Musicians are an emotional lot. Well, the good ones are. The whole point of music is to express emotion and make the world a better place because of it. Expressing pain, dissatisfaction, the drudgery of everyday life, whatever inspires you. April 5, 1994 Kurt Cobain shot himself and stunned the world. It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since that horrible day. Here was a guy who had reached the top of his chosen field and he still couldn't find happiness. It's like that line in the Dylan song when he sings "You'll find out when you've reached the top, you're on the bottom."
We've lost a lot of good ones along the way who died by their own hand. But let us celebrate their lives and their music since that is what remains. The list is ALPHABETICAL--like homeroom roll call--since you don't "rank" something like this.
I started this list not in any way to glamorize these musicians' awful ends--and writing this bit right now after having actually completed the task, I have to admit, it was quite depressing. This was the hardest blog I've written by far. The amount of pain a person must be in to do something so final is no laughing matter, and I do hope that people will reflect on their accomplishments and find some ray of hope. When I hear Kurt Cobain sing "I miss the comfort in being sad," I'm torn. I both understand, and I feel a horrible inevitability. Damn the disease that runs through the Plath family.
Depression, alcoholism, bad business deals, they remind of a great line from songwriter Mark Eitzel, who thankfully is still with us..."Drunk on the kind of applause that gets louder the lower you sink." I get no joy reporting on these people. Even Darby Crash-- the most deliberately destructive of the lot--deserved the chance to grow out of his adolescent mindset that life was not worth living.
And for those wondering where Nick Drake is, I still put him in that category much like Rory Storm who did make this list where I'm not convinced it was suicide but merely an accident waiting to happen.
No getting around it, this list is a bummer.
RIP. And my sincere condolences to their families and friends who carry impossible weights.
There are no punch lines here. Even I'm not that much of a jerk.
Chris Acland (Lush): The drummer for the British shoe-gazing pop band, Lush, who once performed at Lollapalooza, hanged himself in his parents' house at the age of 30, devastating his fellow bandmates and permanently ending the group who made some pretty engrossing music.
Graham Bond: Bond was a major player on the British blues-rock scene and a member of Blues Incorporated as well his own Graham Bond Organization. However, years of drug problems and mental illness led him to be ruled a suicide at the age of 36, as his body was found crushed by the wheels of a train.
Tommy Boyce: Like Kurt Cobain, Tommy Boyce died in 1994 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been part of the Boyce and Hart songwriting duo who wrote hits for the Monkees, including "The Last Train To Clarksville."
Herman Brood: Brood was a lifelong wild man who tried to clean up off drugs. But once he learned he had little time left to live, he jumped from the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in 2001. He recorded many albums but never achieved mainstream U.S success, and lived a legendarily sordid life in Amsterdam that has been memorialized in several films, most recently the 2007 release Wild Romance.
Roy Buchanan: A legendary blues guitarist respected by other players for his innovative techniques, Buchanan was found hanging from his jail cell after being arrested for public intoxication. Buchanan's family and friends dispute the suicide ruling.
Kurt Cobain: Considered to be at the top of his game and signed up to headline the 1994 Lollapalooza tour with his band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain checked out with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head that ended the group and altered the trajectory of rock history at that point in time, as the "alternative" movement was soon replaced by an awful lot of former Disney stars.
Darby Crash: Darby Crash is perhaps the most infamous person on this list, since his heroin overdose was completely premeditated. The lead singer for the L.A. punk band the Germs had planned to kill himself in a pact with a friend who survived. He was 22.
Ian Curtis: It's difficult to listen to the music of Joy Division without hearing the clues that led to their singer hanging himself on the eve of their American tour. Joy Division's music had always been described as bleak and sometimes depressing. Otherworldly would be another apt depiction.
Brad Delp: Once the singer of one of the world's most successful rock bands of the 1970s--that would be Boston--Brad Delp left a note saying he was a "lonely soul." The cause of death was listed as carbon monoxide poisoning.
Pete Ham--Tom Evans (Badfinger): The Behind The Music on Badfinger is one of the most tragic in all of rock n' roll, filled with distrust and financial maneuverings that led two members of the band to hang themselves decades apart.
Danny Gatton: Look up revered guitar players in guitar magazines and you'll often come across the name Danny Gatton who inspired and intimidated with his ruthless playing as a solo artist and contributor to other people's recordings. He died at the age of 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his garage.
Donny Hathaway: Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk in front of the Essex House in NYC where he'd been living, and ruled a suicide. He'd worked as a songwriter, producer and session musician before striking out on his own and recording some great work with Roberta Flack. He struggled with depression.
Doug Hopkins: You could hear it in the songs he wrote for the Gin Blossoms, that yearning quality that said things weren't going so well. He'd been thrown out of the band for his drinking and the band's subsequent success did little to alleviate his own depression. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Michael Hutchence: Once on the covers of magazines and considered an extremely hot rock commodity, Michael Hutchence was found dead in his hotel room, the result of a hanging that some have suggested was actually the result of auto-erotic asphyxiation.
Richard Manuel: Here was clearly a hanging. On tour in Florida after a gig, the Band pianist hanged himself in his hotel room after giving no warning to his fellow bandmates, though his best tunes had always hinted at such somber leanings. Who would expect this?
Joe Meek: Meek was already considered an unusual guy before he turned a shotgun on his landlady and himself. He'd been one of the 1960s most distinctive record producers, coming up with "Telstar" for the Tornados. He claimed Buddy Holly communicated with him from the dead and killed himself on the eighth anniversary of Holly's death.
Phil Ochs: While Phil Ochs and political folk singing will always be forever linked, Ochs was always an amazingly musical and an inventive performer as well. His Greatest Hits album that featured no hits but was great nonetheless reflects his defiant sense of humor. He suffered a mental breakdown and hanged himself in 1976.
Rob Pilatus: The former Milli Vanilli star's death was ruled accidental. He died of a mix of alcohol and prescription pills and had been through drug counseling and spent time in jail for various offenses. He'd obviously been devastated by the fall he took as part of the Milli Vanilli scandal where it was revealed that he and Fabrice Morvan did not sing on the album bearing their likeness. There are far worse crimes in the music business.
Robert Quine: As a member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Quine was arguably the punk era's finest guitar player--move over Tom Verlaine. He went on to play for Lou Reed and practically define the word "angular" for all guitarists after him. His wife's death sent him into an existential tailspin and while never a drug addict, he deliberately overdosed on heroin.
Del Shannon: Del Shannon was an often overlooked piece of rock history--"Runaway" being the big hit here in the US, but he'd always been bigger in the UK. The years took their toll and alcoholism played a part. He'd been taking Prozac for depression but he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1990.
Rory Storm: Sleeping pills and alcohol are never a good idea. And this British Invasion hero was considered to be below the lethal limit when his body was found. It's alleged that upon finding his body, his mother deliberately took a lethal dose of sleeping pills, compounding the tragedy.
Screaming Lord Sutch: His album Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends, despite the participation of his friends Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Nicky Hopkins and Noel Redding, has been consistently considered one of the worst albums of all time. That never stopped Sutch from continuing to rankle the file. However, clinical depression did finally get to him, and he hanged himself in 1999 at the age of 58.
Jason Thirsk (Pennywise): Another young tragedy and another violent end with another self-inflicted gunshot wound, this Pennywise bassist struggled with alcoholism and depression. He was 28.
Wendy O. Williams: The amount of gunshot wounds on this list is a bit of an eye-opener. You'd think we'd be dealing mostly with drug overdoses and other damages from excessive partying, and the argument could be made that those deaths get ruled accidental by their nature, since most probably are. But this Plasmatics singer definitely intended to end her life, as she is said to have left a note explaining that she had thought this out.
Al Wilson (Canned Heat): Here's one where there was no note, but because he had attempted suicide in the past, it's assumed that his drug overdose could very well be interpreted as such. Wilson--known as Alan "Blind Owl" Christie Wilson--sang and played guitar for for Canned Heat, mostly known these days for the song "Going Up the Country" from the Woodstock festival movie soundtrack.