27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse by Howard Sounes (2015)
27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix,
Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse
by Howard Sounes
Da Capo Press, 2015
Drugs, drunkenness, and depression all too often lead to one conclusion: death, especially if you are a famous musician aged 27. From blues legend Robert Johnson to Grateful Dead keyboardist Pigpen McKernan, the list of “27 Club” members is long and varied, but drugs and mental illness played a part in a large number of deaths. There are, of course, some who are more famous than others, and they are the main focus of Howard Sounes’ book, 27: A History of the 27 Club. Sounes examines the life, ascent to fame, descent into madness, and ultimate death of the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors’ Jim Morrison, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.
The in-depth look at these six individuals, their disposition to addictive behaviors, their frantic mood swings and deep depressions, creates a sort of sympathy for them in the reader’s mind. They had the faculty to alter their course, but for whatever reason could not bring themselves to change in time. I have read quite a bit about Hendrix and Morrison in the past, but this was my first real exposure to the rise and fall of the other four musicians and the similarities they shared with each other. I can still remember hearing of Cobain’s demise on the radio in 1994; though I was not a fan of the grunge scene, the significance of the singer’s age was not lost on me.
Sounes does a great job profiling each of the rockers, without offering a solution for future superstars to avoid death, other than perhaps to steer clear of intoxicants and surround yourself with positive people that can help combat bouts of depression. 27: A History of the 27 Club is a worthy addition to the library of classic rock bookworms.
Jim Morrison is one of the most enigmatic figures in rock and roll history, and in the four decades since his death, there is as much myth as there is fact believed about the singer of The Doors. British music journalist Mick Wall sets out to separate fact from fiction and clear up the misinformation that has been widely accepted as accurate history. One such area of confusion deals with Morrison’s death: Wall refutes the long-standing notion that the singer died in a Paris bathtub, and presents the truth of Morrison’s demise.
Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre—which is subtitled “A Biography of The Doors”—is about Jim Morrison. The other members of the group—Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore—are each given a brief biographical sketch, but after that are generally only mentioned in relation to the singer. Make no mistake, this is a biography of Jim Morrison more than it is of The Doors, because without Morrison, The Doors would not have existed. That is not to discredit the musicians that provided his backdrop; Wall is very respectful toward them and gives them as much ink as is possible. But even after his death, they are simply overshadowed by Morrison.
Wall was able to secure some reluctant interviewees for his book, including Jac Holzman, Bruce Botnik, and Bill Siddons. Along with interviews with Manzarek, Kriger, and Densmore, and others who knew Morrison during his days with The Doors, Wall paints a picture of a larger-than-life individual who was made even bigger than that by posthumous biographies such as No One Here Gets Out Alive and Oliver Stone’s 1991 film. Wall tries to reign in some of the legend that is so ingrained in the minds of the fans, but it will be interesting as time goes on how much truth wins out over the more tantalizing tales that have been told.
Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre is a necessary work to understand who The Doors—and specifically Jim Morrison—really were. There are obviously sensitive themes and crude language throughout, so it is not recommended for younger readers, but adults should find it entertaining as well as enlightening.