The 27 Club

With Amy Winehouse dying yesterday, the good old “27 Club” (or “Club 27” or the “Dead at 27 Club”) has been in the spotlight.  Now I’m not the most superstitious person in the world, but even I will tip my hat to the seemingly extreme coincidence of the deaths on this list.  (Of course, the fact that so many of them involved drugs and that at least one was planned out in advance may just have something to do with it…but I digress…)  Following suit with the rest of the Internet, I wanted to write a little bit about the “27 Club” on the old blog.

If you somehow haven’t heard of it and haven’t pieced it together yet, basically the “club” is made up of different musicians who died at the age of 27.  In the following words, I’ll offer some of my thoughts about each of the “members” (or at least the ones most frequently said to be in the group).   Some of these opinions may seem in poor taste, some of them overly kind.  Either way…most of them have been dead for more than 20 years, so I think it’s about time I can be a little critical and/or kind.  Nonetheless…my apologies if I say I’m not a fan of somebody that’s one of your favorites.  It’s just music and it’s just an opinion.  You probably think stuff I love sucks too.

Let’s rock!

The 27 Club, and my thoughts:

  • Robert Johnson – The Johann Sebastian Bach of blues guitar.  All of the standards were pretty much first put on tape by Robert Johnson.  Yet many of you might not have ever heard his name.  That’s not surprising.  There are only two known photographs of him, and we aren’t even 100% sure that’s actually him in at least one of them.  He was a black musician in a time when no one cared to take pictures of black musicians.  In a lot of ways, it’s amazing that his work survived at all.  But thanks to guys like Clapton doing “Crossroad Blues” (aka “Crossroads”) and pretty much every blues artist taking a swipe at “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” (including Ike & Tina, ZZ Top, John Mayall, and even Steven–what the hell am I doing with a guitar?–Seagal), his legacy lives.  It is almost impossible to deny Johnson’s legacy and genius.
  • Brian Jones (Rolling Stones) – Mysterious death…possible accident, possible suicide, possible murder, depending on who you talk to.  Though Jagger and Richards are the first names everyone thinks of when someone says, “Rolling Stones,” Jones really shouldn’t be far behind.  When it all started it was HIS band, before Mick n’ Keef took the spotlight.  Jones helped to shape the early sound of the band (arguably the ONLY sound of the band, since you can play almost any Stones song and know immediately what band it is without knowing the song). To this day, Ronnie Wood is still thought of as “The New Guy” by a lot of the fan-base, even though he’s been a member since 1975.  Fans didn’t want to let him go, and in many ways they never have.  I’m on board with that to some degree…but after a couple of decades, I think it’s about time we gave Ronnie a break.
  • Jimi Hendrix – Everyone knows at least one Hendrix song, and every guitarist has played at least one of his riffs, if only accidentally.  Hendrix had one of those sounds that is unique—truly his own.  Personally, I find him more innovative than accurate and more sloppy than stupendous…but I’m willing to let that slide when I hear his version of “Red House.”  Though I have extreme disdain for his drug-addled nature, I tip my hat to the way he revolutionized the instrument of the guitar and the nature of improvisational rock.  Nevertheless, the first thing that comes to my mind when someone mentions Hendrix is, “I wonder if it’s true that he used to line his headband with LSD?”
  • Janis Joplin – I’m just going to say it…  I don’t like Janis Joplin.  I’ve just never gotten it.  She had a raspy, grating voice and sang music that didn’t fit it.  But…woman rocker, I guess…so right on.  I know it’s my problem and I’m probably wrong about it.  I just don’t have much to say about her.  I like “Me and My Bobby McGee,” but I like it better when Kristofferson sings it himself.  Sorry everybody…but I just don’t get it, and I don’t want to.
  • Jim Morrison – I am always torn on what to think of Morrison.  I like some Doors songs here and there, but they’re not in my top ten favorite bands…  But I could say that about a lot of bands.  What I can’t say about a lot of those bands is that I know their singer’s name.  I know Morrison’s…so I guess he did some things right.  But I must say I’m a little put off by the “American Poet” thing…I mean…  I’ve read his lyrics, and with the exception of “we couldn’t get much higher,” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a cogent thought in any of them.  He does have one of those voices that it’s hard not to love, and he certainly knew how to make himself a star.  Unfortunately, that sometimes (often?) overwhelmed the actual music…but at the same time, at least he was one of the first guys to do that.
  • Kurt Cobain – I was in Jr. High when Kurt Cobain killed himself, and at the time I thought it was a tragedy.  I am now in my 30s, working for peanuts (and grateful for them), and still plugging away playing songs no one listens to in bars no one likes…and somewhere along the way, I have come around to think Cobain was a selfish, pretentious loser who couldn’t sing, could only sort-of play guitar, and couldn’t seem to get his head out of his ass.  The only thing worse is the fans who keep claiming he didn’t kill himself, but was instead murdered.  Still, I’ll give him due credit for putting Grunge in the spotlight, and I like the odd Nirvana song now and again.  I just wish he’d have lived long enough for people not to care about him anymore.  I just can’t justify holding up someone who takes his own life as a role model, musical or otherwise…even if I do turn it up a little when “Territorial Pissings” comes up on “random” on my iPod.
  • Amy Winehouse – I don’t really know that much about Amy Winehouse.  I didn’t particularly care for her music, but I didn’t hate it.  I dig Wanda Jackson’s cover of “You Know that I’m No Good” though.  I, like everyone, watched her personal life and drug addiction become a crazy train-wreck that left us all thinking, “well, that’s sad but not too surprising” this week.  And that’s a shame.  She seemed talented enough…it’s just too bad that kind of thing doesn’t make you invincible, as so many seem to think it does.  I don’t know what her cause of death was yet…but I think we all know some of what contributed…just like EVERY person on this list (though Johnson was reportedly poisoned).  And that’s just fucking stupid, if you like ’em or not.

So yeah…  I guess the lesson is that if you’re young and talented, try not to get involved with drugs.  27 comes sooner than you think.