The 27 Club & Me

A couple of forewarnings and disclaimers before we start. This article will be far different, and much more personal, than the blog’s usual content, and it deals with some difficult subjects such as suicide and self harm. 

Between 1969 and 1971, the world said goodbye to some of the most important artists of the time – perhaps even of all time. In just two short years we lost The Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison. Each one hugely influential, each a tragic victim of the pressures and excesses of a “rock and roll” lifestyle, and through some odd twist of fate each one died at the age of 27. Though so much loss in a short span left a harrowing mark on the music world, it’s only in the years that followed that people have jumped on the link between their ages. Whether it’s depicted as some supernatural connection, or a curious statistical spike, the idea of ‘The 27 Club‘ has endured in people’s minds. That great artists, those often thought of as being “the voice of a generation”, seem to gravitate towards dying at a certain age. Every few years another unfortunate artist joins the ranks of its membership, and the club once again enters the spotlight. We saw it when Kurt Cobain took his own life, when Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers disappeared, and most recently with the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011. 

As a teenager I discovered most of these artists around the same time, and they became a large part of the soundtrack of my everyday life. So while for many The 27 Club is a tidbit of trivia that gets reawakened by tragedy, at this time of my life it sat far more prominently in my subconscious that it would have for most others. The thing is, the sense of tragedy that surrounds these artists is mostly lost on the young, and at this point in your life 27 feels like a million miles away. I didn’t see people gone before their time, I just saw people grabbing life by the horns and making their mark on the world.

So there I am, aged 17, at what at the time felt like rock bottom. Sneaking off to a toilet cubicle with a bloodied pencil sharpener blade to enact what had become a daily vice, with a medley of songs from the infamous club blaring through my headphones to drown out thoughts I’d rather not think about. Those days have all blurred into one another now, but I still recall that on one occasion I set myself… a goal, a challenge, an ultimatum – I’m still not sure which. I vividly recall the deadline though: 27. I gave myself ten years. I said to myself that by the time I’m 27 I’ll have found happiness and figured my life out. After all, if those artists could change the world by that age, surely changing just my own life by that point would be plain sailing by comparison, right? And if those ten years turned out not to be enough, well…

I’m just a few months away from my 28th birthday, still very much lost and confused at 27, and for the second time in my life The Club seems to linger just below the surface of my mind. I’m reminded of that old promise to myself. My life has certainly changed in the past ten years, and while I’ve found hitherto undiscovered layers below rock bottom, I haven’t found the happiness or piece of mind that 17 year old me was looking for. These days it’s harder than ever to think of the future and see a happily ever after waiting on the other side. But one change that has been made for the better is in gaining a fresh perspective. I now see that 27 isn’t the distant milestone I thought it was. I now see the marvel of the 27 club in achieving so much in such a short span of time, and the realisation that they had so much more to give. 

But I never wanted to change the world, I just wanted to be happy. Though I sometimes see friends getting married or buying houses, and my joy for their success is marred by my own feeling of being left behind, I know I’m far from being the only person that’s lost. I’m far from the only soul that’s yet to find the love, or wealth, or piece of mind that they dreamt of. But I’ve found enough to cling onto to keep me going thus far, maybe it’s enough to get me a bit further. Maybe changing the world calls for pyrotechnics, while changing just your life has a much slower burning fuse. I think it it was Groucho Marx that once said “I refuse to be a part of any club that would have me as a member”. Though it’s been a tough year, 28 is on the horizon, and I think I’m finally starting to see making it past 27 without having my life figured out as a success and not a failure.