They cheated themselves

Before he died, Kurt Cobain’s mother used to plead with her famous son “not to join that stupid club.” The club in question is the morose collective of famous musicians who died at the age of 27. As with its tragic newest member Amy Winehouse, who died on Saturday, the departure of these singers often leaves behind a complicated legacy. At the time of their deaths many of these stars had survived a sudden rush of fame and creativity and weathered it with some degree of difficulty, but seemed on the eve of pulling themselves together to do something great and possibly different. Winehouse had reportedly invested some time in recording sessions for a follow-up to her 2006 smash, “Back to Black,” but there is no word of whether or not that will ever surface. Here we look at the most famous members of what is commonly known as “The Forever 27 Club,” and the impact these stars were able to have in their all too brief lives.

Robert Johnson (May 1911-August 1938)
Johnson is often cited not only as a founding father of the blues, but also as a founder of rock ‘n’ roll, influencing classic rock gods such as Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. On a more morbid level, Johnson also pretty much founded the Forever 27 Club. As he sang in “Hellhound on My Trail,” while he was alive he had a premonition that he would not be for long.
Cause of death: Most sources cite that he was poisoned at a bar.
Length of recording career: Two years
Amount of material released while living: Roughly 21 songs
Posthumous output: From the early 1960s on, archivists have dug up recordings of the great bluesman, most notably on the two-disc Columbia boxed set, “The Complete Recordings.”

Brian Jones (February 1942 – July 1969)
The original guitarist for the Rolling Stones was noted for his showmanship and his good looks. He was also noted for being one of the most social Stones, helping to connect the group with a larger audience. His musical contributions include most of the untraditional rock instruments you hear on the Stones releases from the ’60s, like the sitar, autoharp and marimba.
Cause of death: As the first of the baby boomers to join the Forver 27 Club, Jones drowned in his own swimming pool. As the years have past, various theories of how he met his fate have ranged from drug overdose to murder.
Length of recording career: Five years
Number of albums released while living: 11 studio albums, one live one
Posthumous output: Though almost all of the Stones catalogue has received some sort of re-release fanfare, nothing specifically celebrating Jones has ever been released.

Jimi Hendrix (november 1942- September 1970)
This left-handed guitarist was so prolific that in just one year he released two landmark albums, with “Are You Experienced” and “Axis: Bold as Love.” He is credited with revolutionizing the way the electric guitar is played, and within his brief recording career he showed so much innovation that we are only left to speculate how different music would be today had he lived longer.
Cause of death: Choking on his own vomit after mixing wine and sleeping pills
Length of recording career: Four years
Number of albums released while living: Four albums
Posthumous output: Various unheard recordings have surfaced over the years, but most collections feature alternate takes of his popular songs.

Janis Joplin (January 1943-October 1970)
Joplin was known for her partying as much as her goose-bump-inducing bluesy howl. She came to prominence as singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company and struck out on her own two years later. Her final work, “Pearl,” is stylistically more sophisticated than her blues rock material, and is regarded by many to be her masterpiece.
Cause of death: Suspected overdose
Length of recording career: Four years
Number of albums released while living: Three albums
Posthumous output: “Pearl,” was released four months after her death.

Jim Morrison (December 1943-July 1971)
The Doors singer trafficked heavily in prophecies of his own death, from his lyrical imagery of breaking on through to the other side to ghosts crowding his mind to his chants of “no one gets out of here alive!” on the Doors song, “Five to One.”
Cause of death: Various sources have reported that he suffered heart failure in his bathtub or that he died of a heroin overdose in a nightclub and was brought back to his Paris apartment and placed in the tub. No autopsy was conducted.
Length of recording career: Five years
Number of albums released while living: Six studio albums and one live one
Posthumous output: A handful of Morrison’s spoken word albums have emerged over the years, most notably “An American Prayer,” in 1978. At one point he says cryptically, “Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?”

Kurt Cobain (February 1967-April 1994)
The Nirvana singer sang on one of the songs on his band’s last album, “look on the bright side, suicide” and contemplated using the title “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” instead of “In Utero.” His brash approach to music reinvigorated rock ‘n’ roll in the ’90s and like many of the artists in the Forever 27 Club, his image and iconography can still be seen on dorm room posters and T-shirts everywhere.  
Cause of death: Self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head
Length of recording career: Five years
Number of albums released while living: Four
Posthumous output: Nirvana’s landmark “MTV Unplugged in New York” came out seven months after Cobain’s death. “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” followed two years later, as has a box set and a few other rarities collections.


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