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on 12 November 2013
Howard Sounes has found 50 musicians who died at 27. They are listed at the end of the book, but just the most famous six are actually profiled. He did it in a parallel style rather than profile each of them at a time. This way, you can see the deterioration as it happened in each of them. You can pick out where they went wrong and where someone should have taken charge and clopped them up the side of the head.
The most coverage clearly goes to Amy Winehouse who is both the most recent and the closest to home - Sounes' home, London. She seemed to have been the brightest and possibly the most talented, but also the weakest.
None of the protagonists comes off very well. They all seem to be spoiled brats who don't get along with others. Some of them were justly famous for trashing a stage or a hotel room or a house, like little kids not getting their way, stomping their little feet. Except they were bigger and had business managers who would take care of the charges.
They have several traits in common: boredom, loneliness, inability to co-operate with other bandmembers, fed up with their chosen careers, and of course, chemical abuse in the form of alcohol, cocaine, heroin and marijuana, along with a litany of prescription pills.
Except for Amy Winehouse, none of them died rich. They were only just coming into their own, with maybe a fancy car to their name. Most of them hated what they did for a living, showing up drunk and stoned, and cursing the paying public when it booed them for doing so (and performing badly). They flirted with suicide, what with things going so rottenly for them.
What is strange is that no one but themselves was holding a gun to their heads. If they were bored, fed up, hated touring, hated performing, needed drugs just to show up - then stop doing that. Go back to school. Create a startup. Retire. Invent a second act. But not one of them seemed able to think outside their little box of suffering. Hardly inspiring. They died in their vomit or passed out into a swimming pool or an end table. None of these heroes is heroic.
The final chapter is the most interesting. It details how their heirs leveraged their works into multimillion dollar industries, providing lifetime income, probably for several generations, what with copyright laws now at 93 years.
It's a fascinating journey, and one that could clearly have been avoided in every case.