Music loves myth-making. Be it the bat-chomping antics of Ozzy Osbourne, that rib-tickling rumour about Marilyn Manson, or the broader, age-old ‘live fast, die young’ adage that a thousand and one young musicians have attempted to personify, there’s an appealing mythology to life as a young rockstar, one that only ups the appeal of a life onstage, pitching it as something romantic and otherworldly. Few tropes are as pervasive as “The 27 Club”, though.
Something of a conspiracy theory, The 27 Club is pitched as that thread that ties the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and more, The 27 Club works under the spooky assumption that these deaths were somehow linked, due to their occurrence when the icon in question hit the young age of 27.
Now, perhaps predictably, that story has hit Hollywood, with new movie The 27 Club turning the fictitious post-mortem ‘club’ into the plot of a supernatural horror film. And personifying that club as a big, stinky goblin. Of course.
In a new trailer for The 27 Club, which opens with some woefully cliché impersonators assuming the roles of Cobain, Winehouse and Hendrix, the film’s protagonist is pitched as someone with a long-standing interest in the myth of The 27 Club. Now making a documentary on the club, he hits up his musician friend, who hits us with the trailer’s first horrible clanger: “I’d gladly call it on life at 27 if it meant I had half the success that Amy had.”
Our nameless protagonist hammers home the horror show, stating that the musicians in question “perpetuate the ‘live fast, die young’ fantasy that most people are too afraid to go after.”
That tone-deaf portrayal of the mental toll that fame, fortune and rock ’n roll excess can wreak on an individual, and the insinuation that it’s something ‘brave’ that mere mortals are fearful of, only intensifies as the trailer progresses. The deaths at the hands of the fantastical ’27 Club’ are soon revealed to be the work of a slimy, sticky, pitch-black goblin, who bears a striking resemblance to the creatures at the core of (14-year-old horror movie spoiler warning) British cave-dwelling creep-a-thon The Descent.
“A lot of friends and family have suggested that I would make good movie villain,” says Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame nominee turned actor Todd Rundgren of his role as this grim fantasy monster. “I thought, ‘OK, as long as I’m a handsome villain like Dracula or something.’ Turns out my debut is not quite that. Still, you have to start somewhere and a slobbering ghoul, though not handsome, certainly should satisfy anyone interested in my villainous side.”
If those scripted clangers weren’t bad enough, this personification of the ’27 Club’ as a supernatural creature is ignorant, and a cringe-inducing step backwards in mental health discourse.
Kurt Cobain was the victim of suicide, a near-lifetime of crippling depression brought to a head as the Nirvana star struggled to comprehend his own quick-rising fame. Similarly, Amy Winehouse suffered extensively with addiction, her death at the hands of alcohol intoxication preceded by countless moments in which her illness went unchecked by friends, family and people around her. A scroll through the Wikipedia entry for The 27 Club yields countless other examples of famous musicians, actors and other public figures who’ve died from drug abuse, overdose and suicide, all at the age of 27. It’s a horrifying indictment of the entertainment industries’ lack of due care for its stars – one that often sees vulnerable individuals pushed to their limit, and suffering further at the hands of the mental and physical exertion such things require.
The 27 Club’s insistence on personifying these mental illnesses as something gruesome and supernatural is perhaps unsurprising. The horror industry thrives off these modern-day myths, be it the Jim Carrey vehicle The Number 23, or the upcoming slasher based on the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Adding the 27 Club to this pile, though, does a disservice to those who’ve died as part of it, and those touched by their art, and further pushes their discourse into the realm of mythology, making it far harder for those suffering from such illnesses to speak up and be believed and respected.
Depression, addiction and other mental illness aren’t big scary monsters with sharp teeth and B.O. – they’re very real problems, which make the lives of millions more difficult on a daily basis. Suicide and overdose are horrible, tragic occurrences – and horrible though they might be, they’re not whimsical fodder for horror stories. And they’re certainly not the fault of a snaggle-toothed goblin. If we’re to continue making leaps and bounds in mental health discourse, we need to leave perceptions like The 27 Club’s in the past.