Paint a Vulgar Picture: The 27 Club - Articles - Soundblab

Paint a Vulgar Picture: The 27 Club

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

At the record company party/ On their hands - a dead star/ The sycophantic slags all say/ "I knew him first, and I knew him well"

I can't be the only one to find the lyrics to The Smiths' 'Paint a Vulgar Picture' echoing 'round my head over the last week, can I? Morrissey's acidic assessment of music industry glee at the demise of a major asset feels particularly pertinent right now, following the sad death of Amy Winehouse. True, the creaky gears of the marketing machine haven't even started rolling, churning out best ofs, compilations of unreleased stuff and demos the artist would never have wanted to see the light of day, but you know it's coming. In the meantime, the media vultures are picking over whatever's left: OK! has already rushed out its 'tribute' issue, complete with laughably sombre white-on-black logo and a cover promising details of how her ex, Blake Fielder-Civil, is close to suicide. Meanwhile, a certain lad's mag has advised us how to 'get' Blake's 'look'. I guess emotional devastation makes him 'hot' right now. Classy.

However, inside the music press, there's another form of opportunism at work, one that's just as insidious and odious, one which ultimately feeds directly into music industry coffers. Once more over the last week, we've been bombarded with stories of the '27 Club', that august, elite society to which only the fuckest-upest stars gain entry: Jim Morrisson, Janis Joplin, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and now Winehouse - all members, along with names less well known and sometimes contentious (D Boon of Minutemen, The Manics' Richey Edwards, whose body has never been found).

What makes this club such an irresistible subject for music writers and pop mythologists? Well, first there's the fact that all those named died young. Some of them were still extravagantly pretty and sexy, all still undoubtedly held great talent, even if they had lately lost the will or focus to exercise it. The third factor ties up the Dionysian allure of the 27 Club: many of those listed were addicts, once towering cultural heroes sunk to a life of dissolution by corrosive appetites. Such wilful self-immolation is the potent meme which ties together blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, 60s counter-culture idealism, punk nihilism and pre/post-millennial ennui: "It's better to burn out than to fade away".

But you could have said no/ If you'd wanted to/ You could have walked away/ ...Couldn't you ?

That's one hell of a myth we've been sold, and it's bullshit, every word of it. Just take a look at clichéd tropes I've deployed above - like 'Dionysian'. What's fucking Dionysian about choking on your own puke alone in a hotel room (a la Hendrix) or blowing half your brain out, leaving your young daughter fatherless (you know who)? I'm not passing judgement on these tragic exits, but you have to be pretty warped to see them as anything other than sad, sordid and, crucially, avertible. These deaths aren't the culmination of a life of unfettered creativity and hedonism, no more than they are the price someone pays for genius. Did Einstein end up slumped over a blood-encrusted needle? No. Plus, one look at Keith Richards and you can see exactly what a life of excess looks like, and it's far from sexy. And while we're at it, there's no such thing as a 'curse' on these poor souls either. If anyone is cursed, it's those fans they leave behind to suffer through an endless slew of shitty merch and dismal copycat chancers.

Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!/ Re-evaluate the songs/ Double-pack with a photograph/ Extra track (and a tacky badge)

On a prosaic level, the reason many of these stars died at 27 is simply because their lifestyles caught up with them. As they hit their late 20s, the daily strain of addiction became too much and their health deteriorated fatally. At its most unpleasant, the 27 Club prevents us from seeing the truth, masking the damage addiction does to sufferers and their families. There's no unseen, fatalistic hand guiding them to an untimely demise, as tempting as it might be to dress up an avoidable tragedy as something more special, something befitting a star. If Amy Winehouse told friends that she would die at 27, well, that just shows the delusional bullshit she had bought into. As someone who made a career re-energising jazz, soul and blues tropes, embodying them vividly in her lyrics and performances, she was surely aware of the 27 Club and all that went with it.

And if that's the case, then we have a stark example of how self-perpetuating this myth has become. And the more it repeats itself, the more precious it becomes to the media and the music industry alike. They can keep selling us stories and reissues, burnishing and tweaking the tale every time to keep us coming back like... Well, like addicts. But we're better than this, people, and the stars and artists we've lost were certainly better than this. They were wilder, stranger, funnier, and so, so much more human than the wretched 27 Club will let us remember. Go back to the records you already cherish. Ignore the sickly magazine covers with their false sentiments. Most of all, ignore the dollar signs in the eyes of those who claim they care while eyeing your wallet hungrily. Rise above it, the way real fans do.

So, in my bedroom in those 'ugly new houses'/ I danced my legs down to the knees/ But me and my 'true love'/ Will never meet again ...

Below is some priceless footage of 27 clubbers going off-message, just because they could:

Comments (7)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Top article. I see Back to Black has gone to number one in the album charts as well and that's without the re-packaging. Who are these people who suddenly want and need an album once a star is dead?

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I have no idea. Do they not already own it? And you just know it'll be re-released within the next year with whatever previously jettisoned shite the record company can scrape together tacked on. And it'll probably go to number one again!

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

That's my point, if they don't already own it, why do they suddenly need it?

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

PDS: Princess Diana Syndrome?

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

There's an interesting talk on the subject on TED> http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Good article BTW. I love this site.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks! I'll check out the link.

There are no comments posted here yet