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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

The 27 Club: If you're a musician, it's the one group you don't want to join. If you're in, it means you'll never get out, and it also means that you'll never be president of the United States because you'll come up short on the minimum age requirement to toss your hat in the ring.

The 27 Club has but two requirements: The first is that the inductee be a world-famous musician, the second is that he or she dies at the age of 27.

Membership in the organization is far greater than a statistician might imagine.

The founding member of the club was Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, the original leader of the bad boys of rock and roll.

As the songwriting team of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards improved, Jones was forced to take a back seat. He grew despondent and abused drugs. In June of 1969, he left the group and was replaced by Mick Taylor. Less than a month later, Jones died in a swimming pool under mysterious circumstances.

He was just 27 years old.

About a year later, the 27 Club claimed its second member.

In the fall of 1970, there was no one bigger in the rock world than Jimi Hendrix. This master of sexy showmanship and sartorial splendor was also a true musical genius. He invented a feedback-driven guitar style still widely imitated but never equaled.

After an extended stint honing his chops in England, Hendrix destroyed the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and famously closed the Woodstock Festival in 1969, putting his own unique stamp on our national anthem.

Like Jones, Hendrix was a troubled man who sought solace in drugs and booze. He was found dead in September 1970. The coroner determined the cause of death as asphyxiation on vomit, the result of a fatal mixture of sleeping pills and wine.

The world lost its greatest guitar player ever, and the 27 Club doubled in size.

It wouldn't take long for the club to become a trio.

A few weeks later, blues-rock singer and hippie-chick icon Janis Joplin was found dead at Los Angeles' Landmark Motor Hotel. A lethal dose of heroin, possibly mixed with alcohol, robbed the world of one of the finest voices ever immortalized on vinyl.

Joplin had long struggled with deep insecurity about her looks and weight, and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. She cleaned up shortly before her death, and seemed to be finding a more optimistic outlook with a fiance and a new band.

One of the last interviews she did was with David Dalton of Rolling Stone magazine. She told him, "I'm a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything. ... It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn't know what to do with it. But now I've learned to make that feeling work for me. I'm full of emotion and I want a release, and if you're on stage and if it's really working and you've got the audience with you, it's a oneness you feel."

Nearly nine months later to the day, the 27 Club became a quartet when the Lizard King signed his membership card.

Jim Morrison was rock's first true antihero. The Doors singer despised fame and yearned to be appreciated for his literary talent.

The Doors took their name from Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception," an account of his drug experiments. The title was a nod to visionary poet William Blake's famous declaration, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."

Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of a rented apartment in Paris. Accounts of what killed him are conflicting. Some point to the obvious conclusion: a heroin overdose. Others speculate about murder, or suicide. Some blame his childhood asthma.

Others even suggested that Morrison faked his death to escape the spotlight of fame.

No autopsy was performed. Morrison's grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is visited as often as the Eiffel Tower. And the music of the Doors remains as vibrant today as when it was recorded over four decades ago.

Many other rockers clocked out during their 27th year, including Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson of Canned Heat, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan of the Grateful Dead, Pete Ham of Badfinger, and Dave Alexander of the Stooges. Kurt Cobain singlehandedly rewrote the rules of rock, introducing the world to grunge with his band Nirvana. The Seattle Sound changed radio and pointed out the door to the overabundance of spandex-wearing hair bands that defined the '80s for MTV addicts.

Cobain was found dead in his home. He had committed suicide by shotgun blast. A note left behind, written to an imaginary childhood friend, gave some insight into his frame of mind: "I haven't felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing ... for too many years now."

Troubled singer Amy Winehouse recently became the club's newest member. Ambulances were called Saturday to her home in Camden, England, where she was found unresponsive.

Winehouse's amazing contralto turned on a whole new generation to the joys of rhythm and blues. Like the other 27 Club members, Winehouse had struggled with substance abuse.

Maybe all the deaths can be encapsulated in the words of guitarist Robbie Robertson as he described to filmmaker Martin Scorsese why his group, The Band, was leaving the road after two decades of touring and recording: "Because it's a goddamned impossible way of life."

Here's a toast to all members of the 27 Club: We salute you for what you gave and for what you left behind, but we damn sure hope your club has finished its membership drive forever.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 26, 2011