Saturday, July 23, 2011

The 27 Club

Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (the Doors) and Brian Jones (the Rolling Stones) are part of what seemed to be a trend of well-known music people who all died at the age of 27. Those four died in the same two-year time frame (1969 – 1971). Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) was 27 when he died in 1994. Drugs, alcohol and suicide were the real or possible causes of each of their deaths.

Today the club has a new member, British singer Amy Winehouse. Drug overdose is the suspected cause. Her career was hot for several years but her erratic behavior began to interfere with success lately.

I won’t pretend to understand what negative forces lead to the drug and alcohol use that seems to be part of so many music careers. The demands placed on successful artists can be overwhelming and the temptations hard to resist. Music people on stage seem to have so much confidence but insecurity is a common denominator among many people in the arts and performance is one way many overcome their insecurities. Some never get past that point.

The only Amy Winehouse song I can name is called “Rehab.” It is especially sad to see that as the biggest hit of a singer who really needed rehab.

What is it about the age of 27 that connects these deaths? It might just be coincidence. But the six I mentioned are not the only ones. Others include Robert Johnson, (legendary blues musician who died of a suspicious poisoning in 1938), Rudy Lewis (Drifters lead singer on their two biggest hit songs, died in 1964 of a possible drug overdose), Roger “Pigpen” McKernan (a founding member of the Grateful Dead who died of alcohol poisoning in 1973) and Peter Ham (guitarist/songwriter for Badfinger who hanged himself in 1983).

Maybe the saddest part of membership in ‘the 27 club’ is that these and others were loved by millions of fans and each had so much to live for.

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