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Monday, April 6, 2009

The 27s Myth

Author Eric Segalstad has spent the past few years researching a group of musicians who have been dubbed "The 27s" — rockers who died at that age. Strangely coincidental, the group of dead artists includes Curt Cobain, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, delta bluesman Robert Johnson, and as many as 28 other lesser known stars of rock. Segalstad's book, The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll, explores the age 27 as the time of life when people go from youth to maturity. Some of the stars were victims of the business side of rock, while others died of accidents. But, he believes the death of so many of these stars has changed the way people look at performers and rock performers: Many now understand rock is a dangerous profession. The book is also a capsule history of rock & roll, twisting and turning through decades and genres. Reportedly, when Cobain died, his sister claimed that as a kid he would talk about how he wanted to join the 27 Club. Recently, Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse both have made references to the fear of also becoming inductees of the 27 club. What, if anything, prophetic exists at age 27? Having seen both Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison in concert, I grew up as a fan of rock and roll. I fully expected to follow the great new music of these artists throughout my life. I grieved when both died such untimely deaths; however, my grief was not only for the young artists but also for the senseless, tragic, early death of their art. Honestly, I felt (and continue to feel) cheated. Their choice of lifestyle had taken their lives and any of their new music from me forever. Now, I can only speculate what new directions these artists may have taken and what new contributions their music may still be making. Ironically, 63-year-old Neil Young coined the phrase, "It's better to burn out than fade away" (a line from "My, My, Hey Hey, Out of the Blue"). I don't see the rock business that way. I still enjoy buying new releases of artists I have been listening to for forty-five+ years. And, I still get excited hearing the likes of Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Jeff Beck, and John Fogerty make new, vibrant music. If the '60's and '70's taught music lovers anything, it was that moderation in lifestyle lends to longevity of life. The truly great artist contributes a full lifetime of work to his art. For many of my favorite performers, 27 was a very unlucky number of choice-- a number that did not allow for full creative development. Jimi and Jim, I do miss you, yet in a limited sense: the sense that I had yet to experience your great potential. In some sentimental sense, the Greek saying "Whom the gods love dies young" speaks of the tragedy of early death. An aura of mystery dwells within any young tragic circumstance, but no ideal is bettered through self destruction. The real tragedy is that we will never know what might have been.
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