This is a history of famous musicians who have died at the age of 27, particularly the most famous six - Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, and Winehouse. Sounes admits at the outset that the whole notion of 27 being a particularly dangerous age for rock stars is not statistically accurate, but the conceit allows for a Plutarchan approach that proves revelatory in examining the similarities and differences in this series of parallel lives.
Indeed, there are many similarities. They all wound up on a rarefied stratum of fame and fortune where the world seemed to revolve around themselves, but none of them seems to have liked themselves. All were estranged from their families to some degree - interestingly it is Hendrix, who by all accounts had the most difficult upbringing, who may have had the best relationship with his father. Drinking and drug abuse plays a predictable role in all the stories, alongside sexual promiscuity and occasional violence.
An interesting element is the change in public attitudes over time - none of the sixties stars were spectacles of self-destruction (although Morrison did have a reputation for outrageous, unpredictable behavior), but with Cobain there was an ongoing deterioration marked by a well-reported series of overdoses and marital difficulties, and with Winehouse her descent almost became a spectator sport. This seems to have been the result of a combination of media saturation and tabloid journalism, a world-weary cynicism on the part of the public towards rock stars and the price of fame, and also the need of the celebrities themselves to continue to be transgressive as a form of attention-seeking. It is notable that Joplin, Morrison, and Cobain all lied quite spectacularly about the material and emotional deprivations of their unhappy pre-fame lives. Winehouse. meanwhile, regularly faked falling down as part of her performances.
The weakest part of this book is Sounes' sympathy towards this narcissistic attitude. He seems to agree with the maxim - quoted by Cobain in his suicide note - that it's "better to burn out than fade away". One of Sounes' previous efforts was a biography of Bukowski, and the notion that being down-and-out equals authenticity that attracts many people to Bukowski seems to run through this work. Early on he muses:
"They might still be alive, but who would have heard of the optometrist Brian Jones, assuming he had followed the career his parents envisaged? Who would have known Jimi Hendrix, landscape gardener, or care about Janis Joplin, Port Arthur housewife, who would read the sociologist Jim Morrison, or given a damn about school janitor Kurt Cobain?"
This recalls the following exchange in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons:
More: "You'd be a good teacher."
Rich: "And if I were, who would know it?"
More: "Yourself, your friends, your pupils, God--pretty good public, that!"
this book talks about all of the rock and roll artists who died at age 27.I read almost all of it. anything new i can learn on Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix two of my favorite muscians of all time is great. also learned a lot more about Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Amy Winehouse . reccomended book on a variety of legendary muscians and newer ones who we have lost much too soon!
Fast read, concise information.
There's a good recview at Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/howard-sounes/27/
"An extensive collection of interviews reveals previously undiscovered connections between the dozens of celebrities whose fame was augmented by their early deaths, challenging popular myths while identifying surprising similarities shared by iconic stars." Popular Culture May 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/217e1482-9d78-4d54-9cc6-2b3270c2d832?postId=ca9ebdd2-adec-483c-8400-6611a8e1b44a
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