Over the years we have lost many musical legends, be it due to drugs, drink, old age, cancer, suicide or countless other tragic circumstances. However, few deaths in music have hit as hard, or as impactfully as those musicians who died at a young age, right at their peak. The most infamous of those belong to a rather exclusive club, having passed away at the tender age of 27, and this new documentary, 27: Gone Too Soon, takes an in-depth look at perhaps the six most infamous members of that club.
The structure of the documentary is broken down into six unique profiles of Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Each section features interviews with record studio executives, a variety of musicians including Gary Numan and Tom Robinson, as well as various talking heads who weigh in with opinions on the life and death of these iconic figures. The Brian Jones portion is interesting, as it’s not a subject I had much knowledge about going into this doc, but some of the allegations and notions perhaps don not paint Mick Jagger, or the other members of the Rolling Stones in a particularly brilliant light, and the lack of comment from members of the band, or licensed Stones tracks does hurt the validity of those claims. The Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison sections mostly cover familiar ground, but it’s still very interesting to hear the background of both, and the rise and fall. Janis Joplin has perhaps the most intriguing story, but that isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows about her life and music.
There is a distinct divide between the first four profiled members of the 27 club and the final two. Kurt Cobain’s story is much different and the setting being some near 25 years later certainly makes a difference to the presentation and the way Cobain is viewed. It also allows for more footage beyond the concert videos used in the first four profiles, such as MTV vox pops following Cobain’s death in 1994. This theme continues with Amy Winehouse, where the level of imagery and video footage jumps up massively, which really does help illuminate the struggles Winehouse felt and the slow decline that ended in her untimely passing.
Perhaps one of the weaknesses of Gone Too Soon is the lack of originality. I’m not claiming that this isn’t interesting, it’s a fascinating documentary. That said, with maybe the exception of Joplin, all the other members life stories have been covered in depth in documentary format (Montage of Heck for Cobain, and Amy in the case of Winehouse both provided feature-length looks at each respectively), or in feature film format (The Doors, Jimi: All by My Side), so these are well-documented stories, and I’m not sure this documentary adds anything ground-breaking to what we already knew. Again, that’s not to take away from a very interesting look at the backgrounds, careers and ultimately ends of some of the biggest icons in musical history, but it is worth noting.
All in all, 27: Gone Too Soon is an intriguing, engaging and informative documentary that provides a nice gateway into learning about the lives of Cobain, Winehouse, Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, and Jones; and for anyone looking to learn about these icons for the first time, or about the history of the dreaded club, this is a great entry point.