Open Membership – 27 Club!

I wish Amy Winehouse had gone to rehab instead of just singing it. The news of the 27 year old pop singer found dead in her London apartment had an oxymoronic response. As fans seemed shocked by the news, those who have seen the music industry up close and personal just mentally added her to the infamous ‘27 Club’ (apart from expressing grief ofcourse). So if there was shock in the atmosphere, the news was somewhat predictable too. What was actually shocking was that even Amy’s mother had expected this to happen (just not this soon). In an interview to the U.K.’s Sunday Mirror, Janis (Amy’s mother) said that Amy’s death was “only a matter of time.” Wish someone had introduced her to ’27 Club’ sooner, she would have probably done something more than just wait and watch.

The 27 year old ‘back to black’ crooner was an English singer and a song writer who moved the pop industry with her powerful contralto vocals. Winehouse has been credited more than once for paving the way for unconventional female singers to make it to mainstream pop success. Singers like Adele and lady Gaga feel like they owe a part of their fame and success to her. Spin Magazine editor said that Amy was the Nirvana moment for all these women”. Winehouse got both, critical and commercial success and that too at a very young age of 24, something that probably Justin Beiber can only hope to achieve. In the 2008 Grammy’s she won five and was nominated for six awards. Her list of awards and accolades were soon losing count. At such a time when all things could have been rosy her life took a steep controversial turn. Her life was dichotomized between her professional success and turmoil in her personal life. Winehouse’s arrest, (along with her then husband) in 2007 for possession of marijuana, lead to a series of arrests, at times for illegal use of drugs or uncontrolled rude behaviour in public. The New Statesmen magazine called Winehouse “a filthy mouthed, down to earth diva” while the Newsweek tagged her as the “perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse control freak”. Lamentably she was cajoled into a maelstrom fast moving away from music, into a dreaded life. Her last month’s disastrous live performance in Siberia is symbolic of that. She turned up late, wandered aimlessly on the stage, forgot lyrics and looked extremely inebriated. No wonder she was booed by the disappointed crowd there and the rest of her European tour had to be cancelled as well. A month passes and she was found dead in her apartment.

This though is not a story of just one Amy Winehouse. The world has seen many legends of the music world hit rock bottom, not because of their work but the lifestyle they chose to lead. From making stupefying music to drunken gibberish, the career graph of musicians has become highly predictable. The life and death of such musicians bears uncanny similarity. The number 27 seems to be a mystery. 46 musicians have died at the age of 27. This means that more musicians have died at the age of 27 than any other. Charles R. Cross writes that the number of musicians who have died at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. Although humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for musicians who die at 27. According to some the number 27 that adds upto 9 is a number of emotional difficulties, leading to family issues or even business issues for that matter. While some others believe that the age ‘27’ is only a tough age to deal with, going on to 28 is means you are going to step up.

The role of drugs, sex and money can’t be underplayed. Janis Joplin, year 1970, age 27, found dead on the floor in an apartment due to heroin overdose. Jimi Hendrix, year 1970, age 27, death due to overdose of sleeping pills. Jim Morris, year 1971, age 27, found dead in a Paris apartment bathtub due to heroin overdose. I think I have made my point pretty clear and don’t need to cite more examples though they are innumerably lined up.

What leads them all to do the same horrifying mistakes? How do drinking, sex and drugs become as big a part of their lives as music itself, or even bigger probably? Money normally acts as the catalyst to such behavior. Destitute musicians with no place to live, no money for food or clothing when become rich and famous overnight would obviously not know what to do with it all. Instead of living their dream it feels like living in a dream. Classic example, Jim Morrison who used to sleep on the terrace of a building shot to fame in no time. A faithful girlfriend by his side, money in his hand and music in his heart, it just didn’t seem enough. With money comes ego. “Because I have made it to the top, I want more in life! Give me a drug that will take me to the top that I can feel and last forever!” is what Jimmy Hendrix stated. Well it did send him straight to the top and quite soon for that matter. Along with being over whelmed by their own success they are equally confused. With young girls and buys screaming out the names of such musicians and even behaving in an erotic fashion in their vicinity, the musicians are forced to think what is so different this time around. Janis Joplin, the Queen of Psychedelic Soul, for most of her life had felt out of place. Her pudgy body, acne pocked skin and tufted and mousy hair lead to the mushrooming of several insecurities within the teenager. To overcome that she found solace in drinking, boys, sex and drugs.

It’s not like drugs choose them all the time because life is complicated or unfair or strange. Most often, they are the ones who choose drugs. Drugs apparently relax a person’s mind. They claim that drugs help them perform better, faster or maintain a peace of mind, amidst the noise of the crowd. With the rise of psychedelic music in the 1960s the musicians encouraged their fans to be under the influence of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs for an enhanced music experience. Jimmy Page, the musical creator of ‘Stairs to Heaven’ was completely drunk while writing the ballad. The impact of rock music on society is undeniable. It influences our daily fashion, attitudes, language and other social developments. Falling into the trap of drugs is thus not difficult for both the musicians and their blind fans. The circle is vicious and the members of the infamous 27 Club is increasing fast. And the club includes only those who make it to the top before hitting rock bottom, those who are still considered ugly, out-caste and poor and a victim of such a lifestyle, don’t really have a definite number.

Acting preachy or lecturing doesn’t work with any young person, including me, so I will refrain from doing that as I conclude. But if the facts of this article disturb you and seem unpleasant then it’s a sensible option to move away from something that hurts us in the name of ‘highness’ and ‘pleasure’. Life has so much to it, and it shouldn’t end at 27!

Himanshi Chaudhary