The Myth of the 27 Club

An Amy Winehouse mural in Barcelona; she died July 23, 2011.

An Amy Winehouse mural in Barcelona; she died July 23, 2011.

Part I (September 2014):
I've just traveled down some dark search engine tunnel to where Lana Del Rey declared that she wants to join the 27 Club. This idea is so often romanticized in the vacuum of culture. Live fast, die young; rock 'n' roll will kill me before it dies; punk is dead, and so are all of my favorite rock stars.

Have we inherited this impending sense of doom because being a real rock star is like killing yourself over and over in front of an audience? It's the money. It's the drugs. It's when those two roads diverged in a yellow wood and you took the darker one.

I refuse to join the 27 Club. I just need to make it through the next five months.

Take Jim Morrison, out cold in a bathtub. Hate the Doors all you want, but the truth is that for my then-14-year-old self being stoned and listening to "L'America" was like figuring something out. Then there's Amy Winehouse.

The first time I went to treatment, a song called "Rehab" was released. It was 2006 and snowing in Pennsylvania. We stole trays from the cafeteria and went sledding down the hill in the dead of night, running from security back into the facility to hide our snow-covered clothes from the night staff. I wore out Back to Black over the next few years. "Life is like a pipe, and I'm a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside." I felt it too.

Robert Johnson died August 16, 1938.

Robert Johnson died August 16, 1938.

Her voice soared through "(There Is) No Greater Love" live in 2008. Then that infamous YouTube video with Pete Doherty was posted. Both of them were smoking crack and playing with little mice in the terrifying hue of a night vision lens. The starved look was present in her eyes feeling all of our eyes on her.

There were strange things that came with growing up too fast, the same strange things that plagued all of them. Now that I'm 27 myself I feel the weight of these things and know they must have felt it too.

It's not a conspiracy theory thing. There are some serious paranoids out there. I'm just morbid and I grew up in the '90s. Back in 1971, after we lost Brian Jones, Alan Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison within a period of three years, the press still wasn't talking about any kind of "27 Club" curse. But when Kurt Cobain died, that was all anyone could say.

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club," his mother told Aberdeen, Washington's The Daily World. Carrying In Utero in my discman to high school that day, I wondered what could be so terrible about being a rock star that you'd be driven to stick a needle in your arm and a gun in your mouth.

Even hip-hop culture is obsessed with death, and drugs. Destruction. My generation is constantly being told to drink codeine, and use murder, drugs, money, and women as a bragging right. When did the idea of an early death become so glamorous? Is dying young really that cool?

On August 16, 1938, blues pioneer Robert Johnson died at the age of 27, likely from poisoning -- and thus, the club began.

Decades passed. Culture became saturated with violence, aesthetic trends turned toward hyper-sexualized and drug-addicted versions of our former selves. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll prevailed. Heroin chic was adored. Death became glamorous. We wound up somewhere in 2014, connected to a modem.

Department stores are selling leggings printed with upside-down crosses and pentagrams. I am familiar with the pain of needing to create, whether it be a song, a piece of writing, or work of art. There is a certain torture that accompanies great talent, a lack of impulse control. Obviously not all creative souls are bent on self-destruction. Yet the perils of performance are often accompanied by a hole that begs to be fed. The truth about the 27 Club is that it's not a curse, or a conspiracy. It's the result of that hole. I've felt it too -- the grip of drug addiction, the endless pursuit of satisfaction, a hedonistic and ultimately suicidal lifestyle defined by irresponsible, selfish behavior.

Story continues on the next page.

[page] Part II (January 2015):
The hip-hop community just lost another influential artist at a shockingly young age when the co-founder and creator of the ASAP Mob died at 26. ASAP Yams' death has been rife with controversy, with accusations of a drug overdose, and even hateful responses by other rappers wishing death upon one another.

Members of ASAP Mob quickly stepped up to defend Yams. ASAP Rocky has been vocal in the media, insisting that Yams' death wasn't an overdose. At the same time, rapper Retchy P took to Twitter to say "SHOULDA BEEN WALE," insinuating that the D.C. hip-hop artist should have died instead of Yams. Retchy and Wale then fell into an ensuing argument via Twitter over who should have died.

These responses to Yams' death are disturbing, considering that the reason for it still hasn't even been determined. If it happens to rock stars, isn't it also happening to rappers too?

I started looking into a 27 Club theory for rappers, to see if it even existed. It didn't, really. The reason it couldn't is that the most notorious rappers tended to die at an even younger age than 27. (The Notorious B.I.G. was 24 and Tupac Shakur was 25.) Still, there was a long list of artists who in print could be considered victims of the curse.

Raymond Rogers, "Freaky Tah" of the hit group the Lost Boyz, died at 27 as he left a party in Queens, New York. He was shot in the back of the head. Randy Walker, "Stretch," was a rapper with the band Live Squad. He also died at 27 while he was driving his minivan in Queens. Stretch was chased by three people who gunned him down.

Janis Joplin died October 4, 1970.

Janis Joplin died October 4, 1970.

This year, KayO Redd -- brother of Waka Flocka Flame -- died at 27 from a gunshot wound. Redd, whose real name was Coades Scott, was a musician himself. It is suspected that he may have shot himself.

There is no curse, really. I made it myself -- turned 28 last week. The perils are always there, but it's just up to the individual whether to partake in them or not. The unfortunate thing is these perils are our culture. ASAP Rocky raps, "Even in my will keep it trill."

As a society, the way that we dress, the television shows we obsess over, the music we listen to, and the artists, actors, and musicians we like are a visual reflection of where our heads are at. You already know this, and you'll remember it every time you go on YouTube and are forced to watch an ad before a music video.

Becoming a rock star or a famous rapper means that you're giving tiny bits of yourself away every single time you put yourself up there in front of people. Everyone has a different message, and not everyone's message is a negative one -- not even close. In fact, our recent culture has been leaning heavily upon music with positive messages, like Pharrell's "Happy" and Kendrick Lamar's "I."

Dying young isn't necessarily a choice, and thinking back to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix I can't imagine that they had much of one. Maybe pop culture really did murder them. It isn't cool, though, to die young. This idea of glamor attached to an early exit is something that I look at as some kind of excuse, a means of dealing with death that I prefer not to use.

Being under a microscope is difficult for most people. Alcohol seems to play an unfortunate role in an undue amount of deaths in the theoretical 27 Club, and the thought of being a drunk under a microscope is unbearable. Kurt Cobain's heroin addiction was terrible, and he blamed it on his stomach pain and a myriad of other things, probably, and in the end it was a factor in his death. The microscope over any celebrity is stifling.

The 27 Club is a trope. The fact that those musicians died at 27 is utter coincidence, but the fact that they died so young is not. I went back and listened to some Lana Del Rey, finding myself more intrigued by the buried triumph in her misery-laden collection. I reflected on the foolishness of my own behavior in my early 20s. If I'd become a fucking "rock star" of sorts, maybe I'd be dead too.


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