Music journalists, rock critics, and casual music historians like to tell stories. They like to frame narratives, paint parallels, and place our heroes into the framework they’ve invented. And though this is very much a part of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, it’s foolish to assume the rock stars are knowingly playing along. The “27 club” is one such narrative, involving a curiously high number of rock ‘n’ roll legends whose mercurial brushes with glory crashed and burned at that early age. Through dozens of names from here and there have been tossed in, the club holds a select few “core members”: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and original Rolling Stone Brian Jones.
But why 27? Perhaps there’s something inherently dangerous and sexy about an artist, particularly a rock star, going out on top. Twenty-seven is a crooked number, with the artist old enough to have pumped out a classic, but young enough to have avoided the myriad trappings of the inevitable aging process. The club’s lineage can be loosely traced to pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 of a mysterious strychnine poisoning. Once Buddy Holly died less than two years into his rapid rise to fame (albeit not at 27), music fans, too, were introduced to the tragedy and legend of the dead rock star.