A wry view of life for the world-weary

It’s Better To Burn Out Than To Fade Away


Neil Young in his lyrics to Rust Never Sleeps epitomises the popular conception of the rock and roll life style – a hedonistic life of excess followed by a spectacular and tragically early demise. Of course, from the mid 1960s onwards many rock stars took industrial quantities of drugs and booze, often substances whose impact on the psychological well-being of the addict was little understood then. Medical techniques for dealing with those suffering from the effects of an overdose were probably less advanced in the early days and the popular mix of amphetamines and sleeping tablets always seemed to me to be a recipe for disaster.

So deep-rooted has the myth of the rock star who like Icarus rises to the top and then crashes in spectacular stylee that there is a rather ghoulish club known as the 27 Club. The qualification for entry is fairly simple – you are (or, rather, were) an established musician and succumbed to a tragically early and suitably rock and roll death at the age of 27. The membership roll looks fairly impressive – Jim Morrison of Doors fame, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix (of blessed memory), Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame and, more recently, Amy Winehouse all succumbed when they were 27. One of the pioneers of the blues, Robert Johnson, led the way as often was the way, dying of poisoning, possibly strychnine, at the tender age of 27 years and 100 days after making his Faustian pact.

But does the rock and roll life style – and of course you can attempt to emulate the chemical intake of your favourites without having the fag of having to twang a few strings in a vaguely rhythmic or melodic fashion – guarantee an early demise? Well, if you believe some research conducted by a researcher at the University of Sydney rock and pop stars do die earlier than us but their danger period is in their 50s rather than in their 20s. Analysing the length of the lives of some 13,000 musicians who have pegged it, the most likely time for a male artist to start a second career issuing posthumous records is in their late fifties and for female artists their early sixties. As well as a vastly shortened life expectancy than Joe Public the rock star is more than twice as likely to die as a result of an accident than us mere mortals and is three times as likely to commit suicide. Musicians are six times more likely to be murdered than the general population. I know the feeling when I hear anyone playing the bagpipes!

So if your son or daughter is thinking about out on the road to rock and roll stardom, bear this in mind. Still, I’m with Neil Young. There is nothing worse than seeing the heroes of your youth still treading the boards in their sixties and seventies attempting to get their arthritic limbs and digits moving and relying on backing singers to get them through a number in order to pay the tax man or fund their seventh divorce. Ironically, Shakey is falling into that category. A true rock and roll star is a supernova, appearing with a spectacular bang and flash and then gone for ever – given the corporate takeover of the music industry, will we ever see their like again?.

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