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:


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.

Burning rubber

When I was in upstate New York last week, I heard Levon Helm and his entourage perform “This Wheel’s on Fire,” the Basement Tapes song written by none other than Helm’s late. lamented Bandmate Rick Danko and their pal Bob Dylan, who also performed in Saratoga last week.

The Dylan/Danko song includes these lines in its refrain: This wheel’s on fire,/Rolling down the road.

The King James version of the Book of Daniel includes these lines: I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.

Dylan songs. Upstate New York. So  the wheels started turning and I decided to post (scroll down to the next entry or click on the FICTION category to the right) an excerpt called “Wheel of Fire” from my novel “Gloryville,” which also alludes to the Bible’s flaming wheel and is set along the Mohawk River in upstate New York about halfway between Woodstock and Saratoga.