The 27 Club has always been the stuff of legend—and that’s precisely what it is, a legend. Although myths of the patterns between the members of the 27 Club have been busted over and over again, it often seems that music fans can’t stop themselves from leaning on a dark fascination surrounding artists who died before their time.
The concept of the 27 Club is a relatively simple one: there are a variety of artists who passed away at the age of 27 under untimely, often tragic circumstances. Members of the famed 27 Club include the likes of Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and of course, Jim Morrison. Although not musicians, some people extend the reach to celebrities in general, including people like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Anton Yelchin.
The idea that the age of 27 brings about an increased risk of death is an intriguing idea, but an ultimately false one, considering that even a study published in the British Medical Journal in December 2011 concluded that there was no increase in the risk of death for musicians at the age of 27. Still, people cling to the pattern and mystery.
Spiritually, the age of 27 actually has a lot of significance. In astrology, 27 marks the start of your Saturn return, which means that the planet of Saturn goes back to the original location where it sat in your chart at the time of your birth. Mind Body Green’s resident astrologers explain: “Our Saturn return, which will happen two or three times in your life, is a period of getting really serious about who you are, what your legacy is, and what you’re here to leave for the world.”
Detailing further, they continue: “When you get an audit of your foundation and your core structure, you’re going to see where you’re not really that strong. You’re going to find the flaws and the weaknesses and you’re gonna have to work on them.”
All of this is to say, there’s a lot of curiosity not just around the morbidity of losing great talents so young, but also around the reoccurring nature of it. Even without the element of death, some people still find themselves drawn to the event of 27. However, this doesn’t entirely answer the question at hand. Why are people so obsessed with tragedy? Although this is a question of human nature, for which we can’t always have the answer, psychology might give us a bit of an indication.
While it’s no secret that people have an undeniable attraction both to patterns and to tragedy. Sadness draws people in. It’s why you “can’t look away” from a bad car crash. But getting down to it, the world of true crime may actually have some more answers for us here.
Tamron Hall, the host of ID’s Deadline: Crime posits that it can actually give us an unrelated sense of safety, “I think all of you guys watch our shows and say, ‘But for the grace of God, this could happen to me’.” This is sometimes loosely referred to as schadenfreude, though the morbidity is more severe. Dr. Sharon Packer, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, says, “It’s not necessarily sadistic, but if bad faith had to fall on someone, at least it fell on someone else. There’s a sense of relief in finding out that it happened to someone else rather than you.”
People also prefer to experience fear in a controlled environment. As Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University and author of Why We Love Serial Killers said: “As a source of popular culture entertainment, [true crime] allow[s] us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment where the threat is exciting but not real. For example, the stories of real-life killers are often for adults what monster movies are for children.”
But just as there have been questions exploring the ethics of true crime, the same principles apply here. What does this tragedy offer people? And why is the pattern so important—especially if the public is wont to get the details wrong? While curiosity is natural, it’s also important to examine the nature of the curiosity itself, both with the 27 Club and in many other facets of life.