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The Death Of A Star:Amy Winehouse and the Myth of the Forever 27 Club

In astronomy, scientists state that the more massive the star, the shorter its lifespan, primarily because massive starts have greater pressure on their cores.

I pondered this thought as I heard the tragic news of Amy Winehouse’s death. “Is this why we call them “stars”? Is the brightness of their talent a burden that is so heavy to carry that it causes them to implode on a path of self destruction?

The lofty expectations of a hypocritical public, demands from family members and friends who want money or hope to ride the coattails of their success, and the “stars” own personal struggles with fame, insecurity, and possible addiction all combine to form tsunami like pressure on our already fragile and broken human and spiritual conditions.

Until her recent death I had no idea what the “Forever 27 Club” was. In a world where everything is a commodity that needs a label to be packaged and sold it is no surprise to me that even in death we feel the need to come up with a euphemistic label to explain something that we find unexplainable.

Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain….and now Amy Winehouse. Welcome to the “Forever 27 Club” where there is only two means of entry: immense artistic talent and tragedy in death. There is no quiet dignity here, a passing away surrounded by family and your closest loved ones. No, in the Forever 27 Club each members death is reflective of the tragedy of their lives that was shrouded by the immense light that was cast out by their artistic talents.

In  the Christian bible and in the book of Matthew in particular, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” For the uninitiated, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals, typically oxen, and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.

Jesus is using a clever agricultural comparative metaphor to speak about the burdens and the weight of expectations of this world and offering us an alternative to the demands on our time,money, and on our person- especially for those of us who display a modicum of exceptional talent that can generate revenue. It is unrelenting, indomitably taxing and a yoke that is all too often too heavy to carry.

This demand even extends beyond death. As I watched the news reporter talk to friends of Amy Winehouse about her life and her music, there was already talk if there was any unreleased catalogues of music there that the public had yet to hear (or the record label could still profit from). More music. Less than 72 hours after her death the world still wants to know if there is more for us to have and consume when it was apparent by Amy’s last performance in Belgrade when she was booed of stage that she had little left to give.

Like the short lives of the heavenly stars that these earthly “stars” replicate, stars as a whole have their own myths. To the Ancient Greeks, some “stars”, known as planets meaning “wanderer”,represented various important deities from which the names of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were taken. Uranus and Neptune were also Greek and Roman gods.

We too create our own myths. With the death of Amy Winehouse the macabre myth of “The Forever 27 Club” grows larger in pop culture -its individuals a commodity that others profit from by virtue of their passing.

As with all myths, it is one that needs to be debunked for its mere presence gives a false representation of our reality and theirs, robbing us of the narrative of these broken lives tragically cut short and the lessons that can be garnered from them. The allure of success, fame, and money make up an illusory oasis in a Saharan and valueless pop culture that masks the pitfalls of this deadly trifecta in that once it has has had its fill, relegates precious, albeit talented lives, to a t-shirt that has no story.

Jim Morrison was found dead and alone of heart failure in a Parisian bathtub.  By the time Morrison’s music ascended to the top of the charts in 1967 he had not been in communication with his family for more than a year and falsely claimed that his parents and siblings were dead (or claiming, as it has been widely misreported, that he was an only child).

Kurt Cobain’s young life started out with the tragic divorce of his family 8 years old. In an interview at the height of Nirvana’s popularity, he admitted that this event had a profound effect on his life. His mother noted that his personality changed dramatically; Cobain became defiant and withdrawn and in a 1993 interview, he elaborated:

“I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn’t face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that

This ever present insecurity, his self medicated heroin addiction to deal with pain from an undiagnosed stomach condition, a family history of suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse ended up with him committing suicide by putting a shotgun to his head.

Janis Joplin was found alone, dead on the floor of her hotel room via overdose of a cocktail of alcohol and heroin.The Joplin family had stated that they felt ” Janis always needed more attention than their other children, with her mother stating, “She was unhappy and unsatisfied without [receiving a lot of attention]. The normal rapport wasn’t adequate.”

Jimmy Hendrix was found dead in a London apartment after choking on his own vomit from drinking alcohol and taking barbiturates. When Hendrix was 9 his parent divorced. Soon after, his mother developed cirrhosis of the liver and died resulting in Hendrix having a turbulent childhood with little guidance to include some time spent in foster care.

And finally, Amy Winehouse, who by her own words in various interviews spent the majority of her adult life dealing with self-harm, depression and eating disorders was found dead and alone in her North London apartment. As the coroner tries to piece together the final moments of Amy’s life it would not be a reach to place drugs and alcohol as the chief suspects.

And the world “mourns” and people say cliched statements like “the good die young”.

In reality, they don’t “just die”. It is a plodding, brooding, painful march towards, and plunge into the abyss. They die tragic and horrible deaths-lives cut short by substance and alcohol abuse used to mask the deeper inner turmoil of their inner private self that they never dealt with or came to terms with. They die typically by themselves, or surrounded by people who care little for them, other than whatever their fame and fortune can do to benefit them. They die in circumstances that if given the choice would not be ones that we would choose for ourselves. Yes, they die young but they don’t die “good”. They don’t die with any dignity or surrounded with those whom they love. Death comes to us all but no one should die in such circumstances: alone in a hotel room, in a bathtub, with a shotgun, or via asphyxiation of your own bile, all these mired with the realisation and irony that despite the public adoration, money, and fame, they were still ultimately lonely and broken people.

There is nothing to be celebrated in that. There is no glory to be found there. Just as a dying star’s flame is extinguishing, there is no one to witness its end. There is nothing but the loneliness of silence that comes with the vacuum of empty spaces and the accompanying darkness as the once burning light is being snuffed out.

Our lives imitate some of the most dramatic events in the universe. A supernova is a massive explosion of star dust and gases from when the star explodes. The photos scientists have of supernovae are actually of when the super nova happened millions or billions of years ago because it takes light so long to travel here from that far away. When the scientists see these super novae it is like seeing into the past. Super nova are very bright and colorful and among the most powerful events in the universe. After a star dies and goes super nova the dust will help make new stars in the future. Coincidently, in today’s news, Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ is now back in the charts. It is top of the charts in 16 countries, knocking off Adele, the heir apparent to Amy Winehouse as the face of British “blue- eyed” soul music off the top of the ITUNES charts.

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About Joseph

natty dread bastard child of the first world. something like a literary trap beat.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “The Death Of A Star:Amy Winehouse and the Myth of the Forever 27 Club

  1. Thoughtful & well-written. Thank you for sharing this.

    Posted by Eric Hope | August 1, 2011, 9:24 AM
  2. Why wasn’t Robert Johnson or Brian Jones mentioned?

    Posted by Jopin27 | September 3, 2011, 1:18 AM
    • I specifically chose to highlight the more recognisable members of the club and it was in no way a slight towards the other young and talented lives in this macabre club of lives snuffed out too soon. I assumed that if people were that interested they would look up the club themselves and come across the other members. Also, the piece was not about the members of the club as much as it was about Amy Winehouse and the intersection of fame, pressure, sensationalism, celebrity worship, pop culture and death.

      Despite my omissions I hope that you enjoyed the piece all the same.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Posted by Joseph | September 3, 2011, 5:55 PM
  3. I actually have a tendency to agree with every thing that has been
    written throughout “The Death Of A Star:
    Amy Winehouse and the Myth of the Forever 27 Club Joseph Boston”.
    Thanks for pretty much all the advice.Thanks-Louanne

    Posted by Marylyn | February 21, 2013, 3:21 AM

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  1. Pingback: “It’s Better To Burn Out Than To Fade Away” | Oh No, Not Another Blogger - March 26, 2015

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