The 27 Club can most accurately be described as the worst club in the world with the most exclusive membership in the world, and the most undesirable initiation fee in the world. This is because the club consists of world famous musicians who are all dead, and each of these individuals died – you guessed it – at the age of twenty-seven. Furthermore, though there are a number of exceptions, the most prominent members of the 27 Club died because of, or while intoxicated with, high levels of drugs and alcohol. A number of the most prominent names included in this star-studded cohort are as follows:
Jim Morrison (d. 1971) – Lead singer/Front man of The Doors
Brian Jones (d. 1969) – Founder/guitarist for the Rolling Stones
Jimi Hendrix (d. 1970) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Probably the most famous guitarist of all time
Janis Joplin (d. 1970) – Lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company
Ron McKernan (d. 1973) – Original keyboardist/vocalist for the Grateful Dead
Alan Wilson (d. 1970) – Front man for Canned Heat
Kurt Cobain (d. 1994) – Front man for Nirvana
Amy Winehouse (d. 2011) – solo singer/songwriter
As many of my fine, educated readers may have noticed, most of the names on this list died in the two years from 1969 to 1971, a statistic which has spawned a myriad of hilariously outrageous, if not slightly interest-piquing, conspiracy theories. In one such theory, the murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, and Jones are said to be part of a concerted attempt to eliminate prominent counterculture figures of the time. It was not until the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, however, that these theories evolved and were elaborated upon. Furthermore, Cobain’s death, which took place two and a half decades after the passing of the sixties icons, solidified the club’s existence. Since that time, the ill-fated legion has added Amy Winehouse to its ranks making her just the second woman to hold a prominent position in the group and re-energizing feminist campaigns to allocate additional spots for females.
Perhaps the most curious thing about the club is the nature of the esteem to which those included on the list are held. When most hear the names Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, the words Legend, brilliant, and Rock ‘n Roll come to mind long before the terms Barbiturates, Alcohol, and Asphyxiation. Part (or even most) of the reason for this can rightfully be attributed to the enduring music that millions still listen to every day, and a desire to remove tragedy from our minds. Another possible explanation for this thought process, however is that pop-culture has not fully learned the lessons these icon’s deaths have taught us. The counterculture movement of the sixties and early seventies may be long over, but in many ways, the carefree “flower children” of that era have passed the torch to a generation that has since allowed the vices of their forebears to blossom into a society of over-tolerance.
The population of the world is rapidly growing, and with it, the population of stupid people. During the sixties and seventies, the vastness of substance abuse could, in part, be attributed to a lack of knowledge regarding the dangers of LSD, Heroin, etc., but with a greater level of understanding of these dangers afforded to today’s population, society is left to devise alternate explanations – albeit none of them sensible – for the ever-growing drug abuse problem. For whatever reason, drug use has occupied a constant place in the lives of popular musicians since the early days of Rock ‘n Roll, and despite the readily apparent dangers of said substances, well-educated musicians (and obviously millions of others) continue to depend on them. It is true that not all the above members of the 27 club died strictly due to drug related causes, but for the vast majority, drugs or alcohol (which I also consider to be a drug) played some role in the misadventures that resulted in their deaths.
For myself, this reality produces a reaction that is equal parts sadness for the burdens these individuals face, and a lack of sympathy for their decisions regarding how to cope with said hardships. As a fan of Amy Winehouse, I can say that she is greatly missed as a musician, and she is surely missed by friends and family, but in this day and age if she could not realize that drinking to a BAC of .41 would probably kill her, then my sympathies can only stretch so far. For the millions of music fanatics like myself, the tragedy of the premature deaths of those in the ranks of the 27 Club leave us contemplating what might have been, and as long as people fail to understand, or – more accurately – choose to ignore the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, the ranks of the dreaded club will rise, and the big band in the sky will grow evermore talented.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
A Not-So-Well Respected Man
For more information on the members of the 27 Club I have mentioned here as well as others I did not have time to mention, check out these links:
For a couple of cool newspaper articles published on the day of Hendrix and Joplin’s deaths, check out these links:
For some fun conspiracy theories on the 27 Club see these links: