand over his heart and the other holding a bouquet of fuchsia flowers in front of a wall of wildflowers. His signature was scrawled across the top and the words “ALL ACCESS” printed beneath the photo.
Of the laminates he collected, Robin had enough to frame two windows, one in the living room and one in his library. They are just a few feet away from an acoustic guitar signed by blues singer John Lee Hooker.
Even though Sean’s personal and professional life revolved around music, he seldom mixed the two outside of his collecting, Robin said.
She stood at the entrance to her husband’s library surrounded by the keepsakes, her eyes surveying the scene around her and the cataloging of items that remain: stacks of unframed prints and thousands of books about music.
“You think that after being married to someone for 30-plus years, you’d know everything about them, but here I am finding out more and more each day. He certainly left me with a lot more to learn, but I feel like he’s still here.”
Amy Poulter, 757-446-2705, email@example.com