“Dude, I have the best job in the world.”
As the so-called “Indiana Jones of rock and roll,” Don Bernstine has an enviable life, to say the least. He’s the guy in charge of collecting all the genuine music memorabilia that adorns the walls at Hard Rock Cafés worldwide. As a whole, the Hard Rock collection is the largest collection of said memorabilia in the world, even if it is spread out among the restaurants across the globe.
A typical day for Bernstine could find him visiting a swanky auction in the morning, visiting a rock star’s home in the afternoon, and hanging out backstage at a concert that night. Everyone in the music industry not only knows who Bernstine is, but they welcome him with open arms anywhere he goes. No matter how famous or reclusive a rocker is, he or she nonetheless treats Bernstine like a long lost buddy. As such, the stars give up some of their most prized possessions to him for display at the Hard Rock, often surprising even Bernstine himself with their generosity.
This documentary follows Bernstine as travels from London to Memphis to Detroit to LA, talking to band members from Black Sabbath, Pantera, KISS, Slipknot, Styx, the Beach Boys, the B-52s, and more. Peter Frampton gives up some one-of-a-kind items, the guys from Deep Purple hand over the guitar on which “Smoke on the Water” was first played, and Metallica even donates a classic muscle car used in one of its videos. Near the end of the movie, Bernstine gets the rare chance to sit down with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin in the hopes of finally scoring some Zeppelin items. The “wow” factor is not only in the history of the items, which were present at some of rock music’s greatest (or most notorious) moments, but that the owners so willingly donate them to the Hard Rock.
What is the secret to Bernstine’s success? It’s hard to say. He’s obviously a laid back, easy going guy, and one who’s fun to hang out and swap stories with. And yet, he never forgets his goal, and every chance he gets, he slips in a mention of going home with a rare collectible. It works, and we never once see him walk away from an encounter empty handed.
Guitars are Bernstine’s favorite collectible, and we see a lot of them here, including ones with curious designs, colors and shapes. Drum sets and outrageous outfits are also staples of the Hard Rock walls, and we see plenty of those as well, with more than one aging rocker joking about how thin he used to be. But, curiously, no one asks a more obvious question like “What was I thinking wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit on stage in front of hundreds of people during the height of my popularity?” That’ll have to remain one of the great mysteries of rock and roll, I guess.
This documentary is a lot of fun. Bernstine is a likable guy, there are a lot of famous faces and amazing items seen, and there are a ton of clips from classic rock tunes heard along the way. That being said, there’s not much in the way of a narrative. The doc is more a series of vignettes than it is a complete story. Near the beginning, Bernstine tells us that the Deep Purple guitar is his personal “holy grail,” and it takes more convincing than usual before he gets his hands on it. Perhaps, in the editing room, this element of the film could have been made a running theme throughout, with his longing for this one guitar coloring all of his other quests along the way. Or perhaps that wasn’t the reality of the situation, and the filmmakers would rather preserve the “you are there” feel of the movie. I really can’t say. This is a wild ride, but when it’s over, you might wonder where, exactly, it has taken you.
The widescreen picture is so sharp and vivid that you can almost smell the Hard Rock bacon cheeseburgers. Likewise, the 5.1 sound makes the most of the various songs heard throughout. For bonuses, we get what are really three extended scenes: Bernstine’s visit with the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera and Damage Plan, Bernstine backstage at Ozzfest, and Bernstine giving the viewer a guided tour of the Hard Rock “vault” in Orlando. All three scenes are good ones, and are nice additions to the disc overall. It’s too bad they couldn’t get Bernstine to sit down for a commentary, though. The guy obviously has a million stories to tell, and a commentary would have been a great chance to hear a few more of them.
Part of the Hard Rock Café’s philosophy is that all customers are to be treated as if they are rock stars. But what does that mean, exactly? If customers are treated the way Bernstine treats rock stars, then it’s as an old buddy. And that’s kind of what watching Hard Rock Treasures is like; hanging out with old friends. That can’t possibly be a bad thing.