A Tragic Number

Irina Pino

Jean Michel Basquiat

HAVANA TIMES — Twenty-seven is for many a tragic number. There’s a dark circle that brings special people together, events that are shrouded in mystery and legend.

People talk of the 27 Club, where Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson and Jean Michel Basquiat are part of the list of those who died at the young age of 27.

Morrison and Joplin were rebellious personalities who were alike in their excesses. The poet and the raspy-voiced girl, both capable of prompting collective euphoria, fled from their fears under the wings of narcotics, but they were also the authors of living works of art. They were to become undying echoes, two deaths touched by tragedy, enigmas for those who adored them. Jim went to Paris to die; Janis did so in the loneliness of a hotel room.

They had suffered the lack of understanding of family and friends since the time they were children and hid behind masks to survive in a world of incomprehension and violence.

Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix made their own rules and styles in the world of music. They were innovators who left the mark of their uniqueness in their works. Their experiments broke limits. Their extravagant deaths reveal a certain logic, comparable to that of their troubled lives and circumstances.

Jean Michel Basquiat, the black graffiti artist, became famous in the 1980s, one of those miracle stories that emerge and then disappear, leaving people dazzled. His work, marked by expressionism, was born in the humble neighborhoods of New York and was charged with innocence and vitality.

He would sketch philosophical and anti-establishment drawings on walls that would issue forth without effort, caught between anger, sarcasm and pain. It wasn’t only his voice, but also the voice of all who’d been marginalized. They brought to life jazz musicians, boxers, writers, idols and characters forgotten by the cultural industry of the white man.

Janis Joplin. Photo: Wikipedia.org

The Radiant Child is a documentary directed by Tamra Davis, put together with stock footage of the artist. Here, we see a young man with an innocent, almost childish gaze, somewhat lost, not knowing what to do with his aptitudes. Even though Andy Warhol took him under his wing, he was no stranger to suffering and was occasionally manipulated by his representatives. Money, fame and his adventures in the world of show business distanced him from his friends. Like that poem by Mario Benedetti says, he had such “desolate solitude” that his self-destruction was almost inevitable.

His works came to decorate the urban landscape of New York, covering up walls, banners, rails and subway cars. Then, after becoming successful, he devoted himself to painting, varying his styles. The danger involved in living on the streets is reflected in his paintings. His predisposition to death was a constant in his work. Drugs would destroy him, or, quite simply, give him the illusion he needed.

The strange this is that all these figures, within numerology, have a similar karmic number, which oscillates within the same ranges, with respect to their dates of birth, personalities and deaths.

That said, they were needless deaths that took unique and enormously talented people away from us. Drug abuse, accidents, suicides and, most significantly, a self-destructive mania, was the common cause of their tragic ends.

One thought on “A Tragic Number

  • There is an unfortunate tendency to romanticize mental illness in artists. People with mental illness suffer terrible agonies from their illnesses. A further tragedy is that the early deaths of these great artists robbed the world of their talents. Think of the great music and paintings they could have produced if they had lived longer?

    These artists did not commit suicide because the world failed to appreciate their genius, or because they “hid behind masks to survive in a world of incomprehension and violence”. All of them died at the height of popular and commercial success. Their art was accepted and celebrated. They died of drug overdoses, or as in the case of Cobain a self-inflcited gunshot, because they were suffering from the agony of severe mental illness. Suicide rates peak when people are in the mid-twenties, which corresponds to the period when they symptoms of mental illnesses tend to become the most extreme.

    Hendrix, Cobain & Joplin are all known to have suffered from bipolar disorder, which they self-medicated with large doses of drugs and alcohol. Hendrix wrote a song, “Manic Depression” about his struggle with the illness, as did Cobain with his song, “Lithium”. Jim Morrison was raised in a psychologically abusive family. He died of a heroin overdose. Jean-Michel Basquiat suffered from major depression and heroin addiction, and his mother had spent years in psychiatric wards. Brian Jones was brilliant, but has a deeply jealous, difficult and suspicious personality. Drugs were involved in his death, too. Another member of the 27 Club, Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning. She had for several years indulged in drugs and alcohol, had tumultuous personal relationships and engaged in self-harm (cutting), eating disorders and suffered from depression.

    The only artist in the group not associated with mental illness was the great blues guitar player, Robert Johnson. Legend has it he sold his soul to the devil in return for a gift of musical genius.

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