“It’s funny the way most people love the dead. Once you’re dead you’re made for life”- Jimi Hendrix
2016 proved to be a menace for us, the lovers of true music, the music that makes sense. We have lost so many of our icons, unexpectedly but all too soon. Legends such as David Bowie, Nick Menza formerly of American thrash metal band Megadeth, and Prince are just some of the members of a long list of rock-stars who took either the Stairway to Heaven or the highway to Hell.
There are a lot of varied reasons for their passing from drugs to alcohol, surprisingly many died from reasons other than substance abuse, for example David Bowie who died of cancer. Drugs, alcohol and sex is synonymous with the rockstar lifestyle.
It is a cultural phenomenon that has been an epitome of the music industry, since the ‘60’s, the decade in which rock started to shape its place into mainstream music, with acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin dominating radio airwaves over the next few years.
It is common knowledge that recreational drug use leads to many rock musicians developing strong addictions to illicit substances, but what often gets overlooked is the underlying causes of musicians frequently indulging in drugs.
Most Rockstars Die At An Age Lower Than Average Life Expectancy
One notably surprising finding was that the average age of rockstars who died this year was 49 while the average life expectancy of an American adult is about 76 years.However, deaths at younger ages routinely occur in developed countries even in the general public for example deaths of individuals aged less than 25 years were 67,044 in the USA and 8126 in the UK back in 2009.
These deaths are also disproportionately associated with substance use with instance around one in four deaths in 16-year-olds to 24-year-olds in England was due to alcohol.
Due to the deaths of cultural icons such as Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin at age of 27, many pop culture historians named this phenomenon “the 27 club”.
Research published at The Conversation by Dianna Theadora Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at the University of Sydney, found that the 27 club has wrongly become a symbol of early death of musicians.Kenney analyzed the deaths of over 12,000 popular musicians between the years of 1950 and 2014. What she found was that the late 50s and early 60s are the years the artists in her database were most likely to die, with the age of 56 being the most probable resulting in 2.3% compared to age 27 which only caused 1.3% deaths.Hence 56 is not really considered a young age, but considering the average life expectancy of an American adult, it’s still pretty young. According to Kenny, average life expectancy of musicians was 25 years less than the comparable US population.
So what could be the possible reasons for such stars fading away way before their time.
Rockstars Often Have Troubled Childhoods
According to a 2013 study, published in the British Medical Journal, many musicians have a tremulous childhood, often falling victim to child abuse or poverty.
A notable example would be Michael Jackson, whose father was notorious for physically punishing Michael as a child, often grilling him for not performing to his expectations.
This led to Michael being mentally scarred for life. Michael later, in sort of a twisted fashion, tried to relive his childhood by being intimate in kids.His pedophilic behavior was due to the violence he endured at home whilst growing up.This abuse hindered his mental development, and led him to take prescription drugs which eventually were a factor in his death.
Poverty is also a major contributing factor in these deaths. Many musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, who died at a young age of 27, belonged to poor backgrounds.
what this means is that musicians who became overnight sensations, receive a lot of wealth, stardom and fame, many of which are unequipped to handle properly.
Hence, they start blowing their money on drugs and sex, a habit which spirals out of control almost always. Fame becomes hard to handle, which can cause a lot of mental stress on such musicians plus their grueling workload which involves countless hours of travelling and being away from their family and friends can lead to isolation, depression and anxiety.
Musicians are then prescribed prescription medications, which leads to dependence, accidental overdose and eventually death.
Lack of education and rough neighborhoods is another factor which stains lives of many a rockstars. Rough neighborhoods such as Harlem are breeding ground for gang violence, thefts and street drugs.It’s difficult for a child to survive in these areas and often their survival depends on partaking in such activities from an early age.From belonging to a gang for dominance and control of the streets, to peddling drugs is all part of life.
Therefore, it is not necessary that fame is the only viable access to a life of drugs and partying, since many musicians, especially rap artists are exposed to violence and drugs from an early age, prior to fame.
Although some rock and pop stars may seek fame as a tool to escape tough and abusive childhoods, such factors are rarely considered when examining their premature mortality.
Instead, substance use and risky behavior are largely discussed as part of the rockstar lifestyle, music industry culture, responses to the pressures of fame or even part of the musician’s creative process.
There Is More Social Media Coverage Than Ever Before
Due to the massive boom in social media coverage over the past years, more people across the globe have access to information which was previously limited to the source of organization, and took days to reach audiences far away.
Now with social media dominating our lives ever more so than before we have virtually unlimited access to information at our fingertips.
These days it is far easier to see a tweet, a Facebook post or headline from any major publication than ever before. What this means is that we get constant updates starting from early reports to ongoing investigations about a celebrity’s death.
For example Prince’s death was closely watched by many beloved fans and early reports indicated that he died of influenza, but later it was revealed that Prince died due to accidental overdose of fentanyl, an extremely potent painkiller.
Being A Rockstar Is A Full-Time Job
Even if we took the drugs and glamour out of a rockstar’s lifestyle, it is important to remember that, being a rockstar, at the end of the day, is a full-time job, with many grueling long working hours involving lots of travelling.
Performing a concert each night is quite physically demanding that eventually does take its toll, not to mention most concerts start late in the evening and go on late in the night.
So practically all rockstars are doing night-shift jobs.
A 2014 study has found that conducted by sleep and systems biology researchers from the University of Surrey, has found that the circadian rhythms, body’s internal clock, of many genes are disrupted when sleep times shift.These disruptions most often occur during jetlag and night-shift work, which is extremely common for a musician. Researchers observed 22 participants placed on a 28-hour day schedule, with their sleep-wake cycle delayed by four hours each day until sleep occurred during the middle of the day.They then collected blood samples to measure the participants’ rhythms of gene expression.The results showed that there was six times more likely to disrupt gene expression.
Disrupted gene expression reduced the gene’s optimal performance in regulating many vital body functions, therefore increasing risk of strokes, elevated blood pressure levels and heart attacks.
Hence, a musician who hasn’t dabbled in the darker side of music, is still at a risk of early death as just as a professional hazard.
Being A Rockstar Is Both Physically And Mentally Demanding
Many musicians have to be in tip-top shape due to the fact it is so physically demanding, most have to follow a strict regimen of discipline, diet and exercise, similar to many professional athletes.
A study published in 2008, monitored Clem Burke’s physiology, Blondie’s drummer for 8 years and found that 90 minutes of drumming could raise his heart rate to 190 beats a minute, burning between 400 to 600 calories in an hour in concert performance.
Burke was connected to equipment to measure his heart rate and oxygen uptake, and the levels of lactic acid in his blood.It was discovered that during a performance, his heart averaged between 140 and 150 beats a minute, peaking at 190, levels comparable to other top athletes.
Another 2010 study investigated the effects of fatigue on performance quality induced by a prolonged musical performance. 10 musicians participated in the study by playing 10 minutes of their chosen wind instrument that they played three times consecutively.Prior to the performance and within short breaks between performances, researchers collected heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, blood lactate concentration, rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and rating of anxiety.All performances were audio recorded and later analyzed for performance errors. Results showed all markers of physical stress significantly increased by a moderate to large amount, varying from 4.6 to 62.2% once the performance began, while heart rate, respirations, and RPE continued to rise by a small to large amount , varying from 4.9% to 23.5% with each performance.
Hence, many musicians consider physical fitness to reduce stress and increase overall quality of their performance.
Creativity Has Its Price
“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness”-Aristotle
There is a prominent link between musical genius and major mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
Both Aristotle and Shakespeare have remarked that creativity and madness often unleash the same set of emotions in a person.
Mad geniuses such as painter Vincent Van Gogh and mathematician John Nash were troubled recluses, often acting erratically in social scenarios.
There have been numerous studies that have concluded that there is indeed a link between creativity and madness and it may come down to genetic factors.
The Icelandic study concluded that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.Artists that included painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than people working in less creative fields such as agriculture, manual workspace and sales.Musicians are no exception to this dilemma as their art could be their cause of death stemming from years of depression, angst, isolation and anxiety.These symptoms could further increase risk of an early death, as musicians cope with them using illicit substances such as painkillers, depression medication and alcohol.
Legends such as Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, who were pioneers of the 90’s grunge movement, cemented their place in music history with their bands Nirvana, and Alice and Chains.
Both were considered creative geniuses due to their unique yet painful vocal styles that gave birth to a new sound altogether at that time.Yet both died at a young age, Cobain died at 27 from a self-inflicted shotgun wound, while Staley died at an age of 35 from a heroin overdose.Both their deaths are considered eerily similar since both produced same genre of music, both died on April 5th, both had inner demons that eventually took the better of them, yet both were musical geniuses in their own right.
Musicians Lead Complicated Lives
In conclusion, it’s evident that most musicians lead complicated lives, and their art is a source of venting out their angst.
Mental diseases and rough childhoods cause them to turn to drugs and alcohol, which leads to further health problems and accidental death.
Moreover, due to the physically demanding nature of a performing musician, combined with constant travelling takes a toll on their body, leading to many serious health problems that stem out of stress and exhaustion.
So, it comes as no surprise that many musicians seem almost destined for a premature or drug-induced demise.
In the end, I leave you with these immortal words from Layne Staley,” If I can’t be my own, ’’d feel better dead.”