HARD Rock historian Jeff Nolan has a few words of advice for famous young musicians: "If you've got a few platinum albums and 28 candles on your cake, you made it. Breathe a sigh of relief."
Many of pop music's greatest talents were cut short when they died in the prime time of their life, or even before it, and their legacies are honoured in Hard Rock Cafe's Gone Too Soon exhibit, one of two traveling the country beginning Feb. 14 and going through the fall.
The Music Gives Back: Rock 'n' Roll Philanthropy tour will show off clothing, instruments and other paraphernalia from philanthropic artists such as Shakira, Bono, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Queen's Brian May, while Gone Too Soon honours the treasures of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Bob Marley and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"We wanted to represent the legacy of these artists, as opposed to focusing on anything sordid or ghoulish," Nolan says.
Many of the musicians represented in the exhibit are part of the so-called "27 Club," a group of artists including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and most recently Amy Winehouse, all of whom died at the age of 27.
The rock-star lifestyle obviously is what takes down a lot of them, says Nolan, but it didn't take self-abuse or an airplane to kill former Beatle John Lennon or Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, both of whom are featured in the exhibit.
The fact that they were both murdered by gunmen on Dec. 8 exactly 24 years apart -- Lennon in 1980, Abbot in 2004 -- is "freakier than the 27 Club, to be perfectly honest with you," Nolan says.
The historian suspects music fans' fascination with dead musicians has a lot to do with eternal youth.
"Buddy Holly is 22 years old, still. He was 22 when he died. When I was 22, I still had my head up my butt," Nolan says, talking about the rock 'n' roll pioneer and leader of the Crickets who died in a plane crash with 17-year-old Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in 1959.
"He had an unbelievable impact on culture -- a 22-year-old kid. Let's take him up to 27 and he would have joined the 27 Club. If he would have lived those extra five years, his career then becomes nearly three times as long as it was. What happens?"
Another aspect Nolan finds interesting is that in many cases, these deceased stars didn't live long enough to mess up their career.
"People are harsh on old-school rockers who are still around and still making music, and they're like, 'It ain't like it used to be. He's screwing up his legacy.' Well, yeah, but he's still alive, though," Nolan says.
"You don't know if Jimi Hendrix would have made 10 crappy records. Maybe Hendrix (would be) on American Idol. You've got to make fun of Steven Tyler -- it's like, guess what, he's still around."
-- USA Today