It's a well known fact that when it comes to gathering great musical mementos and legendary lore, Hard Rock is the one institution that brings rock's past to life.
While some may choose to make the pilgrimage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, but, um... Is there any other reason to go to Cleveland?! We here in South Florida can get our fill of memorabilia simply by making the short trek to Hollywood, where we can reflect and reminisce to our hearts' content.
As if to drive that point home, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is currently a stopping point for not one, but two special travelling exhibitions culled from some of the thousands of treasures warehoused at the legendary Hard Rock vault. Both offer up close views of personal possessions belonging to some of rock's greats and near-greats.
The bittersweet "Gone too Soon" spotlights those who left the building way before their time. It includes such curios as a black leather jacket worn by Jim Morrison and Elvis' custom made karate outfit. Then there's "Music Gives Back -- Rock 'n' Philanthropy," an exhibition meant to affirm Hard Rock's "Love All, Serve All" mantra by focusing on those who opted to shift attention to causes greater than their own quest for fame, fortune, and gaggles of groupies. It also gives fans the opportunity to marvel at one of Elton John's over-the-top stage costumes, a snazzy suit worn by Bono or John Lennon's famous round-rimmed glasses.
Of course, anyone who's ever visited a Hard Rock location already knows the fascination of staring at something once worn by any one of their idols ("Look! Madonna's corset! How the hell did she squeeze herself into that thing?!"), but the temptation to indulge the music nerd in each of us would seem too much to resist. So we asked Jeff Nolan. Hard Rock's resident historian, memorabilia guru, and possessor of what we reckon has to be the coolest gig in the universe, to give us some insight into what it takes to collect the gear that once belonged to the greats.
New Times: How does Hard Rock acquire all this cool stuff?
Jeff Nolan: We gather this stuff in a number of different ways. Hard Rock has been around since 1971, so we've got longstanding relationships with artists, artist managers, and the estates of deceased musicians. Obviously, getting stuff directly is awesome, but that's not always realistic, so we work with the major auction houses as well. Our favorite acquisition method is through charity work. We've partnered with dozens of artists to raise funds for a variety of philanthropic causes and we usually work a memorabilia component into those projects.
What was your hardest item to attain?
None of it is particularly easy to get, but our team has been at this a long time. The Bob Marley display features a guitar that he used to record "Is This Love?" Something like that is tough to get your hands on, but fortunately, we've got a reputation as a great place to display these iconic pieces of history.
Is there anything that Hard Rock still desperately searching for?
Our team is constantly on the lookout. In a way, it's a little like an A&R gig at a record label. With emerging artists, you never know who's going to be a flash in the pan and who's going to last, so we have to make a few educated guesses.
We recently got a killer upright bass that Ted Dwane of Mumford and Sons used in the early days of the group. It's been gratifying to see them do so well. That's a band Hard Rock has supported for a long time. Lady Gaga outfits are always fun to acquire because they're so over-the-top. For the classic stuff, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are always on our list.
Any other interesting tidbits you can share?
Putting this tour together was a daunting task, but it was a lot of fun. It's crazy difficult to choose a couple of dozen pieces from the 77,000 in our collection. We had some pretty lively debates about what we were going to display.
In the end, I think we put together two collections that are absolute show-stoppers. Gone Too Soon features a number of great artists who passed away long before their time, and Music Gives Back salutes musicians who've made a real difference in the charity world.
Though we've got some hugely important and valuable pieces on this tour, I think my favorites are the two yearbooks. We've got Kurt Cobain's eighth grade yearbook. He's such a fresh-faced kid in it. It's pretty poignant, actually. We've also got Jim Morrison's senior yearbook. He already looks like the Lizard King. It's too cool.
The Gone Too Soon and Music Gives Back travelling exhibitions are now on view at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in front of the Hard Rock Café, One Seminole Way, Hollywood, now through Monday, June 10.