Where do Rock Stars go when they die? The Return of the 27 Club

Acting as a rock musician’s “Bermuda triangle”, the 27 Club has a membership fee expensive enough to rival the Bullingdon – your life!

This story starts at Christmas with the news of the death of drummer, Jimmy “the Rev” Sullivan, of Californian metal-band Avenged Sevenfold. Coming as a shock to many, especially to the thousands of fans who saw his final show at the UK’s Sonisphere Festival last summer, his untimely passing has resurrected one of the strangest mysteries of the music industry: the 27 Club.

To qualify for membership, a famous rock musician needs simply to die aged twenty seven, usually in as mysterious and murky circumstances as possible. The Club was founded in 1969 by the Rolling Stones founding member and guitarist Brian Jones who was found drowned in his swimming pool at his house in Sussex. Other famous members of this group include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all of whom passed away in the early 1970’s as fallout from the excesses of the 60’s. The 1990’s saw a dramatic increase in membership with the premature death of Kurt Cobain and the controversy surrounding it.  The last high-profile musician to be admitted into the group is Manic Street Preachers founding guitarist Richey Edwards who was missing presumed dead on November 23, 2008 having dropped off the radar in 1995. Unconfirmed reports have him living in India. As well as these well-known stars the club boasts a membership over thirty more musicians from bands of various genres and styles.

Although missing out on initiation to the club by eleven months, the Rev was twenty eight, his death has revived interest in the 27 Club on Internet forums and blog columns. In short, people are talking about rock star deaths again. It’s hard not to feel the lurking presence of the 27 club behind the many of the premature deaths of 2010 which, in this regard, is fast turning into a tragic year for the music industry.

Alarmingly the club’s shadow has been felt as close as the last two weeks. Legendary heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio lost the battle with cancer and sadly passed away. He is best known for his eponymous band Dio and for taking up the position of singer for Black Sabbath after Ozzy Osbourne was fired for his addictions. In April, Pete Steele from 90’s goth-rockers Type o Negative died of heart failure just before the band was set to start writing new material. As if this wasn’t enough online sources and eventually the BBC reported that Slipknot bassist Paul Gray had been found dead in a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, sending the whole music community into deeper mourning.

Although not heralding a full return for the 27 Club, sorry no new members this time, the proximity of these tragedies and the youth of both the Rev and Paul Gray and the surprising nature of their passing is just as startling. The mortality of the rock star is once again a topic of conversation. This is reflected in the increase in popularity of books like 2007’s The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star by 80’s glam-rocker Nikki Sixx.

A life of excess, relentless touring and the pressures of having to satisfy both an often fickle fan-base, especially in alternative music circles, and one’s own artistic temperament is detrimental wellbeing of a person. Constant partying on tour is often seen as a phase every band goes through: just how many times have you read “we’ve grown up a lot since then” when a band goes through a particularly rough patch?  Doubtless many in depth surveys into this exist. On the other hand you can’t ignore the number of musicians and bands who have survived all these trials. I often hear it said that no-one would have believed that Ozzy Osbourne would outlive Michael Jackson. Yet, somewhat miraculously, he did and he’s coming to Oxford on July 10th to prove it!

To conclude, the 27 Club has an unofficial motto: “27 forever” This is the most interesting side of its legacy. There is a clear element of romance associated with dying young ( after all, Shelley died aged twenty nine) and what the 27 Club truly stands for is a reminder and a revival of the glamour of the rock lifestyle. For many artists the 27 Club is not so much a tragic end but fitting way to go out. Not only will a musician be saved from releasing a bad album but they will be much harder to forget. This attitude is engrained in the very roots of modern Rock n Roll; try the lyrics of the Who’s classic “My Generation”. Instead of just passing between life and death, the paradox of the 27 Club ensures its members pass from famous to legendary or more eerily from mortal into immortal.