Conspiracy theorists love coincidences, and history is full of them. Check this one out for example. A musician makes a deal with Devil, has a scintillating career, and then dies a sudden unfortunate death at a young age, to honor the deal.
Sounds like a bucket load of hogwash. It is, but it is also one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in music history often told with much relish. So, what is the story behind it?
Kurt Cobain shot himself on April 5, 1994 at the peak of his fame. There was a lot of media speculation, fan theories and hullaballoo surrounding the dead musicians’ suicide. One of these was the aforementioned theory that Kurt made a deal with the Devil to ensure his greatness forever and join a club of other great musicians who all died at 27 under mysterious circumstances. Thus was born one of the most enduring legends in music, ‘the forever 27 club’.
A remarkable number of musicians belong to this club. But, what is astonishing is that all of these artistes lived unhappy lives, courting drug and alcohol abuse and various controversies, finally dying in a sad miserable way. Here, are some of the great artists who belong to the Forever 27 club.
1. Brian Jones – The multi-instrumentalist and the founder of Rolling Stones filled himself with drugs and alcohol, and jumped into the swimming pool one fine day in 1969, never to come out again. This was the official version, but there were many discrepancies in this story, which gave way to one of the most persistent Rock and Roll mysteries.
And still the mystery of his death hasn’t been solved,” Keith Richards (Lead guitarist, Rolling Stones) has said. “I don’t know what happened, but there was some nasty business going on.
2. Robert Johnson – The story about ‘making a deal with the devil to become a great musician’ originated from his death. The ‘king of blues’ played on street corner and juke joints all his life, never getting an iota of fame until his mysterious death by poisoning. The official ruling was that he was given strychnine, but soon many theories started blooming about jealous men, jilted lover or the most famous of all the benevolent Satan.
And the greatness was achieved finally, but decades after his death. The young Blues musician, who died unknown, suddenly one day in 1938, went on to be counted as one of the greatest musicians of 20th century.
3. Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson – Estranged from family, eccentric, depressed and a junkie – this could read as a character sketch of each one of the members of “forever 27’ including Wilson. The leader and primary composer of Canned Heat liked to sleep out in open. He died in his sleep in vocalist Bob HItes’ yard full of barbiturates and a bottle of Seconal by his side on September 3, 1970.
The official cause of death was found to be drug Overdose but bandmates believe that the troubled guitarist committed suicide.
4. Jimmy Hendrix – ‘If God was a left handed guitarist, his name would be Jimmy Hendrix’
This is how a character in the movie The Dreamers (2003) describes the celebrated musician. Apart from being arguably the greatest electric guitarist ever, Hendrix was also a reckless drug abuser.
‘Jimmy would take a handful of shit and swallow it; not even knowing what it was’ is how his friend Deering Howe describes his drug habit.
On September 8th, 1970 Jimmy drank a lot and then topped it with a handful of sleeping pills, never to wake up again. His girlfriend took him to hospital where he was declared dead. Hendrix has been a substance abuser for a long time, with a strong affinity for LSD and that is what ended this brilliant musician’s life.
5. Janis Joplin – 1970 was definitely a bad year for music and bountiful for the devil. After Wilson and Hendrix the third musician to join the 27s in 1970 was Janis Joplin, the beautiful and enigmatic vocalist of Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band.
The ‘Queen of Psychedelic Soul’ missed a recording session on October 4, 1970 to be found dead in her hotel room in Hollywood. The probable cause was said to be heroin overdose.
6. Jim Morrison – The unhinged iconic front man of The Doors was found dead in a bathtub in an apartment in Paris on July 3, 1971. The only witness to his death was his drugged out girlfriend who said he died of a cocaine overdose. There was no autopsy, and the official account lists ‘heart failure’ as the cause of death.
The famous poet and singer known for his distinctive baritone had leaded a troubled life and was no stranger drug abuse. Over the years many theories have come to light about his death indicating foul play, but none substantial.
Morrison’s death after the subsequent deaths of Hendrix and Joplin, led to the prominence of the 27 theory which became an urban legend after Cobain’s death in 1994.
7. Mia Zapata – Mia Zapata was the first of the Seattle Grunge artists to die at 27. She was beaten to death (probably raped) in the central district of Seattle. Florida Fisherman Jesus Meziqua was convicted for her death in 2004, after a DNA match.
The lead singer of the Gits was one of the faces of Seattle sound in 1990s which revolutionized the rock and roll and took the whole world by storm in early 90’s.
8. Kurt Cobain – ‘I will make 3 million dollars and then spend it all on drugs’
That was the plan of the young homeless boy from Seattle, who became an international icon when all he had planned was to become a janitor. The most popular musician of 90’s shot himself in head after filling himself with drugs in 1994.
The worldwide shock and the media circus that followed his death confirmed the legend of the 27s; that bunch of young talented boys from nowhere become great musicians and then die at 27. But if you look up Cobain’s life, he had it coming. His songs, interviews, diary entries in the later days of his short lived career all indicate that here was a man who was done with this world. As Kurt said, ‘it is better to burn out than fade away‘.
9. Kirsten Pfaff – Coincidences, there is too much of them in the story of the 27s. In early seventies four iconic rock musicians died within a year to lead to various speculations and theories. Well, we have more.
Nirvana played at a charitable function, in honour of Mia Zapata’s death and Kurt died a few months later. One of the mourners present at Kurt’s funeral was Kirsten Pfaff, the bassist for Hole (Kurt’s wife Courtney was the lead singer). She died two months later after Kurt, in her bathtub due to a heroin overdose (exactly like Morrison) at the age of 27.
All of these three were from the Seattle grunge music scene, knew each other and died at the same age. And, by the way Jimmy Hendrix was also born in Seattle and his life and career eerily resembles that of Kurt Cobain.
Now, if that does not make you go ‘what the fxxk’, I don’t know what will.
10. Amy Winehouse – Her death was like a fitting epilogue to the legend of 27s. She was sick of her life and fame like Cobain and Hendrix in her last days. Like the other 27s she was alone and depressed and at the peak of her fame.
The ‘Club 27’ legend has already become very popular until then. A few years before her death in 2011 Mia has said that she was afraid she was going to die at that age. After her sudden death on July 23, 2011, a shocked world and the media grabbed this story by neck and once again the ’27 club’ was in news.
Over the years many works of arts, novels, films and exhibitions have been dedicated to the Club 27. Artistes like Fall out Boys and Eric Burdon among others have written songs about it. Though, it is a very interesting tale of incredible coincidence and many great artistes, dying young is a great tragedy.
All we can do is protect and carry on the legacy these extraordinary men and women have left for us. Rest in peace, 27s.