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Rock is dead, they say ... 

Inevitably, in any given year, we lose a few beloved rock stars. Their profession is hazardous by nature, involving excessive travel and stress that often leads to overindulgence. If the road doesn't kill them (as it claimed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran), booze or drugs often do (Keith Moon, Elvis Presley, Sid Vicious). Many young rockers with still-promising futures -- including, this year, Elliott Smith -- succumb to exterior or interior hazards.

The grim toll taken in 2003 included an unprecedented number of veteran performers -- from icons such as Johnny Cash and the Who's John Entwistle, to lesser-known (but revered) artists including Treniers frontman Claude Trenier and rockabilly fireball Ronnie Dawson.

These were not young men but graying giants who, until now, had successfully beaten the odds. New culprits -- cancers and degenerative diseases -- have begun claiming more lives than crashes and overdoses. Which raises a chilling point: Rock 'n' roll is now over 50 years old, and for the few remaining survivors of its early days, time is running short. Ours is the last generation that will witness them firsthand.

An event such as this past summer's Chuck Berry/Little Richard concert at Chastain Park may soon be as shadowed in the mists of legend as a handshake from Abe Lincoln or a conversation with Wyatt Earp.

Ronnie Dawson may have unwittingly written his own epitaph -- a fitting one for all the veterans of his generation -- while recording his 1959 classic "Rockin' Bones": "I wanna leave a happy memory when I go/I wanna leave something to let the whole world know/That the Rock 'n' Roll Daddy has done passed on/But his bones keep rockin' long after I'm gone."

Rock 'n' roll may never die. But eventually (and much too soon) its originators surely will.

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