Pete Townsend wrote it and Roger Daltrey sang it and I’m sure both of them are glad they didn’t get their wish: “Hope I die before I get old.”
Creepy and callous talk about the “27 Club” followed last week’s tragic death of the substance-addicted 27-year-old British singer Amy Winehouse at age 27. She joined the pantheon of other 27-year-old pop icons — including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain — who also died tragically at age 27, burned out from drugs and alcohol and fame’s bright flame.
Not mentioned as frequently were other pop and rock stars who died too young — from gunshots, from drugs, from drink, in plane crashes and car crashes, in freak accidents, by their own hand or at the hand of others: John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Pigpen (of the Grateful Dead), Dennis Wilson, Johnny Ace, Duane Allman, Mike Blookfield, Marvin Gaye, Nick Drake, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Sam Cooke, Sandy Denny, Mama Cass, Tupac Shakur, Keith Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gram Parsons. And Elvis, who died when he was just 42.
I really have nothing to say about Amy Winehouse or the others, except the usual empty and vague generalities: such a loss, such a tragedy, I wonder what kind of music they would have created had they lived, can you imagine that John Lennon would now be seventy years old, and so on…
But I do have something a little different to add — two names of artists who were not pop stars or rock stars, both of whom died at age 27.
The artwork at the top of this entry is by the painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988. Appropriately, it’s called “Fallen Angel.”
And then there’s the legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 at age 27, apparently poisoned by a cuckolded husband or lover: