“Gone too soon.”
Without even dropping a name, the phrase floods my ears with Jimi Hendrix’s wailing white strat, Kurt Cobain’s gravelly vocals, and Amy Winehouse’s soulful croon. Although their heydays ranged from the ‘60s to naughties, there is overlap across these stars’ timelines; their deaths. Punctuated at the age of 27, the lives of Hendrix, Cobain, and Winehouse were no doubt influential to pop culture, but arguably more so as they were granted VIP access to the infamous 27 Club. Those with underlying mental illnesses, severe drug habits, and a rapid claim to fame need not apply. As we keep these criteria in mind and recognize that history repeats itself, we as an audience know full-well there are no “happily ever afters” that follow the trajectory of the rockstar lifestyle. Regardless, we perversely glorify what we see through one eye while the other is shut out of horror. Watching an artist’s music skyrocket to the top of the charts while their wellbeing takes a decline isn’t easy on the conscience Nevertheless, the all-too-familiar tragedy unfolds:
- Mental illness or trauma within the star
- Creating music as an outlet
- Said music gaining popularity at a breakneck speed
- Artists using drugs to a) deal with the pressure of stardom, b) create more music, or c) a bit of both
- Chart-toppers produced and fame increases
(NOTE: The star may also pen songs praising drugs – always hits with the crowd. SEE: “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix)
- Repeat steps 2-5 until the age of 27
- “Gone too soon.”
You could argue that the artists’ mental illness and trauma granted them their icon status. Art is no doubt a reliable outlet for the less savoury aspects of life. This belief falls short as it implicitly enforces the idea that they’re prerequisites to being a celebrity. That’s straight-up, not true! Art can be used to deal with mental illness and trauma, but they aren’t necessary to create. Only the artist can make that happen.
Although Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young in his suicide note, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” this mindset erases all possibility of triumph. I’m not trying to say that life “faded away” will be 100% enjoyable because no, life is never without its struggles. I think it’s time for people in our society to realize that the feeling of overcoming those struggles or at least trying to, beats a life cut short by spiralling out of control. Don’t just take it from me; take it from Elton John, who’s been sober for three decades now and is still killing it in the music and fashion industry. Or Bruce Springsteen, who’s been open about his battle with depression but never lost his double-denim dad-rock appeal.
It’s time for a mindset shift in the mental health and creative fame arena. There’s nothing more rock and roll than going against the grain, so persist to spite the voice in your head telling you to remain the same. How’s that for lyricism?
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: MIDHAT MUJADDID
ILLUSTRATION: SADIE LEVINE
EXTERNAL CONTRIBUTOR: MIDHAT MUJADDID