Something of a minor cultural industry has built up around this idea – there's a graphic novel,1 a film, a website,2 a truly crappy t-shirt,3 and article after article after article after dummkopf article. A huge amount of the media coverage of Amy W's death has included some kind of reference to this construct, which I find troubling for a number of reasons. So, briefly, here's why i hate the 27 Club.
• Firstly, it's not a sodding club. None of its "members" filled out an application. Many probably didn't even know about it. It's a retroactive cliche applied by Rock Trivia Buffs, a smug insincere trumpeting of a stupid factoid, often for people who don't care about the subject matter beyond the superficial, and by same. Consequently, it reduces all that was great, fun, profound, meaningful, stirring, and/or important about those artists' work to the level of a cheese-wedge question in a game of Trivial Pursuit: Rock Edition™.
• It demotes complex, difficult, diverse lives down to just one detail, the coincidence of their shared death age, making no distinctions between each. But Kurt Cobain shot himself. D. Boon died when a van he was in, driven by someone else, crashed. Janis OD'd, Brian Jones drowned. Robert Johnson, Freaky Tah and Mia Zapata were murdered. What the hell do these have in common, beyond a number? It just feeds rock(ism)'s dumb obsession with The Canon in the worst possible way.
• Perhaps worst of all, in the case of the 'Club' members who perished self-destructively instead of completely accidentally, it shores up those other shit myths of tortured artisthood4 and "live fast die young",5 as if early death were something to aspire to, as if art or passion or any of the other great things about the work of "Club" "members" were only valid for the young. As if Ornette Coleman, 82 years old and still regularly blowing groups half or a quarter of his age off stage, isn't cooler than a pretty 27-year-old corpse. Sorry, but i'd rather Amy, Kurt, whoever, had lived.
And it's also the totally disingenuous way it's ominously, fearfully spoken of ("the curse of 27") in hushed tones by the same people whose "who will be next?" speculation (tabloids, gossip sites, internet snipers, record labels, promoters) often helps it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the way that once that prophecy is fulfilled, the same people are just as quick to turn it round as a marketing gimmick for themselves as mythmakers or "Experts", behind a mask of "concern" or "sorrow" for the latest victim they're solemnly pretending to care about.
So yeah. If you buy into the narrative of the 27 Club, please stop. The world already has all the trite awful shit it needs.
1 "The 27 Club Now Includes Amy Winehouse", trumpets their website's new header proudly. "The 27 Club Experts predicted Amy's death in The 27s, this 2008 book". Well done guys! Must be nice to be so insightful.
2 "Depending on your preference, The 27s is a pop culture phenomenon, a weird curse, or a statistical anomaly" – or, in fact, none of the above.
3 Bearing a misquote of the Neil Young lyric quoted in Kurt Cobain's suicide note.
4 "The price for membership was more than he could handle", groans the tagline of The 27 Club, the myth's 2008 filmic incarnation. Or a quote from random American rehab centre co-founder quoted in one of the predictable Forever 27 articles linked to above, theorising, on the basis of nothing, that Amy herself may actually "have secretly wanted to be part of the 27 Club". Riiight.
5 "You know, death was always funny to me before. It was funny to all of us. I heard Joey say a thousand times "live fast, die young and leave a pretty corpse"... It was always "Oi, dead boy, this one's for you, I'll see you when I get there, motherfucker. And now I'm not even sure there is a there."