Happy Birthday and RIP: Kurt Cobain and Other Members of the 27 Club Remembered | County Grind | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Music News

Happy Birthday and RIP: Kurt Cobain and Other Members of the 27 Club Remembered

When it comes to pop stars, perhaps the only thing sadder than a life taken too soon due to mishap or misadventure is one whose legacy is thus forever haunted by the demise. We've seen it just now with the death of Whitney Houston; pundits will always extol her talents, but her story will always bear the tragic postscript that she died in a bathtub after several serious bouts with drugs. The same could be said of Kurt Cobain. His work with Nirvana continues to resonate nearly two decades later, but the fact that he committed suicide may be the thing people remember most, at least when they go beyond the music. 

In truth, Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994) ought to be considered one of the most influential musicians of the past 20 years. After all, he helped fuse the remnants of punk with a frayed rock 'n' roll sensibility and establish grunge, a new genre born from the belly of Seattle.

While Pearl Jam may have given that music a populist appeal and cultish kind of devotion, Nirvana didn't bow to any of those niceties; instead, it made defiance and intimidation part of its method. Still, the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was touted -- and rightfully so -- as one of modern rock's most enduring anthems, with the album Nevermind considered nothing less than one of the most important recordings of all time. As for Cobain himself, he was an electric personality, troubled, tempestuous but possessing a charisma that all but assured his immortality.

Cobain's dark demeanor and edgy attitude were not fabricated or assumed simply as some kind of rock-star attribute. He had a difficult childhood estranged from his parents and was considered an outcast at school. He channeled that displacement and alienation into his songs, making Nirvana the heroes of the disenfranchised and the unlikely savior of a culture filled with alienated individuals who rebelled against regimen.

But still, there seemed to be a self-loathing that gnawed at Cobain's insides, making him feel distanced from even his most fervent fans. Even before he took his own life, there were signs that his demise was imminent. For starters, he was a serious drug user. A month prior to his suicide, he nearly overdosed on a cocktail of champagne and Rohypnol. His wife, Courtney Love, claimed that was his first attempt at suicide. Two weeks later, Cobain locked himself in a room with a gun, and when police arrived, he denied the fact that he had any intention of turning it on himself, claiming instead he was trying to escape his wife. 

On March 25, 1994, Love arranged to have an intervention, which eventually persuaded the musician to go into detox. However, he escaped the day after he was admitted and promptly flew back to Seattle, where he was spotted in various locales.

Eventually, he went missing, causing Love to hire a private investigator to track him down. But it was an electrician who had come to his Lake Washington home to install a security system who discovered Cobain's body, the victim of an apparent self-afflicted shotgun blast. Suicide was confirmed when a note was found addressed to his imaginary childhood friend "Boddah," stating that he had lost enthusiasm for making music. A substantial dose of heroin and Diazepam were found in his system, although there were many who implicated Love in his death as part of some sort of conspiracy. 

Cobain was 27, a popular number when it comes to deceased rock stars. It is at that age that some of the most important names in rock music have passed from this world. In remembrance of Cobain's birthday, here is a list of other musicians who join him in the so-called "27 Club." 

Robert Johnson
The father of modern blues, the writer of "Crossroads" and other songs covered by numerous contemporary rockers, Johnson died on August 19, 1938, the victim of a suspected poisoning by a jilted lover. 

Brian Jones
A founder of the Rolling Stones, Jones had a troubled personality and penchant for drug dependence that eventually led to his unceremonious firing from the band. A month later, on July 3, 1969, he drowned in his swimming pool, the victim of what the coroner described as "death by misadventure" but what is now widely believed to have been a murder.

Allan "Blind Owl" Wilson
As the leader and vocalist of the band Canned Heat, Wilson had an oversized persona and a voice that made the band one of the more distinctive acts that performed at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival. However, his fondness for drugs, heroin specifically, led to his demise. He died September 3, 1970, from an overdose of barbiturates, a probable suicide. 

Jimi Hendrix
Perhaps the greatest guitarist of his generation, Hendrix was also given to the popular excesses of the '60s, specifically drugs, groupies, and all other manner of self-indulgence. On September 18, 1970, he was found dead in his bed, the apparent victim of asphyxiation when he choked on his own vomit. 

Janis Joplin 
A brilliant singer, Joplin overcame the scorn she faced growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, to become one of the leading voices of the San Francisco scene. Her performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and, later, Woodstock made her akin to a legend. Sadly, she was given to excess in an attempt to mask her pain and loneliness. She was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. 

Jim Morrison
Another extraordinarily brilliant artist, he attracted a cult-like devotion at the helm of the Doors. Unfortunately, his larger-than-life personality and fondness for booze and drugs also led him down a gradual downward spiral. It culminated in his death in a bathtub in his Paris flat, due to what was believed to be have been heart failure. 

Les Harvey
The brilliant guitarist for the British blues-rock band Stone the Crows, Harvey was accidentally electrocuted onstage in front of his bandmates on May 3, 1972, when he grabbed a charged microphone stand. 

Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
The original singer of the Grateful Dead, Pigpen was one of the band's more colorful characters. He died of gastrointestinal failure on March 8, 1973, a condition reportedly aggravated by alcohol. 

Dave Alexander
The original bassist for the Stooges, Alexander died of pulmonary failure on February 10, 1975. 

Pete Ham
The cofounder of the band Badfinger, the most successful act on the Beatles' Apple label -- besides the Fab Foursome themselves -- Ham took his own life on April 24, 1975. This was due to his despondency over the band's plunging financial fortunes. Several years later, fellow band member Tom Evans would do the same. 

Gary Thain
Thain, the original bassist for the British heavy blues-rock band Uriah Heep, succumbed to a drug overdose on December 8, 1975. 

Chris Bell
A cofounder of the legendary Memphis band Big Star alongside the late Alex Chilton, Bell helped define the band's retro pop sound, which influenced an entire generation of artists that followed. He died in a car accident on December 27, 1978.

Jacob Miller
As lead vocalist for the band Inner Circle, Miller helped shape the sound of modern reggae. He also died in a car accident, on March 23, 1980.

Amy Winehouse
The latest victim of the "curse of 27," Winehouse's fondness for drugs and other excess cast her as a doomed figure from the beginning. One of the greatest voices of the past two decades, she passed away on July 23, 2011, from what's now believed to have been an accidental poisoning. 

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," Cobain's mother lamented at the time of his demise. Whether she was referring to the "27 Club" or the fact that two of his uncles and a great uncle all committed suicide remains a matter of conjecture.

New Times on Facebook | County Grind on Facebook | Twitter | e-mail us |

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lee Zimmerman

Latest Stories