#22) The 27 Curse Lives

The unluckiest number in pop music history just got a little bit unluckier last week when Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27.  She joined an unfortunate club that includes Jimi Hednrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain: other rock stars who died at that same age.

What is it about the number 27?  Perhaps it’s because many 27-year olds, particularly those who experience sudden fame, are getting old enough to realize that they have paid a price for it, but are also still to young to really do anything about it.  It’s easy to think you know it all, especially when fans are bowing down to you.  But as Jim Morrison’s former bandmate John Densmore points out in his autobiography, when you rise to the top at  young age, “the steep downside needs to be respected.”  Unlike her fellow club members, Winehouse lived in an age when one mistake or poorly chosen word can travel the world in a second, thanks to Twitter, Yahoo and other things that Morrison, Joplin and even Cobain didn’t have to deal with.

My relationship with the number 27 has evolved.  In the late 80s and early 90s, as a high school student with very little real world experience, I bought into the mythology of Morrison, Hendrix et. al as martyrs and saints.  Twenty-seven seemed like a long way off; I didn’t plan on sticking around past 23 myself.  Later, having become a jazz snob, I was dismissive over Cobain’s death.  His grunge music, after all, was taking away the attention from us real musicians.

Four years ago, my marriage was falling apart right in front of me, and Amy Winehouse’s song “Rehab” seemed to be mocking me.  You couldn’t get away from that song if you tried.  Even my ex, a fan of top 40 radio, hated it.  Had I learned then of Winehouse’s demise, I might have taken a sort of nasty pleasure in it.  I did appreciate the irony when reports of her substance abuse problems started multiplying, but after a while, contempt became pity, which soon became indifference.   Eventually, celebrity misbehavior just becomes old news.  But now, hearing  of her death gave me pause in a way that I didn’t think it would.

No, I’m not going to jump on any kind of posthumous bandwagon here.  Her music didn’t move me when she was alive (her talent notwithstanding), and it won’t now.  But it just serves as a reminder not only of the temporariness of life, but that celebrities are humans who feel emotions just like the rest of us.  Did Amy Winehouse make all of the right decisions?  No.  But one could certainly argue that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Still, on a personal level, there’s a silver lining: hearing Winehouse’s name in the news reminds me of the personal progress I’ve made since she ruled the air-waves.  I’ve built a new life since then with a lot of good people, places and things.  When I find myself fuming while stuck in traffic or otherwise getting upset at life’s little annoyances, I think back to when my life really did suck, and am grateful that since then, it’s headed in the polar opposite direction from that of the woman whose music I couldn’t escape.

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