You know, compared to the history of music, rock is still young. As a matter of fact, rock is still the infant in the crib thinking that mommy’s personal vibrator is a great teething ring. It hasn’t even gotten into those awkward teenage years (which a lot of people believe it’s in I have come to realize) that involve back talk and then a swift kick in the ass! But I would still classify it as insanely young. Though it is so young, it happens to have had a remarkable first few years…as history goes anyway. I’ve noticed that a lot of college students know more about Black Sabbath as opposed to Farinelli but that is to be expected I think.
With such a rich but short history, there are bound to be coincidences that spring out of the cannabis swirled haze that are beyond happenstance. And once it reaches that point my friends…they become legends. In this particular instance I am referring to a legend that has been a part of Rock N’ Roll since before the hip swishing, blue suede wearing, funky guitar plunking gum chewers of the fifties peeked their beautifully slicked tresses around the soda stand and rocked out to Jailhouse Rock. And in the years following, the legend has grown into a monster with theories and small talk of a curse. And all you have to be as part of the initiation…is 27!
Well, and then you have to die. I really don’t think people desire to be a part of this club, but that is the mystery behind it. In all the years of 20th century music, especially in the genre of rock, there are deaths surrounded by either questionable circumstances or drug use…lots of drug use. Famous and not so famous musicians have joined this rather infamously prestigious club whether they wanted to pay the dues or not. This is a particular club. You can’t get an invitation to join and there’s no manager you can bribe to get past security. The only one who can make the decision is you, whether by your own stupidity or someone elses, if you will join.
There is also a white lighter myth. You know the one! How a lot of musicians in the Forever 27 had white lighters on them according to reports. Note how I said ‘according to reports’! Now, it could be true, but I don’t think the lighter had anything to do with it…unless it was used to heat the spoon.
So the legend. The mystery behind the young that have died in the name of rock is rather astonishing. To say that every young musician who has died has done so at the age of 27 would be absolutely not true. For example, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols met his end at the tender age of 21 and that would be the only time I would use the word ‘tender’ when speaking of Sid ever!
However, the list is rather extensive for it’s history. An official list has 43 members. You know at least three right? During the early 70’s, rock felt a rough blow with the loss of three of it’s most talented musicians. Though they were only around for a short while, their music and inspiration has been felt for decades. They were Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, and Jim Morrison. If you have no idea who these three people are, please leave this blog and never return. I am ashamed of you. A more recent member of the Forever 27 is responsible for starting a new genre of music. Anyone know who that is? That’s right! Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and writer for Nirvana which opened Seattle’s grunge scene to America and the world, met his end at the end of a rifle in the early 90’s.
Yet these are just a few and there are at least a few names that will pop up that you might not have known! One of the first was Robert Johnson, a blues musician who influenced the likes of Clapton and, ironically, Hendrix himself. He dies in 1936 from strychnine poison which is just a fancy way of saying poorly made LSD.
The sixties saw the beginning of the legend explode faster than a magnesium laced cherry bomb at a Who concert. Do you know Brian Jones? He was one of the original founding members of The Rolling Stones and, sadly, he is mainly remembered for his untimely death in 1969…at the age of 27. In the 70’s, on top of Jimi, Janice, and Jim, there was also Ron McKernan. Also known as “Pigpen”, one of the original founders of The Grateful Dead who died, strangely enough, by a gastrointestinal hemorrhage which was brought on by, not so strangely enough, alcoholism.
On top of drugs, suicide, and self induced stupidity there are a few who made the list in unique, almost impossibly ironic ways. Take Leslie Harvey. Know who he was? Perhaps not, but his very untimely death was not really his fault…it was physics. Standing on stage Leslie grabbed the microphone, just like hundreds of musicians do a million times in their lives, only this one wasn’t grounded and him having wet hands at the time (I know! Why did he have wet hands?) sealed the deal. Wet hands…ungrounded electrical cables…metal rod. Yeah, electricity won. Leslie was electrocuted via microphone. That has to be a nightmare for many musicians now!
And even as bizarre as that sounds, there are some that remain a mystery to this day! Well, Jim Morrison is, of course, a very famous musician/poet with a very mysterious death. He died in France…yeah, I’m not expecting a lot to come from that autopsy yet even his grave (in which there was talk of evicting him since there are so many vandals in the cemetery!) is an eerie hot spot for rock fans. A lesser known musician, Richey Edwards, disappeared in the mid 90’s. I know, I know…who? He was a guitarist and lyricist for the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers. Yes well, he was declared missing, presumed dead and in 2008, after over 13 years of searching, his family finally pronounced him legally dead. Since he went missing at 27…he was declared dead at 27.
What makes the Forever 27 unique, besides their age, is their legacy. Though there are many on the list that people scratch their heads and say “Who?”, they are still remembered in the list. Very recently the list expanded. Last July, Grammy Award winner Amy Winehouse also met a premature end and joined the infamous club of talented yet tragic musicians and technically became legend.
If Rock N’ Roll has taught me anything, it is, alive or dead, greatness never ends. Though this club is quite legendary, I hope it is not something people live up too. Sure, you will be added to the list of the ‘gone before their time’ gang but is that what they really wanted? Even the suicide victims don’t really see it coming. So, the young out there, the ones who are getting closer and closer to 27…please try to make living an aspiration. Like I said, this club is special and it is very particular. Just because your 27 doesn’t mean you’ll chill out next to Hendrix in that Tye-dye unknown while listening to Led Zeppelin in a black light lit felt poster room while wearing a fringe jacket and striped pants.
Just keep it a dream, rock on and live on!