The 27 Club: Immortal Icons?

I found myself thinking – “If only he had died of a heroin overdose” as I was re-listened to Transformer in the wake of Lou Reed’s death. Although naive, my reasons for saying so were simple: he would have died doing what he–at one point–professed to love. He sings “It’s my life, and it’s my wife” yet, he didn’t die with a needle in his track-marked arm. Instead he passed on due to liver transplant complications. In short, he grew up.

I mean, who’s cooler: Lennon or McCartney?

We mourn those who die in the name of rock and roll. Drugs, suicide, alcohol poisoning, and going out with a bang (sorry Kurt) seems to solidify them as legends. They are martyred as myth. In their premature death, they become almost transcendent. The 27 club brings forth a whole host of musicians that will stay forever young, forever angry and forever icons. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain are on different parts of the spectrum: the first choking on vomit, the second experiencing heart failure and the last blasting his head off with a shotgun. What unifies them is that they all died in the name of what they professed to do and what we loved them for: rock and roll. They are the soldiers of pop culture that have solidified their place in history; they will never back down from their ideals and will never grow old. Their image and message are left untarnished by an undignified sense of disparity that any aged rock star ultimately gains. Even the most idealistic of us can’t help but admit it. I mean, who’s cooler: Lennon or McCartney?

A survivor of this glamorous lifestyle, possibly the only figure to sustain an immortalised image whilst going on to comfortably sit in the OAP bracket, is Ziggy Stardust, arguably the biggest cult figure in music history. Donning a crazy costume, red hair and backed by his band the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie was able to maintain an alter-ego that lived the lifestyle of other such icons, and move on after breaking up with the Spiders.

Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.

However, Bowie admits to the strain this put on him: “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David”. The blurring of lines between icon and the individual is a sore topic, and one that at times begins to seem surreal. It’s a tragedy that we separate ourselves from the people that make the music we love so much. They too have to separate themselves from us. We put them on a pedestal of God-like status because in the end, the reason they mean so much is because they are the ones that are able to articulate the way we feel. This is the connection between poet and reader, between musician and listener, which no other medium can seem to fully grasp.

When it all comes down to it, I’m pleased that Lou Reed died at 71, and I wish Hendrix, Lennon, Curtis, Cobain and Morrison could have done too. They were all people that were scared and unhappy, and found an escape in making sounds. To my mind, the beauty of music is that the artists we love are the ones that feel the same way as we do. It is a core connection–a unity–that spans over time and place; it is proof that people are capable of magic. The shame is that they have to perish for us to believe it.


Author: Sam Boullier

Artwork: Joel Whitaker