The death of the British singer Amy Winehouse is a terrible silencing of the voice of a generation. Yet somehow, because there is an apparent pattern of celebrated young musicians dying at age 27, her death has become something more than a simple tragedy.
A cult of sorts has formed around that number. As one website dedicated to the phenomenon puts it: "The statistical anomaly of some of our greatest musicians dying at the age of 27 has created mystery and intrigue." But it has created something more sinister than that, an attitude summed up by one newspaper headline: "The good die young." The quasi-reverential aspect to such pangs of regret is shameful. Contrary to the implication, there is nothing pure, or noble, or good, about dying a preventable death at the age of 27.
The infamous concept of the 27 Club has spread across art, apparel and many other media. There is a studiously documented 27 Club entry on Wikipedia. Thousands of people have "liked" a 27 Club page on Facebook. It has been used as the premise for a film. The list of names in the "Forever 27 Club" pantheon include Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin, along with many lesser-known musicians such as Pete Ham of Badfinger and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (late of the Grateful Dead). Yet the entire idea is morbid, and hangs over the heads of troubled young musicians like a grim prophecy. The 27 Club is dangerous.
Ms. Winehouse, who trod along her malt-scented path of destruction for some years, was certainly talented. Her death is a tragedy for her family and friends, and a loss for music, which benefited from such a pure vocal gift against the backdrop of electro-noise. The Rolling Stones' Ron Wood perhaps put it best: "Such a beautiful singer. Such a waste." Yes, the good die young, but they also die in middle age, and they die old.