I guess I must be living in a hole because until this weekend I had never heard of the 27 Club. And for those of you who are just like me, the 27 Club is an exclusive club of lore consisting of musical artists who died at the age of 27. For my generation the 27 club was started by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones who died in a pool at that age. The club has some auspicious members including Janis Joplin, Jimmie Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. This weekend the club welcomed its newest member Amy Winehouse. And although there may be a mythical aura surrounding this club, the sad thing is that it consists of members who had talent, charisma and promise but inevitably chose to embrace a life of alcohol and drugs to such an extreme degree that it killed them.
In many ways you are just beginning your life at 27. Most people have finished school and have begun the process of making career and life choices that will set the stage for the rest of their lives. These artists were not all that different in that regard, they were just doing it in a profession where big money and fame can be had quickly and so-called friendships and advisors can be bought and sold on a daily basis.
The only member of the club I actually had the privilege of seeing perform live was Janis Joplin. I was a freshman in college at the time and my roommate and I snuck back to the Chicago area from DeKalb to see her performing live at Ravinia. She was already in the throws of her downfall and she appeared wasted and lethargic as she performed. On one of the amplifiers near her was her trusty bottle of Southern Comfort and every once in a while she would stroll over to the amp and take a big swig. She still had some magic left in her but it was obvious that she was in trouble. Janis attended a recording session on the night she died. She went out with a friend for a couple of drinks afterwards and then went back to her hotel. She shot herself up with heroine and went down to the hotel lobby to get change to buy cigarettes. She was found the next day collapsed on the floor of her hotel room with a cigarette in her hand.
Jimmie Hendrix was a phenomenal guitar player, one of the best of his generation and his song Purple Haze was every druggies’ anthem especially when he sang the words. “S’cuse me while I kiss the sky.” He mixed wine and sleeping pills and that turned out the lights for him.
Come on Baby Light My Fire was such a sexy song and very racy for the time – so racy as a matter of fact that when the Doors performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan tried to get them to change some of the words that were thought to be too suggestive for family television. Needless to say Morrison figuratively gave him the third finger salute and although verbally consenting to change the words performed the song as originally written. Sullivan was furious and the Doors were never invited back to the show. I am sure Jim Morrison was not dismayed. On the night he died Jim was vomiting blood and found dead in the bathtub with blood oozing out of his nose.
Brian Jones was one of the original members of the Stones. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing the Stones live (that was at the Amphitheater in Chicago) but by the time I saw them Jones was already dead. I was and still am a Stones fan and have a great appreciation for some of their early music. I remember when Jones’ death was reported a lot was left unsaid but there was a heavy insinuation that the drowning was drug related. I never had a musical connection to Kurt Cobain but he was the lead singer in the grunge band Nirvana. He was a heroine addict who one evening decided to take a gun to his head and shoot.
And now Amy Winehouse. I have to admit I never paid much attention to her but upon hearing of her death and the 27 Club thing I watched a couple of YouTube videos of her early performances. I was impressed with her voice, that is her voice in earlier years, and could see a real talent behind the flashy clothes and trashy makeup. I also watched the video of her last performance. She could not stand still, wobbled all over the stage, eyes clouded over and constantly rubbing her arms and nose (a sign associated with drug addiction). We don’t know as of yet what caused her death but I would double down on it being drug related. What a shame, not just for her but for all of them. So young, so talented, so much promise, so much to live for.
I would hope at this point that the 27 Club is closed off to membership but seeing the effects the music industry can have on high profile entertainers I think membership will continue to grow. And that is a sad state of affairs. The only comfort I take in all this comes from words of a Righteous Brother’s song – “If you believe in forever, then life is just a one night stand. If there’s a rock n’ roll heaven then you know they’ll have a hell of a band!”