Live hard, die young
When Kurt Cobain died on 5 April 1994, his mother was reputed to have said ‘Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club.’ She was referring to the earlier brace of talent struck down in their prime, known in music circles as ‘the 27 Club.’
Like Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendix, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones all perished at the tender age of 27, struck down by the lifestyle they had once so eagerly embraced. Cobain -unlike the earlier trio – came from a different era. The peace and love of the 60s had all but faded out by the time he came along. His was a tale of dysfunctional family life and teenage angst, set against a background of unemployment and economic strife. But in the end, Kurt Cobain succumbed to similar temptations and exited the same way.
The history of Rock music is littered with once talented corpses that refused to grow old. From its birth in the early sixties, the guiding principle was excess. The famous quip ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there’ summed up a decade of sheer hedonism, a decade that, amongst other things, witnessed explosive race riots and the Vietnam war. Rock musicians were the new Royalty, treated like film stars and destined to light up the world’s biggest stages.
Along came the money men and the shyster lawyers, coining in royalties from contracts that weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Incessant touring followed, to recoup huge expenses incurred from wrecked hotel rooms and life on the road. And who better to foot the bill than the thoughtless antagonists themselves – the band.
Rock Stars are like kids who refuse to grow up. And why should they? The bar is always open. The best looking women are queing up to have their babies. All they have to do in return is step off a private plane and into a limousine, be chauffeur driven to a five-star hotel, sample a few lines of the local marching powder and play a few numbers in front of sixty thousand adoring fans. What’s the problem in that?
The sad fact is that not every aspiring rock legend has the wherewithal to last the course. The lifestyle requires, first and foremeost, the survival skills of a long distance endurance athlete and an ego the size of Katmandu! The downsides of such a vocation include sleepless nights, semi-permanent jet-lag, failed marriage and an incurably diseased liver. Then there’s the terrifying prospect of obscurity. The sixty thousand fans who queued all night to buy tickets for your last concert have shifted allegience and gone to the Royal Ballet instead!
I wish my long departed heroes had made it. The impact they made on my life and the lives of millions of fans worldwide gives them a special status in my eyes. They were the myth makers and the trendsetters, creating music of outstanding power and originality that continues to enthral each new generation. Their deaths leave a void that can’t be filled. All we can do is listen to the music they left and salute their contribution.
Neil Young said ‘Better to burn out than to fade away.’ In memory of the following: