27: Gone Too Soon, the latest documentary to focus on the 27 Club, is shallow, exploitative and offensive. The first clue this film is offering a less than personal take on the untimely deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison comes within the first two minutes when a commentator reminds the audience that there are actually up to fifty famous musicians who’ve died at the age of 27—as if a larger tally somehow makes it better. This clunky approach plagues the entire project, as a mixture of music journalists and biographers rattle off one liners like, “It becomes, in the end, the three Ds: drinks, drugs and depression.”
While this statement isn’t completely false, its nonchalance comes off as insensitive. Each fallen artist is allotted roughly ten minutes worth of vague talent assessment and surface observation of their trauma with their individual drug use being usually mentioned immediately. This format fails not only in that talent such as Hendrix and Morrison’s cannot be unpacked in the length equivalent of two songs, but also because it makes their lives about the end. What’s worse, as the film progresses and the commentators dwell on the dark side of fame, a narrative that addiction is somehow an inevitable byproduct of superstardom begins to form.
Very little music by the artists in question appears in 27 (the filmmakers were no doubt denied the rights), rather what’s left to speak for these luminaries are their demons: Cobain’s family had a history of suicide, Winehouse was destructive from the start, Morrison was anti-social, Joplin was deeply insecure, Jones was a bad boy, Hendrix got angry when he drank. It figures that the film was directed by a former music manager, as the documentary seems set on exploiting the tragedy of young death to make one final cent off these artists.
At the mention of Winehouse and Cobain in a 2014 interview, Lana Del Rey said she wished she were “dead already,” agreeing that there was something glamorous about their premature deaths. There’s this fucked idea that part of what makes these artists so iconic is that they died too soon—I’d argue it was the quality of their work that assured their legacy. What Rey and this documentary get so wrong is thinking that the real tragedy of the 27 Club is the lives worth of music we’ll never get to hear and not the fact these artists never got the chance to live them.