I cannot possibly approach this topic without getting too emotional. As reviewed in our previous article, Club 27 might be a conspiracy theory, then again it might not. However, the facts cannot be altered, unfortunately. These absolutely great performers died way too young at the age of 27. It was their life, their choice how to live it, pushing way over the limits of the body, transcending the mind, the years, the time itself and today they are still adored by many old and young fans.
A few nights ago I was smoking at the window and looking at the empty midnight streets. A lonely car passed. The windows were down and the driver was singing, screaming with the booming stereo: “Break on through to the other side, break on through to the other side…” And I smiled, and I waved and felt a little bit better. As I’m writing this, Jim Morrison is looking at me from the giant poster on my wall, his eyes dark, haunting, not smiling; his messy hair framing his extraordinary features. And as I am listening to “When the Music’s over” I realize I can’t go about this article professionally. A Universe of his own, Jim wrote poetry and sang about freedom, and youth, and choice, and light and darkness, and fire, and high and low. And then, there is what we have now – synthetic voices, artificial stuff everywhere, fake and wrong. Biographical facts are in order, I suppose. Jim was born in 1943 in Florida and died in 1971 in Paris, his death still being rather controversial. His grave is in Paris next to Oscar Wild’s. Jim graduated UCLA film school with a Bachelor degree. At that time he was writing poetry and in 1965 he met Rey Manzarek and they formed the band. By then, Jim had already written the poems which he would later sing with the Doors. According to Rey, Jim had been living on canned beans and LSC for months – a habit which grew with days, along with his ever so passionate love for alcohol. His lyrics faced severe resistance from radio and television, he was made to change words, but he didn’t. He was that rebel each generation needs. His life performances are the most extraordinary thing one can possibly witness. At the beginning, he was so shy – he sang with his back to the audience. Imagine that disturbing, frightful voice combined with lyrics that literally hit you in the stomach like pounding fists! Soon after the first concerts, Jim became famous with his on-stage improvisations. The members of the Doors had to follow his lead, go along with him when he improvised – he would lull the audience with poems, he would take long pauses, he would let the mood and whatever was going on in his mind carry him and he carried with him everyone present. His IQ was above 150, he was extremely well read and his intelligence and views were something many people caught up with much later when his music was over, and he had turned off the lights. As I said at the beginning, this is no biography, this is no attempt to even begin to talk about Jim. For me, Jim is and always will be a separate phenomenon. Many have tried to cover his songs, all have failed, but Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots.
He was arrested many times, his concerts were stopped for indecent bahaviour (or for telling the truth). Abusing any possible drug combined with oceans of alcohol, he lived as a comet, leaving behind his silent and lonely death not a mark, but a scar to remind us that we are all “Riders on the storm, into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown. Like a dog without a bone, an actor out alone.” To remind us that music is your special friend until the end, that people are strange when you’re a stranger. How? How can one write about Jim? Jim was, has been and will be that black hole that will suck in anyone daring come closer. I have felt like a moth drawn to utter darkness ever since I was a child and heard him for the first time. Yes, WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT NOW!
It’s strange that Jim’s life path goes parallel with Jimi Hendrix’s, who was born a year earlier in Seattle and died a year earlier In London. Jimi is one of the most celebrated instrumentalist of the 20th century and I still believe no guitarist can surpass his extraordinary talent. He is ranked number one guitar player of all times, followed by Clapton and Eddie Van Halen. “Jimmy exploded our idea of what rock music could be: He manipulated the guitar, the whammy bar, the studio and the stage. On songs like “Machine Gun” or “Voodoo Chile,” his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent Sixties – you can hear the riots in the streets and napalm bombs dropping in his “Star-Spangled Banner.” I could have never said it better than Tom Morello of Rage against the Machine. When I watch him play and sing, his eyes closed, his whole being drowned in music, I am in awe at the way he toys with the guitar with no effort at all. And to think he was penniless and struggling, with no money for food when he was discharged from the war. And to think he was first recognized in the UK. By Woodstock 1969, he was the highest paid musician on the planet, but he didn’t need that, not really. “A little lovin’ is all in the world I need.” As is the case with Jim Morrison, it will be a shame to talk about his music in plain words. There are things which are meant to be felt only. Many young people these days hear his songs on the radio, love them, and if the name speaks nothing to them, there is the whole internet full of information on every step he ever made on the Earth, every bar he got drunk in, every fight we was in. His love affair with LSD started in 1966; with alcohol – four years earlier. Later, the assortment of drugs became broader, leading him to paranoia, aggression and violent outbursts. He must have known, he must have sensed or made up his mind. “Well, there ain’t no telling baby when you will see me again, but I pray it will be tomorrow.” (Ain’t no telling, 1967). His death at 27 has been a subject of fierce discussions and speculations, too. He died in London while with Monica Danneman. They spoke till early in the morning and a few hours later he was found breathing, but unconscious. Jimi died an hour later and the autopsy showed that apart from all he had taken and drunk that day, he had swollen all his girlfriend’s sleeping pills (18 times the maximum dose). I have taken so much from Jimi. He was not just an out-of-this-world musician; he was great with words. A piece of Jimi’s wisdom: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
At Woodstock Jimi crossed paths with Janis Joplin. Born in 1963 (same year as Jim Morrison) she died in 1970, a few months before him. Janis is pronounced number 43 among the greatest performers of all time. She was not a striking beauty, but she became absolutely stunning when she got on stage and immediately took control over the audience with her unsurpassable voice – tender, soothing, screaming, raging, whispering, taking you through a jungle of emotions and leaving you tangled, broken and healed, smiling with teary eyes. She had that power to drag you into her confused emotional world and make you stay with her for a while. There is no middle ground with Janis – it was… it is like clashing from one extreme to the other. “I’m a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything … It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned to make that feeling work for me. I’m full of emotion and I want a release, and if you’re on stage and if it’s really working and you’ve got the audience with you, it’s a oneness you feel.” There is so much to be said about her voice and presence, about her life… high… and low, in between having money and being penniless and her fight to get unhooked, in between relationships with men and women. What abyss and internal need did heroin fill? And before heroin, any drug available on the market and unspeakable amounts of alcohol? She lost the fight with her addiction and died in her hotel room at the age of 27. The heroin she injected, as the autopsy revealed, was enough to kill any human body on the spot. She, however, spent a considerable amount of time talking to people in the corridor, she went to buy cigarettes, dying slowly, without realizing it. The girl who could sing equally well blues, jazz and rock, who “made love to 25 000 people on stage and then went home alone”, who was the first “hippie pin-up girl”, the girl, who wouldn’t settle for anything, because “you are what you settle for”, was never able to talk about her songs and her voice. “I can’t talk about my singing. I am inside of it. How can you describe something you are inside of?” If she can’t, I can’t ether.
“With the lights out, it’s less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us. A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido. Yeah, hey!” Remember the time when the whole world was jumping to Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit?” I do. I also remember the day the news about Kurt Cobain’s death reached me in a music shop, while I was buying a CD. The grunge wave from Seattle, which had hit the world, was a time I lived in and was and still am a part of. I think alternative rock deserves a separate article because it continues to be one of the most significant shifts in music ever. Kurt was not the greatest singer, he was not the greatest poet. Nirvana was not the best grunge band, but they were certainly the most popular, most radio and television friendly and their songs were are not dripping in depression, not always. One can dance and scream and have fun to their songs, truly, something which Alice in Chains or Soundgarden do not allow for. Yet, Kurt became the voice of Generation X, the face of a new kind of music, the guru of a new age in music as a lifestyle, as fashion, as a statement, something so different than the mainstream rock, which washed away G\sdxddsxxxzuns’n’Roses from the charts. He was a quiet man emitting that aura of exuberant sadness and curiosity, his bright blue eyes, a not so distant reminder of the relief heroin brought, were warm, accepting, understanding. He never felt like a star. He was that timid little boy, who was still fighting the consequences of his parents’ divorce, which had made him withdrawn and defiant. He was known for his constant stomach condition, which Kurt eventually started curing with heroin. After marrying Cortney Love and having his adorable baby girl, we saw the happy family pictures and we believed he was on his way out of depression. Little did we know. Two years later, Kurt committed suicide. In his written in red suicide note, addressed to his imaginary friend from childhood, Boddah, he says: “I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” It was May 5th, also known as the day Seattle died. On this same date in 2002, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains passed away, but that is an entirely different story.
Amy Winehouse joined club 27 in July 2011, my fist summer in Vienna. I switched the TV to watch the BBC news, which I rarely do, and the breaking news hit me so hard. It’s not like we, her fans, hadn’t expected it for a while. We had been witnessing her self-destruction for years, but one always hopes, you know. At the age of 27, she was ranked number 26 of the 100 most influential women of all time and her album “Back to Black” is the best-selling UK album of 21st century. Nevertheless, with so many musical awards from the age of 22, people would talk about her personal life, media wouldn’t leave her alone. She was followed everywhere. The dramatic shift in her life was the death of her Grandma who was the only stabilizing force in Amy’s life. From then on she let go. Alcohol abuse and a “great” husband, who introduced her to crack-cocaine and heroin, and later divorced her. At the time she was suffering from fierce eating disorder. According to her sister, bulimia was what killed her, because she was so weak physically, although the official reason in the medical report is “accidental alcohol poisoning”. People are still speculating what really caused her untimely passing away and ten years later, you can hear her mesmerizing voice everywhere. A walk in Camden Town will remind you of her from every corner and she will be looking at you from gigantic graffiti taking up a whole building wall. Amy’s hair style was inspired by the girl bands from the 60-s and her Cleopatra make-up – from the Ronettes. She was of a Jewish background, but kept away from religion and went to the synagogue once a year out of respect. Amy was 14 when she started playing the guitar on her own and composing her own songs. This is not the place where you will read juicy details about her personal life. The media did enough harm to her. Her fans were not lagging behind, expecting too much of her, judging her weaknesses, mocking her disorders, talking obscenities about her self-harm inflictions and mental issues. She taught us that “every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen”, that “there is no point is saying anything, but the truth” and that “your ability to fight has nothing to do with how big you are.” After all “life is like a pipe and I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside.” Aren’t we all?
If you are a real music fan, you will understand that this article is not about solving the questions whether there is something superstitious about Club 27. It’s about paying the due respect to great personalities, whose voice and words do not bounce off our lives, but sink in. I’m sure many will say, as many have said: “another one of those junkie rock stars” and “what a pointless life and such a waste of talent”. I dare remind our readers, that most geniuses died rather young. Alcohol was partly what killed Mozart, opium and absinthe was the reason the world lost many great painters. Before we judge, we’d better be perfect. And music? Music is what has and will bring people together. Always. It is that invisible connection and sense of belonging to something bigger than us, higher than us, and we, who have the ability to appreciate it, are the ones who will pass that appreciation and respect to the future generations. People don’t really die, as long as there is someone to talk about them, to remember them with love.
“The sun is gone, but I have a light” (Kurt Cobain)
-By Geri Decheva