By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Between Routhier's desk and his nearest associate's is a semicircle of a half-dozen recently acquired guitars on upright stands, including a Fender bass used by Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam in the recording of the band's as-yet-unreleased second album, two Albert Collins Flying Vs, and a Harmony Marquis acoustic that belonged to horror novelist Stephen King, autographed by the Rock Bottom Remainders and featuring a wimpy nylon G string. A close-up photo of a grumpy-looking John Belushi flipping the bird to the cameraman (and hence the viewer) peers out from a window ledge behind Routhier's chair.
At the opposite end of the office from Routhier's desk is a bank of filing cabinets, home to an extensive collection of classic rock concert posters. Abutting the cabinets are racks of rock star clothing: a signed Born to Run-era Springsteen leather jacket, several gaudy Elton John outfits, some purple Prince finery, a rhinestone-studded black velvet pants-and-jacket ensemble that once adorned Lou Reed, and a hairy pink fake fur worn by John Lennon during the Magical Mystery Tour.
Routhier cites the Lennon garment as an example of the type of item the Hard Rock's ever-vigilant artifact acquisition team looks for when it scours the memorabilia auctions. "Something that conjures up or galvanizes an image," is how he puts it. A photograph of the star in the garment is a plus, exposure on an album cover or in a movie is even better. A crown with matching red-and-white cape worn by James Brown is perfect -- trademark accessories, oft-photographed and inextricably linked with the Godfather of Soul.
This is where the man with the coolest job in the world "works," the place where he and his staff file their nails, engage in telephone tag with auctioneers and collectors around the globe, and try to resist the overwhelming urge to play with the toys on company time. Routhier has decorated company cafes in New York, Dallas, Tokyo, Cancun, and Reykjavik. During one fifteen-day period in 1987, he expended a week decorating the Tokyo Hard Rock Cafe, flew to Dallas for an afternoon, jetted off to a Sotheby's auction in New York where he spent $220,000, and from there hopped a plane to Iceland, where he oversaw the decorating of the Reykjavik franchise. Recalls the curator: "In Iceland in June, the sun never sets. I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Surreal."
But the job does have its perks, not all of which revolve around surreptitiously plucking the stars' strings. Routhier once conducted a private tour of the Dallas cafe for an appreciative group of legendary studio guitarists, many of whose guitars are part of the Hard Rock's stockpile -- Tommy Tedesco, Chet Atkins, Leland Sklar, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Steve Cropper, and James Burton. And then there was the time Bo Diddley gave Routhier an impromptu talking blues history of his first fiddle, followed by a rendition of "The Clock Strikes Twelve" at the caretaker's request.
Guitars, posters, and clothing make up the bulk of the Hard Rock's holdings, but there is much, much more. Rows and rows of shelves and cubbyholes shelter loose documents such as Buddy Holly's traffic tickets and a letter home to mom, a Beatles tour jacket, and Charlie Daniels's fiddle. In an un-air-conditioned section of the warehouse lurks the engineless, seatless body of one of Elvis's pink Cadillacs. The Hard Rock tries to rotate the memorabilia in its restaurants every three years, and Routhier's office is the axis about which it all revolves.
Most of the items that will decorate the walls of the Miami Hard Rock Cafe are being packed up and readied to ship from Dallas, where the archive was located until 1989. A partial preview:
Elvis's karate gi.
Elton John's three-piece wool plaid suit.
Keith Richards's snakeskin jacket.
George Harrison's handwritten lyrics for "Piggies" with John Lennon's corrections.
Madonna's coat with embroidered crown and crosses from Truth or Dare.
Janis Joplin's hat.
Guitars from Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Albert Collins, Slash, Keith Richards, Robert Cray, and Vernon Reid.
And the piece de resistance: Gloria Estefan's bustier. Never let it be said that the Hard Rock Cafe doesn't understand its market.