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27

By
Published by powerHouse Books on 2018-09-25
Hardcover: £22.99
HUMOR, MUSIC, SELF-HELP, BIOGRAPHY and AUTOBIOGRAPHY, RELIGION


The summer of 1969 was a momentous one in modern history. It was a season punctuated with change. Apollo 11 landed on the moon, thousands of young fans flocked to rock ‘n’ roll festivals like Woodstock and the controversial Altamont Freeway concert, the Manson Family cult were on a high-profile killing spree, and the first uprisings that would become the Stonewall Riots began. It was an electric summer of violent endings, new beginnings, and social unrest.

It was also the summer that a myth was born–beginning with the tragic, untimely death of Rolling Stones founder, Brian Jones. The world soon lost two more huge music stars: Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Not only did losing these three beacons of music culture seem to signal the end of a musical era, it also felt like a foreboding sign; they had all died at exactly the same age. All three had lost their lives at the pinnacle of their creative output, and all three were exactly 27 years old.

People have speculated that there could be a dastardly lineage, from the poisoning of blues pioneer Robert Johnson in 1938, through these icons of the 60s, and more recently to rebel chanteuse Amy Winehouse’s death from alcohol poisoning in 2011. Could it be a twisted fate that the world’s very best creative souls come to early, often violent, deaths at just 27 years old? Over time, this idea began to be known as, “the 27 club,” and it has persisted in the public imagination.

In 27: The Legend and Mythology of the 27 Club, rock ‘n’ roll icon Gene Simmons takes a deep dive into the life stories of these legendary figures, without giving credence to the romanticized idea that being in the “club” is somehow a perverse privilege. Simmons wills us to acknowledge the extraordinary lives, not the sensational deaths, of the musicians and artists who left an indelible mark on the world.


(Hardcover, 2018-09-25)
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ASIN: 1576878864
ISBN: 9781576878866
EAN: 9781576878866

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'Life's a funny thing. Nobody wants to get old, but they don't want to die young, either.' -KEITH RICHARDS1 1? Keith Richards: Under the Influence (US: 2015), dir. Morgan Neville, prod. Tremolo Productions/Radical Media, dist. Netflix, 81 mins.

powerHouse Books Brooklyn, NY

Robert Johnson (1911- 1938) Brian Jones (1911- Brian Jones (1911- (1942-1969) 1938) (1942-1969) 1938) Jimi Hendrix (1942-1969) Hendrix (1942-1969) (1942-1970) (1942-1969) (1942-1970) (1942-1969) Janis Joplin (1942-1970) Janis Joplin (1942-1970) (1943- (1942-1970) (1943- (1942-1970) 1970) Janis Joplin 1970) Janis Joplin Jim Morrison Janis Joplin Jim Morrison Janis Joplin (1943- Jim Morrison (1943- (1943-1971) 1970) (1943-1971) 1970) JeanMichel Basquiat (1943-1971) Michel Basquiat (1943-1971) (1960- 1988) Michel Basquiat 1988) Michel Basquiat Kurt Cobain Michel Basquiat Kurt Cobain Michel Basquiat (1960- Kurt Cobain (1960- (1967-1994) 1988) (1967-1994) 1988) Amy Winehouse (1967-1994) Winehouse (1967-1994) (1983-2011) (1967-1994) (1983-2011) (1967-1994) Amy (1983-2011) Amy Alan 'Blind Owl? Wilson (1983-2011) Alan 'Blind Owl? Wilson (1983-2011) (1943-1970) Ron 'Pigpen? McKernan (1943-1970) 'Pigpen? McKernan (1943-1970) (1945-1973) 'Pigpen? McKernan (1945-1973) 'Pigpen? McKernan Jonathan 'Pigpen? McKernan Jonathan 'Pigpen? McKernan Brandis (1945-1973) Brandis (1945-1973) (1976-2003) (1945-1973) (1976-2003) (1945-1973) Otis Redding (1976-2003) Otis Redding (1976-2003) (1941- (1976-2003) (1941- (1976-2003) 1967) Otis Redding 1967) Otis Redding Tim Buckley Otis Redding Tim Buckley Otis Redding (1941- Tim Buckley (1941- (1947-1975) 1967) (1947-1975) 1967) Tim Buckley (1947-1975) Tim Buckley Jeff Tim Buckley Jeff Tim Buckley Buckley (1947-1975) Buckley (1947-1975) (1966-1997) (1947-1975) (1966-1997) (1947-1975)

Introduction ................................................................ 10 27 Robert Johnson (1938) ............................................ 34 Brian Jones (1969) ................................................... 50 Jimi Hendrix (1970) ................................................... 64 Janis Joplin (1970) .................................................... 84 Jim Morrison (1971) .................................................. 104 Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988) .................................... 124 Kurt Cobain (1994) .................................................... 146 Amy Winehouse (2011) .............................................. 172 Notable Mentions .................................................. 194 Alan 'Blind Owl? Wilson (1970) .................................. 200 Ron 'Pigpen? McKernan (1973) ............................... 206 Jonathan Brandis (2003) ........................................... 212 The Almost-27s ....................................................... 218 Otis Redding (1967) ................................................... 220 Tim Buckley (1975) and Jeff Buckley (1997) ................ 228 The Science of 27 ...................................................... 238 Final Thoughts: Avicii, and the Future ......................... 252 Acknowledgments ...................................................... 261 Index .......................................................................... 262

This book is dedicated to everyone whose lives have been affected by mental illness, addiction, or both, especially the young musicians out there who struggle but who still dream of picking up a guitar, sitting down at a keyboard, or picking up a microphone. Keep going.

Introduction

'Revisiting these memories again and again (and we do) can feel traumatic, and the most sensational details still shock decades later. But there's a more expansive, alternate history? component at work, too, imagining what these legends might have created had they lived, and how their absence has shaped the music and popular culture that followed.'2 2 'Celebrity Deaths That Changed Music History: Gone Too Soon,' by David Browne, RollingStone.com, 08/14/2017.

13 It is the year 2018, and we are losing legends like leaves in autumn. The end of my era, and the era that inspired my era, is on its way. McCartney and the Stones chug away with gusto, but there is no denying the waning of a certain creative golden era in pop culture. There will be a time when all the icons of a certain kind, finally, are gone. In the past two years alone, we've lost David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, Glenn Fry, my dear friend Hugh Hefner, Harry Dean Stanton, Chris Cornell'the list goes on, and trying to be exhaustive makes leaving out someone important an inevitability. When they leave us, we tend to make saints of them or, at the very least, romanticize them. Death puts us all in a reflective and revisionist mood, and we polish, if not actively rewrite, the histories of our heroes. Introduction

14 The Legend and Mythology of the 27 Club We build them up or tear them down, and construct narratives around their passing that make sense to us. At times, it is justifi ed; at other times, we are biased and our emotions get the better of us. Why so many, now? Why all at once, so close together, barely giving us time to take a breath and grieve before the next? Looking for patterns is simply what we, as humans, do. We are pattern-seeking animals, and it is in our nature to make sense of things that throw our lives out of order. By my lights, the reason (if there really is just one reason) that so many are dying now is because there was a magical period of time when pop cultural Legends, with a capital 'L,' were born, all very close to one another. A special kind of fi gure'a timeless fi gure, from a unique era; it is only natural that they should all reach their twilight years at around the same time as well. The generational wheel turns and takes entire cultural movements with it. It stands to reason that there is one generation, one chunk of time, that was uniquely infl uential, because we notice all of our legends die at once when it comes to pass. Narrowly, I judge this magic time as the early-60s to the late-70s, but there are notable exceptions outside of those sand-drawn lines, as there are to every rule. Elvis is one exception. Our obsession with celebrity death is only exceeded, it seems, by our obsession with young celebrity death. When cultural fi gures pass in their twilight years, we can process it as somehow comprehensible, although

15 Introduction sad. Our refl ection on their careers is appropriately calm'less frenzied and conspiratorial. However, when a fi gure seems to pass in their greatest strides, at the peak of our expectations for them, we tend to obsess, and even aggrandize it as somehow exciting or mythical. We invent conspiracy theories. We are shell-shocked, confused, fascinated. We analyze, review, replay again and again. Perhaps this is all simply our way of trying to make sense of senseless things. After 1969, a slew of major musicians all died in quick succession. Brian Jones (founding member of the Rolling Stones), Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison of the Doors, arguably the biggest rock stars of their time, all passed at 27 years of age, within just three years of each other. Whether this was coincidence, simply a logical result of their lifestyle choices, drugs or mental illness, the pressures of being a public fi gure, or some combination of all of these factors combined, people began to notice a pattern. Correlation began to equal causation in the public imagination. An urban myth, and subsequent cultural fi xation, was born: the '27 club.' As the idea gained traction, pre-1960s fi gures such as Robert Johnson (one of the, if not the, most infl uential bluesmen of all time), also dead at 27, were included, as well as post-1980s fi gures such as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. The true origin of the word 'club? in the term '27 club? is unknown, and there are a few diff erent theories thrown around about who said it fi rst.

16 The Legend and Mythology of the 27 Club For most people, the question nags: why 27 specifi cally? What is so unique and deadly about that number? Why so many, why the most famous, the most revered? Was there some sort of curse, some sort of reason for it all? An idea'that there were more deaths of famous musicians and cultural fi gures at 27 than at any other age'took form, spread, and conspiracies began to formulate. Now, this supposed 'statistical spike? of musicians dying at 27 is not quite true'as it happens, almost as many famous musicians die at 25, or 32.3 A study, done by the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal, concluded the following: 'We identifi ed three deaths at age 27 amongst 522 musicians at risk, giving a rate of 0.57 deaths per 100 musician years. Similar death rates were observed at ages 25 (rate=0.56) and 32 (0.54). There was no peak in risk around age 27.' 4 But, since when has hard science ever dissuaded the mob or the media? A cultural obsession was taking form, an urban myth was spreading, and it bled across the years into the 90s. As it is with many conspiracies and urban legends, this one contained a kernel of truth: fame and youth can be a destructive combination. Though the number 27 does not appear to be signifi cant, youth and fame more generally is statistically diff erent. The study found that, 'the risk of death for famous musicians throughout their 20s and 30s was two to three times higher 3 'Does the 27 club exist'? by M. Wolkewitz, A. Allignol, N. Graves, AG Barnett. The BMJ, Vol. 343, 12/2011. 4 Ibid.

17 Introduction than the general UK population.' 5 The 27 club, then, can be viewed as symbolic of this trend, even if age 27 is not, in fact, its sole peak. When writing a book about this sort of topic, being sensitive, while still being brave enough not to shy away from the facts, is important. Needless to say, being sensitive has not always been my strong suit, but I'll try. While fans naturally deify their heroes, these fi gures were people of fl esh and blood, like the rest of us, and many of them are survived by loved ones who do not view their demise as romantic'and who loathe the constant speculation, tabloid attention, and conspiracy theories that fans bombard them with daily. The concept of the 27 club, in my view, should not be about how glamorous it is to die young'at the peak of success, in a fl urry of drugs and excess. This is the way it is usually described, and I've been vocal about disapproving of this line of thinking. Even those who, themselves, participate in drug-use and excess are not necessarily on board with its glamorization; Kurt Cobain himself, to his credit, said in an interview, 'I never went out of my way to say anything about my drug use ['] I think people who glamorize drugs are fucking assholes, and if there's a hell, they'll go there.' 6 I tend to agree. To the families and friends of these people, and of people all around the world who met similar fates at the hands of 5 Ibid. 6 'Dark Side of the Womb: Part 2,' by the Stud Brothers, Melody Maker, 08/28/1993.

18 The Legend and Mythology of the 27 Club that deadly cocktail of drug use and mental illness, there is nothing glamorous or heroic about losing someone you love, or losing your own life. However, what I did not realize in my (slightly) younger years is that the story can neither be about scolding the fi gures themselves for their choices, which is what I have been known to do, publicly and relentlessly, in the past. One especially cannot truly understand another's experience if, like me, they have never taken drugs themselves. That place, after someone is already addicted to drugs, is a place I've never been. Similarly, this crazy public life we (the famous and infamous) fi nd ourselves in is diffi cult to describe to those who have never experienced it. I have nothing to complain about'I live my dream every day. But make no mistake: fame and infamy are strange things, and people fi nd themselves there through hard work, creativity, and luck, but it can still be a bewildering and disturbing experience. It can change your personality, blind you in many ways, and alter your perception of the world around you in unpredictable ways. I can attest to this blindness myself; when you stand in front of thousands of people screaming your name, you become a little like Lawrence of Arabia, believing your own legend, feeling invincible to harm. The phrase itself, 27 club, is problematic in my view (take it from me; the king of saying tone-deaf things in public). I've seen articles, and even heard industry people mention it the same way they might talk about Soho House: a private, exclusive, members-only 'club.'

19 Introduction (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the fee for a Soho House membership is less expensive for those under 27, and more for those older than 27, specifi cally, as if turning 27 is a coming-of-age for the creative class. I am not sure if this is a deliberate allusion, but it sure seems convenient.) It's easy to forget we're talking about actual death when this is the agreed upon jargon, a value system weighted so thoroughly toward youth that has been in place so long we barely even notice. To state it plainly: death should not be a club. Yet, if you look up these fi gures online, you see them grouped together. There are fan-run websites that sell unlicensed merch and t-shirts with these people assembled like a pantheon of gods, sometimes with phrases like 'forever 27? adorned on them, along with stylized Grim Reapers. Somehow, these merchandisers are excused from the moral outrage that they, perhaps, would have had directed at them had these young people's deaths not occurred under the guise of being 'rock stars.' 7 If anything, learning about the 27 club should be about learning about why people do what they do; you can never truly get inside someone's head, but making one's best eff ort to get as close as possible is the key, I believe, to every kind of diplomacy. But, as I've said, diplomacy was never my strong suit. So, this book is my attempt. Sure, it can be a cautionary tale of the perils and 7 'About Us,' Forever27.co.uk, accessed: 06/11/2018.

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