Fallen angels

Fallen Angel by Jean-Michel Baquiat

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:


The redwing blackbird’s clack…

I’ve never met the poet Ruth Stone, but I know people who know her — as far as I know, at age 95, Ruth’s still writing her strong, beautiful, passionate poetry up there in  Addison County, Vermont.

Mind you, I know that Ruth’s had a harder go of it than most, certainly including me. Her husband committed suicide in 1959 — she raised their children alone, and her beautiful love poems, as an anonymous writer on Wikipedia puts it so aptly, are all written to a dead man.


Lots of trouble sleeping lately…dozing off around midnight, but then waking up at 3 or 4 a.m., with such a whirring mind that I just cannot sleep…finally dozing off, thank you, as I look out the window of this room and see the sky is already brightening…as I hear birds already beginning their morning matins…So yesterday at 4 a.m., trying to distract my mind from memories and musings by reading myself back to sleep, I came upon this poem by Ruth Stone, the last poem in her collection “In the Next Gallery,” published by Copper Canyon Press in 2002:

The poem is called “Mantra.” Here’s the first stanza:

When I am sad
I sing, remembering
the redwing blackbird’s clack.
Then I want nothing
except to turn time back
to what I had
before love made me so sad.

Maybe that’s what I need to do to get some sleep…adopt this mantra…turn time back to what I had…when the sky began to brighten and the birds began to sing but I was asleep and I was at peace.

Battered and bruised…

This is what can happen when your soul is battered to the point where your spirit is bruised — and the bruises never heal.

Listen to Rick Danko — young, hip, endearing, soulful, so talented  — singing “It Makes No Difference” at The Band’s farewell concert, “The Last Waltz” in the late 1970s.

And now read him and weep as you watch poor Rick Danko — old before his time, overweight, weary, burned out from life — as he sings the song again in the 1990s just before he died from heart failure after years of drug addiction:

Rest in peace, Rick Danko, rest in peace…I pray you are in a place where you are no longer battered by the slams and slaps of love…that you are in a place where your bruises and wounds have all healed.