Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Latest Member of the 27 Club

The news that Amy Winehouse was found dead in London yesterday really couldn't have come as a surprise to just about anyone — given her history.

I've been observing the reactions to all this from my friends via Facebook in a kind of detached way. In all honesty, I can't say I was one of her fans. I didn't follow her career closely. I wasn't overly familiar with her music.

(I'll say this about her music — there were times when it reminded me of the music of Jim Croce, a performer from my adolescence who also died young. They had different styles, but there were moments when I would hear things in Winehouse's songs that brought back memories ...)

So I've been keeping my opinions to myself. I've expressed my sympathy to those who seem to be truly grieving this loss because I know all too well how it feels to lose someone who was important to you — even if you never met that person.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't have anything against female singers — I admire the recordings of the likes of Janis Joplin, Carole King and Joni Mitchell as well as groups with prominent female members, like Fleetwood Mac and Heart.

But that was the music of my generation. Winehouse always seemed to have more appeal for folks of my goddaughter's generation — and for some who are a little older than that. In particular, I have been thinking of the young women from my journalism classes in Oklahoma about 15 years ago.

That generation had its own musical idols, of course, but it has had a certain connection with the next generation, too. I suppose there is always such an overlap in musical tastes from one generation to the next — although I would like to believe (as I suppose everyone would) that there will always be a segment of the population that will be drawn to the music on which I was raised.

Anyway, one of the young women from one of those classes observed on Facebook that she was "bummed" about Winehouse's death — but she did not say she was surprised.

And it really is hard — for me, at least — to act surprised. Yes, it is tragic. But it wasn't a surprise. With Winehouse's history of drug and alcohol abuse, how could it be a surprise to anyone?

Presumably, there will be an autopsy to determine what it was that killed her although it won't be scheduled until at least tomorrow. That should answer all — or, at least, most — of the questions that are raised by the death of one so young.

I guess most of us have our suspicions about what the cause will turn out to be. But, unless it turns out to be foul play, the cause isn't as important as the fact that my generation and the ones that have followed are linked in another way now, too.

Winehouse is the latest singer to join the 27 Club.

Actually, it isn't so new for people like that ex–student I mentioned earlier. When she was in school, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, took his own life at the age of 27. That was her introduction to the 27 Club.

And, while people my age and older like to think it was the musical stars of our generation who originated the 27 Club, as I wrote here nearly a year ago, the club appears to have its roots in the 19th century.

Yes, Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison brought attention to the 27 Club and made it appear to be more than an ironic coincidence that they should all die at the same age. Clearly, it isn't new for us, either.

(Maybe it was new when our great–great–grandparents were young lovers.)

For most of those in my goddaughter's age group, though, this is something new. And perhaps that is the ultimate purpose of the 27 Club — to remind us how fragile and fleeting life can be.

Parents would like to spare their children the pain and ugliness of the world, but they know deep down that they can't do that.

Amy Winehouse's life story is a reminder that there are no guarantees.