“It’s better to burn out than fade away”
One of the most famous words penned by a once in a lifetime musician, Kurt Cobain. The Nirvana frontman figures in a list titled, Club 27. Also known as The Forever 27, the Curse of 27 or simply The 27 Club.
The infamous club features some of the greatest rock and roll musicians. These modern day gods, in their short lived careers, churned out classics at will.
It is not peculiar for humans to pass away at a young age or any age for that matter. The lifestyles these stars lived might have been a catalyst to their death. These rock stars were fueled on an orgy of alcohol, substance abuse and living life in the fast lane. Jetting from one concert to another, a recording session to may be a jam, the constant need to ‘keep up’ would be their undoing.
The record label executives, show promoters, media and the fans could not get enough of them. Vinyl signing sessions, photo ops with top executives, long days and nights at work would be burden for Mr. Superman too.
Some came from an abusive background, some found the stardom too shiny for their liking. The reclusiveness of some found it impossible to cope with the huge stage that they had to perform on. They wanted to make music as if it was their sole purpose on the planet. But the world wanted more of their pie.
The Club 27 features, sadly, greats like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison from The Doors, the ‘Pearl’ Janis Joplin, the man who could make the guitar talk Jimi Hendrix, the magnificent Amy Winehouse and aforementioned Kurt Cobain to name a few.
Let’s have a look at some swan songs of Club 27
Brian Jones – Rolling Stones
The original leader and founder of the Rolling Stones, and one of the earliest member of Club 27, Brian Jones was a slide guitarist and a multi-instrumentalist. Once fellow band mates, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards started calling the musical shots, Brian’s Blues influence was left in the background. Brian was arrested for possession of cannabis and was facing a long term in the cell. His legal problems, disagreements with his band mates, substance abuse, and his performance in the studio compelled the band to ask him to leave.
‘Beggars Banquet’ is his last full album with the band before his exit in 1969. Along with the guitar, he plays mellotron, sitar, harmonica and tambura on the album. He will be remembered for his last blues slide guitar performance on the song ‘No Expectations.’
Brian was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool, a couple of months after he quit the band, due to ‘death by misadventure.’
September 18, 1970, at the age of 27, American musician Jimi Hendrix died in London. Though his career lasted just four years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has described him as ‘greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.’
The poster of a bandana wearing Jimi, strumming his guitar in a haze of his own, has adorned scorns of walls across the world. Jimi had a meteoric rise as a musician but so did his temper. Often raged by a mixture of drugs and alcohol, Jimi would take a destructive, fury filled ride and was also found in possession of heroin and hashish while in Canada.
On August 22nd, Jimi recorded a new song, Belly Button Window. The song was inspired by the baby he and his wife were expecting at the time.
The official cause of his death was ‘inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication.’
Jim Morrison – The Doors
“I’m the lizard king, I can do anything”
These words would be met by an enormous cheer by a wild and frenzied crowd. On stage would be a Greek god lookalike singer, in trance and oblivious to the world. The man was James Douglas Morrison, the lead man for The Doors.
Jim brought a raw attitude and swagger in his songs and performances. The ladies were instantly won over with his bad boy image. His music also did full justice to it. The frontman was besieged by the fame and adulation, leading to alliance with alcohol, substances and sex.
The once sex god, draped in leather pants was turning into a sorry figure by the day. The losing battle with the bottle, over dependence on drugs turned him overweight and a parody of his past.
The band had a disastrous performance at the Warehouse in New Orleans on Dec. 12, 1970. This led to the other members deciding to end the doomed tour.
Jim recorded the album L.A. Woman, before moving to Paris. The album was a huge hit with all-time classics like ‘Love her Madly’, ‘Riders on the Storm’ and the title track. It would be the band’s last recording with Jim, who was found dead in a bathtub in Paris on July 3, 1971.
A posthumous inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement, only went on to ascertain what the fans already knew. Janis ‘Pearl’ Joplin as one of the greatest singers of her generation. Her husky and explosive voice is one of the most distinguished one in music history. Janis would be one of the few white singers to pull off raw sexuality mixed with high intensity vocals.
Janis’ musical repertoire includes blues, soul, gospel, country and rock. The plethora of talent was known for alcohol and substance abuse. The many men and women in her life could not find her the solace she wanted. Her last song would be about whether materialist things bring satisfaction. Janis and Bob Neuwirth wrote ‘Mercedes Benz’ at a New York bar during an impromptu poetry jam.
Janis was found dead from an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. The song would be released on the Club 27 member’s posthumous album, Pearl, which went no1 on the Billboard Charts.
Kurt Cobain – Nirvana
The ‘spokesperson of a generation’, ‘creator of grunge’, ‘the generation X idol’ were some of the labels that Kurt Cobain hated. Kurt formed a three piece band in Seattle with his mates. The band sang about the problems they grew up with and were facing. This resonated with the younger lot.
Despite his iconic status, Kurt felt his message and artistic vision had been misinterpreted by the public. The singer often accused the press of intruding his personal space. Kurt was suffering from chronic bronchitis and an undiagnosed chronic stomach condition which was compounded by his overuse of alcohol and drugs. His reluctance to fame, an ‘unhappy’ marriage and depression caused Kurt to consume high amounts of any available drug.
On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle at the age of 27. Police concluded he had died on April 5 from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to his head.
The band’s last recorded song, You know You’re Right, is said to be a sarcastic message by Kurt to his wife Courtney Love. Though many other interpretations indicate it to be a mirror of Kurt’s suicidal behaviour at the time.
“I don’t want to die”
is what Amy Winehouse apparently said hours before her death.
The singer, one of the newest member of Club 27, had risen to worldwide fame with her debut album, Frank. Her follow-up album, Back to Black, led to five Grammy Awards in 2008. Known for her deep voice and ability to mix genres, Amy etched her name as one of the best jazz, soul and RnB singers of her generation.
The singer had a history of alcohol and drug use, including heroine, crack cocaine and cannabis. She is said to have been taking medical help to quit her addictions. She had started drinking again, apparently ‘because she was bored’.
Amy was found next to two empty bottles of vodka at her residence on 23 July 2011. Her father had claimed that her final recorded song with Tony Bennett, Body And Soul, was a gift to him as he loved the song.
The music world has witnessed a lot a young deaths apart from the Club 27. Rockers Cliff Burton, Sid Vicious, Rap legends Tupac and Notorious BIG, Superstar DJ AVIICI, English folk rock musician Nick Drake, the Rastafarian Bob Marley are a few names that crop up immediately.
Whether these musicians would have gone on to have long fulfilling careers is a questions that cannot be answered. The least we fans can do is relive their songs and stories as and how possible.