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HM's The Myth of the 27 Club

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The 27 Club is comprised of musicians who died at 27 and won't get any older but continue to be immortalized through their work. The truth of the 27 Club and its dead membership of popular musicians who died at the age of 27, often the result of drug and alcohol abuse is, it's a fake. What did Kurt Vonnegut call it in Cat's Cradle .... a granfalloon (associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise). 

When I was a young teen, Brian Jones, Alan Wilson (Canned Heat), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died between 1969 and 1971; they were all 27. But nobody really paid much attention to that.... drugs killed them although technically, Jones drowned and Morrison died of a heart-attack. We felt bad, but people did a lot of drugs and besides they were closing in on 30 which was, after-all, pretty old. There was a phrase coined in the counter-culture 60's by Jack Weinberg of the Berkeley Students Movement,Don't trust anyone over 30.  By 1968, Hollywood had hijacked the phrase to create the movie, Wild In The Streets where 14 becomes the voting age and 30 becomes a mandatory retirement age; those over 35 are rounded up, sent to "re-education camps", and permanently dosed on LSD. (It's a cult classic and like Reefer Madness, a cautionary tale about the scourge of drugs and how “scary” young people are becoming. It's great for a laugh.)  

But here's the rub, while Hendrix, Joplin, The Doors, Canned Heat and The Rolling Stones were heroes, no one was gob-smacked when these people died... surprised, but then, oh yeah, I guess you could see it coming. All of them being 27 was a coincidence.

It wasn't until Kurt Cobain committed suicide 25 years later, that the idea of a "27 Club" was infused into the public perception. After the suicide, Cobain's mother commented to a reporter, "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club." Thus the 27 Club was invented. Cobain's mother, was actually referring to a legacy, the fact that Cobain's two uncles and great-uncle had all committed suicide. But that didn't matter anymore. There was money in this and “tabloid journalism” had really taken off.

There's another important ingredient essential to creating immortality, glamour. Being dead isn't glamourous until you attach a tag-line to it... a creed... a motto to live, or in this case, die by:Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. Of course, this was most famously associated with James Dean who spun-out his Alpha-Romero Spider at mach speed and died at age 24 in 1955. The original Rebel Without a Cause. The actual phrase superseded Dean by at least 30 years. In 1920, flapper, Mrs. Irene Luce filing for a divorce wrote: “I can’t be bothered with a husband. I intend to live a fast life, die young and be a beautiful corpse.” Variations on the theme can be traced back to the 19th Century.


“Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire." - The Lost Boys – 1987)

When you are young, you really do think you are immortal. Politicians love to use this potentially fatal flaw and ratchet it up with mock moral indignation and nationalism to convince rash, a byproduct of youth, young men to die in pointless wars. It works every time.

I think it's this faux-belief in immortality which has escalated the phenomena of vampires, werewolves, and witches. Not that these weren't always with us but now thanks to Anne Rice who started the homo-erotic undead (Interview with the Vampire – 1976 .... funny there is a long history of lesbian vampires, Hammer Films need I say more, dating back to 1936 in film and in print to Camilla,  the 1872 novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu which predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by 25 years.) and films like The Lost Boys to the series True Blood we have fused the concept of the music video with pretty kids being menaced or menacing other pretty kids. It also speaks volumes to a society sickly obsessed with maintaining their youth at any cost, these films are popular with adults too.      


Ironic to use a quota from Woody Allen, that guy who used to be funny and even profound by times until he dumped his stunning wife, Mia Farrow for her 20 year old adopted daughter. But, the body of a crab and the head of a social worker, what better depiction of this host of succubus in the media who openly feed on the likes of Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and boo-hoo-hoo over poor Amy Winehouse and River Phoenix. Oh yes, poor Amy was part of the 27 Club thrusting the hype into overdrive but if I remember correctly didn't she say:

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, 'No, no, no.'

Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know


Nobody likes to see anyone die before their time, but when did this become everyone else's business? I blame Betty Ford and bombastic alcoholic confessions and clinics for everyone, that is, everyone who is wealthy. In the blink of an eye you got Nancy Reagan telling you to “Just Say No!” and Tipper Gore labelling your music for you .... instead of doing their 12 Steps they have to set up a foundation  for every Mr. & Mrs. Robinson in America:

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files

We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.

Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.


It's a little secret just the Robinsons' affair.

Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids.

When Neil Young said, “it's better to burn out than to fade away” he was being premature..... in this day and age, old celebrities refuse to fade away. They are not only past their prime but if their 27 year old selves could see what they've stooped to, the 27 Club would be a lot larger..... we'll never know whether Cobain, Winehouse, Morrison, Hendrix or Joplin were going to create some future supreme crowning opus of their careers. What's the point of speculating. If you want to commemorate these guys, listen to their music. In very short lives, it's what they did best.


Here's a truncated list of some of others in the 27 club:

Robert Johnson (poisoned by a jealous husband)

Rudy Lewis (The Drifters – heroin od -  lead vocalist on "Please Stay", "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway), 

 Arlester “Dyke” Christian (Dyke and the Blazers - murdered, shot to death over drugs --- “Funky Broadway”  “We Got More Soul”)

Les Harvey (Stone The Crows – electrocuted by his guitar)

Dave Alexander (bass player for The Stooges – alcohol related disease)

Pete Ham (Bad Finger – suicide)

Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (keyboardist & vocalist for The Grateful Dead – alcohol related disease)

Gary Thain (bass player for Uriah Heep – heroin od)

Chris Bell (guitarist and vocalist for Big Star – car accident)




Canned Heat (feat. 27 Club original Al “The Blind Owl” Wilson on gtr. & voc.) - On the Road Again,  live at Woodstock 1969


Janis Joplin - Ball And Chain (at Monterey)



Nirvana - Where did you sleep last night - Unplugged in New York


Grateful Dead (feat. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on Voc & harp) Next Time You See Me


Amy Winehouse - Back To Black








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