Thursday, June 9, 2011

The 27 Club.

One of the great, intriguing mysteries of pop culture history has been The 27 Club, also known as the Forever 27 Club.   Until researching this recently, I had no idea there was even a movie of the same name released in 2008 telling a fictional tale based around the legend and apparent link between rock n' roll and dying young.

The 27 Club members are excluded to the greats of pop culture history, especially focusing on rock stars,  who have tragically died or chosen to end their lives at the age of 27.  It sounds like such a random coincidence, but when you actually analyze the age at which great artists and musicians passed on, 27 looms large, a statistical aberration, well over all other ages.

The most prominent members and their official cause of death:

Robert Johnson - Unknown.  Possibly poisoning
Brian Jones - Drown in swimming pool
Jimi Hendrix - Asphyxiated after combining sleeping pills with wine.
Janis Joplin  - Heroin overdose
Jim Morrison - Assumed heart failure
Kurt Cobain - Suicide by gunshot

One of the strangest facts is that most of the members have had controversies, conspiracy theories, or strange circumstances surrounding their deaths.  In most cases, even their closest family, bandmates, and companions are still puzzled as to the circumstances that lead to their deaths.

Robert Johnson is possibly one of the greatest legends of 20th century music and the forefather of modern rock.   The stripped down, ghostly crude recordings that still exist, are so troubled and tormented, telling tales of escaping the devil, that so many have been transfixed by his music; we are left wondering about this man that very little is known about in either life or death.   His most famous song, Crossroads, has become a symbolic reference in pop culture: in exchange for fame, a musician must sell his soul to the devil.  Only two confirmed photos exist of Robert Johnson and most of the facts known about him are speculation, right down to his cause of death.  His music is cited by the greatest musicians of the sixties and seventies as the root of their musical influences.  He died in 1938; people have speculated it was due to poisoning.  Differing accounts telling differing tales that led up to his poisoning. A story often told is that one evening Johnson began flirting with a woman at a dance, the wife of the juke joint owner, she offered Robert a bottle of booze unaware that it had been poisoned by her husband. In another version, Johnson was offered an open bottle of whiskey that was laced with strychnine. Fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson allegedly advised him never to drink from an offered bottle that had already been opened. According to Williamson, Johnson replied, "Don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand." Soon after, he was offered another open bottle of whiskey, also laced with strychnine, and accepted it. Johnson felt ill the evening after drinking from the bottle and returned to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days, his condition worsened and he died in a convulsive state of severe pain.  A musicologist swears to have obtained the name of the murderer through a confession made to him in an interview, but declined to make the information public.  Others have refuted the poisoning claim, suggesting that Strychnine kills much faster than Robert's condition progressed. 

Brian Jones was always said to have been a strange character.   From the early days of the Stones, he was the band leader, so focused on achieving the perfect mimic of the American blues sound and once predicting his massive success to a friend when he was still playing tiny bar rooms in London.  He was a multi-instrumentalist, and could pick up nearly any instrument from a saxophone to a sitar and produce a masterful solo on any track.  However, as the 60s went on, there was a strange distance growing between him and his bandmates and his position as leader soon dissolved.   Keith and Mick reported that his mood had drastically became intentionally irritating and difficult.  It was also clear that Mick and Keith were becoming the close-knit cash cow songwriters of the group, and Brian, the founder of the group was left by the wayside.  Around 1967 Brian's girlfriend Anita ran off with bandmate Keith while Brian was in the hospital.  Brian delved further into drugs until he was left completely unable to perform.  He stopped showing up to practice and as his playing sunk to lower levels, his bandmates were routinely switching off his amp, leaving it to Keith to play all the guitar parts.  He was asked to leave by The Stones in 1969 but was allowed to break it to the public that he was leaving on his own volition.  When, one month later, he was found floating in his swimming pool,  his death was reported as "death by misadventure" and shelved as a suicide case.  Many speculate that there was more to the story.  Some fingers pointed toward managers, Keith & Mick (pejoratively referred to as the Glimmer Twins by Brian fans), construction workers doing work on Brian's home during the time of death, conspiracy, and suicide.  

Janis Joplin was born a small town Texas girl, taunted by schoolmates, with lots of insecurities and a love of gospel and blues music.  She headed to San Francisco in the early 60s and soon a bottle of Soco was her constant companion.  What really did her in was the needle of speed in her arm.  Friends were soon describing the formerly chubby Janis as emaciated and sickly, and they encouraged her to go back to Texas and get clean.  She did a 360 back to her former self:  enrolled in school, got clean,  plumped up a bit more, donned a beehive, and even got engaged to a man in a blue suit.  She just couldn't shake San Fran, so she headed back to the bay area, formed a band with Big Brother and the Holding Company, got back in to drugs, and began to skyrocket to the top of the rock scene.   Janis had a number of lovers, male and female, but right toward the end of her life she was madly in love with Peggy Caserta and Seth Morgan.  She was very insecure in her relationships, and the night before she died she was stood up by both for one reason or another.  She recorded a happy birthday song to send to John Lennon, went back to her hotel and that night died of an accidental herion overdose.  

Jim Morrison says one day when he was very young, when his family passed a car accident on the road in the desert where he saw the bodies of several dead and injured American Indians flung out of their car during the accident.  He told the story that on that day the soul of one of the dead men entered his body as he looked at him.   Morrison believed in shamanism and saw the role of the rock god as such: To charm, to play the emotions like a maestro, to lead the flock, to incite riot.  He was reportedly just as wild and brave in his own life as his image suggested, and he was a sucker for poetry and booze.  After The Doors split in 1971, Morrison, at this point a quickly ballooning alcoholic, split for Paris to write poetry.  He was found by his girlfriend Pam Courson, dead in the bathtub in the early morning hours.  In accordance with French law, no autopsy was done because the coroner claimed no evidence of foul play.   Courson told contradictory stories after his death.  Many believe the two were taking heroin together that night and Jim's heart gave out.  Pamela died three years later also at the age of 27.

Jimi Hendrix, now considered one of history's greatest guitar players, modeled his early career after Little Richard.   He started playing for R&B bands in the early 60s after he was discharged from the army.  He soon broke away from the Isley Brothers and got into his own, rock, drug fueled, psychedelic guitar style.  He quickly gained notoriety in England and relocated there to do shows.   He and the Experience finally cracked the American scene in 1967 when they performed at Monterrey Pop Festival at the suggestion of Paul McCartney.  After growing frustration by bandmembers at their more limited roles in the band, they broke up in 1969.  Hendrix went on to do the most memorable moment of Woodstock-- his Star-Spangled Banner rendition.   He continued to tour and record until late 1970.  Jimi went to the studio to record Can I Crawl Out Your Window and headed home, popped 9 (unbeknownst to him) super-strength Belgian sleeping pills.  The attending Doctor claimed he had washed down the pills with red wine and therefore couldnt perform the necessary procedure to save him.  This story was supported by a testimony from his Danish girlfriend Monika Banneman.  The doc was later proved to be fraudulent and the autopsy showed no alcohol in Hendrix's system.  Banneman's stories soon proved to contain many contradictory statements-- some of which were discovered to be flat-out lies.   People suggest that both Banneman and Jimi's manager had something to gain by his death.  When Monika was later sued by another of Jimi's girlfriends for libel in the 1990s, she committed suicide.   Even 40 years+ after his death, his family is fighting each other for control of his estate. 

Kurt Cobain was by all accounts, very contradictory on his relationship with fame.  Early journals and comments to friends suggest it was a goal or a sense of destiny for him.  Later accounts suggest he was depressed and disturbed by his popularity and the legions of mainstream fans Nirvana attracted.  The mystery of his death still lingers.  He escaped from rehab by jumping a wall, headed home unbeknownst to family and friends, and headed to the airport.  Ironically, he was seated next to a Guns N' Roses bandmember on the flight back to Seattle.  His whereabouts for the next couple days are a mystery.  Several friends claim sightings of him around town, while wife Courtney Love had hired a private investigator to find him to no avail.  His body was finally found by a worker at his Lake Washington home in a greenhouse on the property.  He had left a note addressed to his imaginary childhood friend near his body (A perfect scan of the suicide note can be found online).  Levels of Valium and heroin found in his system, but his cause of death was listed as a self inflicted gun shot wound.  Given the numerous strange stories told by Courtney prior to his death and general suspicion of her motives, as well as the unusually high level of heroin in his system and other strange clues that were left, many documentaries and books have been released claiming she secretly had a hand in his death.   Strangely, mutual friends of Courtney's hint that there was something more than meets the eye happening between her and Kurt behind the scenes, and a particularly shady character who claimed that Courtney asked him to kill Kurt for her was killed in a freak accident soon after talking to journalists and filmmakers.

Many people cite Saturn Return as the cause for the 27 Club phenomenon.  Saturn Return is the astrological state that brings on your most difficult years in life, beginning at age 27 and ending at age 32. 

Other members include:

  1. Alexandre Levy; January 17, 1892; Unknown; Composer.
  2. Louis Chauvin; March 26, 1908; Neurosyphilitic sclerosis; Ragtime musician.
  3. Nat Jaffe; August 5, 1945; Result of complications from high blood pressure; Blues musician.
  4. Jesse Belvin; February 6, 1960; Car crash; R&B singer and songwriter.
  5. Rudy Lewis; May 20, 1964; Drug overdose; Vocalist of The Drifters.
  6. Malcolm Hale; October 31, 1968; Carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty space heater; Original member of Spanky and Our Gang.
  7. Dickie Pride; March 26, 1969; Overdose of sleeping pills; British rock and roll singer.
  8. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson; September 3, 1970; Barbiturate overdose, possible suicide; Leader, singer and primary composer of Canned Heat.
  9. Arlester “Dyke” Christian; March 13, 1971; Shot; Frontman and vocalist of Dyke & the Blazers.
  10. Linda Jones; March 14, 1972; Diabetic coma; R&B singer.
  11. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan; March 8, 1973; Gastrointestinal hemorrhage associated with alcoholism; Founding member, keyboardist and singer of the Grateful Dead.
  12. Roger Lee Durham; July 27, 1973; Fell off a horse and died from the injuries; Singer and percussionist of Bloodstone.
  13. Wallace Yohn; August 12, 1974; Died in a plane crash along with three other band members; Organ player of Chase.
  14. Dave Alexander; February 10, 1975; Pulmonary edema; Bassist for the Stooges.
  15. Peter Ham; April 24, 1975; Suicide by hanging; Keyboardist and guitarist, leader of Badfinger.
  16. Gary Thain; December 8, 1975; Drug overdose; Former bassist of Uriah Heep.
  17. Helmut Köllen; May 3, 1977; Carbon monoxide poisoning; Bassist with 1970s German prog rock band Triumvirat.
  18. Chris Bell; December 27, 1978; Car crash: ran into a telephone pole; Singer-songwriter and guitarist of power pop band Big Star and solo.
  19. D. Boon; December 22, 1985; Lying down in the back of a van when it veered off road, he was ejected from the vehicle and broke his neck; Guitarist, lead singer of punk band the Minutemen.
  20. Alexander Bashlachev; February 17, 1988; Suicide by jumping; Russian poet, rock musician and songwriter.
  21. Jean-Michel Basquiat; August 12, 1988; Speedball overdose; Painter and graffiti artist; formed the band Gray.
  22. Pete de Freitas; June 14, 1989; Motorcycle wreck on his way back from filming a music video; Drummer for Echo & the Bunnymen.
  23. Mia Zapata; July 7, 1993; Beaten, raped and murdered; Lead singer of the Gits.
  24. Kristen Pfaff; June 16, 1994; Officially ruled as an accidental heroin overdose; Bass guitarist for Hole and Janitor Joe.
  25. Richey James Edwards; c. February 1, 1995; Disappeared; officially presumed deadNovember 23, 2008; Lyricist and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers.
  26. Fat Pat; February 3, 1998; Shot; Rapper and member of Screwed Up Click.
  27. Freaky Tah; March 28, 1999; Shot; Rapper and member of the rap group Lost Boyz.
  28. Sean Patrick McCabe; August 28, 2000; Asphyxiated on vomit after ingesting too much alcohol; Lead singer of Ink & Dagger.
  29. Maria Serrano Serrano; November 24, 2001; Plane crash; Background singer for Passion Fruit.
  30. Jeremy Michael Ward; May 25, 2003; Heroin overdose; The Mars Volta and De Facto sound manipulator.
  31. Bryan Ottoson; April 19, 2005; Prescription drug overdose; Guitarist for American Head Charge.
  32. Valentín Elizalde; November 25, 2006; Murdered; Mexican banda singer.
  33. Orish Grinstead; c. April 20, 2008; Kidney failure; Founding member of ’90s R&B group 702.
  34. Lily Tembo; September 14, 2009; Severe gastritis; Zambian musician.

  35. Other Near Members include:
  1. John Keats (25)
  2. Wilfred Owen (25)
  3. Otis Redding (26)
  4. Paul Kossoff (26)
  5. Gram Parsons (26)
  6. Nick Drake (26)
  7. Tim Buckley (28)
  8. Heath Ledger (28)
  9. Hank Williams (29)
  10. Anne Brontë (29)
  11. Christopher Marlowe (29)
  12. Percy Bysshe Shelley (29)

Also check out:

(Sorry, I lost track of which link the portraits were from.  I wish I could cite the artist that made them!)


Smashingbird said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

It's soo bizarre isn't it!?!

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Demri Parrott (girlfriend of Alice in Chain's singer Layne Staley) was 27 too when she died, as Pam Courson's (Jim Morrison's girlfriend).
Not related to music but also a sensitive soul (for me), Bobby Sands also was 27 when he died.

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