The world of music has been shaped and influenced by countless artists, each leaving their unique mark on the cultural landscape. However, there exists a haunting phenomenon known as the 27 club, a group of legendary musicians who all met their untimely demise at the age of 27.
This eerie pattern of tragedy has captured the imagination of fans and sparked numerous theories and discussions about its origins and significance. We’re going to be delving into the history of the 27 Club, exploring the lives of some of its most iconic members, and attempting to unravel the mysteries surrounding this peculiar phenomenon.
The Origins of the 27 Club
Despite it sounding like some sort of desired, exclusive club, the 27 Club is not an organised group or society but rather a term coined to describe the uncanny frequency with which certain musicians have died at the age of 27. While the concept gained prominence in the late 20th century, the phenomenon itself has a much longer history. The tragic connection between musicians and the age of 27 can be traced back to the 1960s, a decade that witnessed the birth of rock and roll and the rise of the counterculture movement. Forbes writes:
“The idea started when Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix all died at the age of 27 within a few years of each other between 1969 and 1971 and became a cultural force when Kurt Cobain took his own life at that same age in 1994”
In more recent history, in 2011, Amy Winehouse even joined this sparkly yet devastating group of artists. But why are so many great musicians reaching the end of their lives at this age? Coincidence? Maybe. Or is there something about the age of 27?
The Age of 27
Now I want to be cautious here, as I am writing this at the current age of 27. Nonetheless, it seems that there is some sort of mixture between the loneliness and limelight of fame, as well as the age of 27, that seems to potentially not suit certain individuals. The Face writes:
“According to astrology, 27 is an important age and sets the stage for the Saturn Return, when Saturn completes its orbit around the sun and returns it to the exact point it was when we were born. Between the ages of 27 and 30, we will finally make conscious decisions, behave with total maturity (ish) and discover our purpose in life. Significant events are meant to happen, such as getting married, moving abroad, changing careers or ending a relationship.”
Now, whether you believe in star signs and astrological theory or not, 27 is certainly an interesting age. One where you start to see your friends get married or settle down, which then makes you analyse your own life. Despite popular belief, being famous – with the money and attention it brings – does not automatically trigger happiness. The 27 club is a prime example of that. Funnily enough, turning 27 was what made me want to try being sober. It randomly popped into my head as something I wanted to try and I decided to do it. Maybe that has something to do with being 27, who knows? Of course not all of those who passed away within the 27 club were self-inflicted. However, there is definitely something to be said about that feeling of not wanting to grow up, or not feeling how you want to feel, and taking drugs to numb the pain.
Members of the 27 Club
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
One of the earliest members of the 27 Club was the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson. Johnson’s life and career were shrouded in mystery. His virtuoso guitar skills and soulful voice made him a seminal figure in the blues genre, but his life was cut short when he died in 1938 under mysterious circumstances. Legend has it that Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for musical prowess. Others believe he died from being poisoned. But you can believe what you want.
Brian Jones (1942-1969)
Brian Jones was the next notable addition to the list. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the 27 Club began to take shape as a recognisable pattern. The first high-profile member of this ill-fated group was Brian Jones, the founding member of The Rolling Stones. Jones, a multi-instrumentalist and key contributor to the band’s early success, drowned in his swimming pool in 1969. His death marked the beginning of a series of tragic losses within the music industry.
Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
Jimi Hendrix, widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock music, joined the 27 Club with his death in 1970. Hendrix’s innovative approach to the electric guitar and his genre-defying sound left an indelible mark on the music world. His death, attributed to a drug overdose, left fans and fellow musicians mourning the loss of a true musical visionary.
Janis Joplin (1943-1970)
Just weeks after Hendrix’s passing, Janis Joplin, a blues-influenced rock singer with a distinctive voice, also succumbed to a drug overdose. Joplin’s raspy and powerful vocals made her a standout figure in the psychedelic rock scene of the 1960s. Her untimely death in 1970 added another layer of tragedy to the emerging narrative of the 27 Club. Was there some sort of pattern emerging?
Jim Morrison (1943-1971)
Then came the frontman of The Doors, Jim Morrison. He was a charismatic and enigmatic figure whose poetic lyrics and magnetic stage presence captivated audiences. Morrison’s death in 1971, officially attributed to heart failure, fuelled speculation and conspiracy theories. The circumstances surrounding his passing – with no real autopsy taking place – added to the mystique of the 27 Club.
Kurt Cobain (1967-1994)
The 27 Club claimed another iconic figure in the 1990s with the death of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana. Cobain, a key figure in the grunge movement, struggled with fame and the pressures of the music industry. His tragic suicide in 1994 shocked the world and solidified his place in the infamous 27 Club. His self-inflicted death began to start conversations around the age of 27 being an intrinsically depressing one.
Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)
A more recent addition to the 27 Club, Amy Winehouse was a British singer with a soulful voice and a troubled personal life. Winehouse’s struggles with addiction were well-documented, and her death in 2011, attributed to alcohol poisoning, marked the continuation of the sombre legacy of the 27 Club into the 21st century. Another legend taken at that haunting age.
27 Club Theories
The deaths of these musicians at the age of 27 have sparked numerous theories and discussions about the reasons behind this eerie pattern. Some attribute it to the intense and tumultuous lifestyle that often accompanies fame, with the pressures of the industry taking a toll on the mental and physical well-being of artists. The prevalence of substance abuse issues among members of the 27 Club further supports this narrative. There is also a romanticised notion of the tortured artist, which is also often cited as a contributing factor. The idea that to create great art, you must experience great struggle. However, Souness – writer of 27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse – highlights his thoughts in his book. The DC Public Library reports:
“Souness deliberately cuts through the mainstream media noise about the 27 Club to root out common traits and patterns in their lives. The intertwined narratives highlight themes of chronic unhappiness, insecurity, low self-esteem, tumultuous relationships, depression, personality disorders, and addiction.”
In other words, these people were simply unhappy. Fame was not filling the hole that they wanted it to, and the age of 27 seemed to be the age where it all ended for them. As humans we try to create patterns, and start conspiracy theories, but really what we should be doing is understanding why so many famous people turn to drug use and decide to take their own lives.
The 27 Club has been connected to the concept of the “Forever 27” phenomenon. This means that these artists will remain frozen in time, forever young, and forever legends. If there’s any positive you can take from being a member of the 27 club, it’s that you did not live long enough to slowly ruin your reputation with worse albums and dodgy political views like so many other musicians in the limelight for a long time. Nonetheless, the legacy of the 27 Club serves as a poignant reminder of the need for support and compassion for artists navigating the complexities of fame.
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