Is The Age 27 Cursed?

(Photo Credit: MK Feeney via Flickr)

“The 27 Club”- we’ve all heard about it (or most of us have): the age so many talented young musicians seem to leave this world behind to go play in the Great Gig In The Sky. Let’s run down the list we have so far:

Robert Johnson (blues singer), Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ron “Pigpen” McKiernan (of The Grateful Dead), Jean-Michel Basquiat (NY graffitti artist), Kurt Kobain & Amy Winehouse.

All of these young folks, with the exception of Basquiat, were musicians, and all of them died, or at least were heavily involved in substance abuse. Is there a common link here uniting them all together? I can’t say. Maybe its all just one big coincidence.

Plenty of other famous musicians engaged in wild party lifestyles died at later or earlier ages in their for other reasons: Tupac Shakur (25), Charlie Parker (34), John Bonham (32), John Lennon (40)… among many others. Some nutcase artists and musicians, particularly from the Sixties and Seventies, are still somehow going strong (Keith Richards, Ozzy Osbourne).

Perhaps the 27 Club is just concocted by the media for sake of a good romanticized story, but this particular number is certainly odd after reoccurring so many times. Is 27 simply a stage in life where a lot of successful artists just can’t hack it anymore?

Maybe the year 30 was just bearing down on them is like a deadening Tsunami, ready to subsume their creative talents under a tidal wave of bland complacency and existential crisis. Doomed to play the revolving bar in adult diapers at the Circus Circus in Reno in their 50s… Perhaps bowing out with their reputation and youthful sexiness still intact probably seemed like the better option for these artists. Or, was the fame, booze, drugs and groupies just too much to handle for these sensitive artistic souls- leading them to medicate the pain with even greater intoxication, and ultimately: the final curtain call? 

The stereotypical reputation of musicians have always seemed to be one of a rather over-the-top, hedonistic bunch of characters. They don’t live by the same rules as the rest of us, and consequently have very different needs and personalities. They’ve often looked to mind-expanding drugs and pushing the limits of excess to inspire their art and expand the boundaries of their consciousness. Maybe that’s just the edge they need to create mind-blowing music for the rest of us.

(Photo Credit: Christine via Flickr)

In fact, a lot of great music out there was inspired by drugs and alcohol (along with heartbreak), and probably never would have been nearly as good had Miles Davis, The Beatles and Bob Marley all just sat around drinking soy milk and kale smoothies with their friends. They probably wouldn’t even be that good to listen to either (after downing a soy and kale smoothie, Bitches Brew just kinda sounds boring). Healthy livin’ just ain’t conducive to great Rock N’ Roll, dude.

However, according to an study covered in the UK’s Independent, most pop musicians seem to actually die at the more relatively advanced age of 56 (2.3%), while the age of 27 was only 1.3%. So, it would seem middle age and the all-you-can eat prime rib at the casino buffet prove to be a far deadlier combination than sex, drugs and rock n’ roll for many of our favorite artists.

But the article did go on to conclude that, “there was no peak in risk at 27 years, but observed a two- to three-fold increase in risk of death for British pop musicians with number-one albums between 20 to 39 years compared with the general UK population.”  Thank God for statisticians by the way. And chart topping British pop musicians: what the hell’s wrong with you?

Successful rappers, if they can manage to not get shot first, usually seem to be quite content smoking blunts and counting their money in a jacuzzi full of expensive French champagne, laughing quietly to themselves. Maybe growing up dirt poor in the projects make you appreciate your newfound creative success a lot more than mopey middle-class rock musicians from the suburbs. I know which attitude I would prefer frankly…

Honestly, I think the artists who’ve joined the 27 Club are linked through a) both an unlucky coincidence and b) were some of the most famous musicians of their day. So, it stands to reason that these tragedies would stick forever in our pop culture consciousness.

Jim Morrison’s Grave- Paris
What do you think: Does excess make for better music? Are musicians, by their very nature, just 100mph people unable to take life in the slow lane?

2 thoughts on “Is The Age 27 Cursed?

  1. Good question! As a musician, I feel at least kinda qualified to chime in. The lifestyle of a professional gigging musician is a bit conducive to excess, I think. You spend many of your working hours in bars and clubs–places where the good times roll and everyone’s having a good time. It can get hard not to join in. That said, thousands and thousands of working professional musicians lead balanced, healthy lives–we just don’t hear about them!

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Thanks for chiming in, Jonathan.

      Yes, it is sadly kind of cliched: the excessive musician. You never really hear about the brilliant yet self-destructive chartered accountant that often. I’m perplexed as to why so many of the artists we know about can’t seem to keep a lid on their bad behaviors.

      Though I’ve not been a performing musician, I have worked in live music clubs, and it was indeed super easy to get carried away with whatever the rest of the audience and your fellow bartenders are doing in the moment. Some people just don’t have a voice that says “slow down”.

      And why haven’t we heard about the balanced, healthy musicians (as indeed we should)? Maybe they’re just not “out there” enough to command attention, or is it the chemical excess that provides the inspiration? I hope not!

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