Rockin’ On Heaven’s Door

August 22, 20176 min read

TW: mentions of suicide, mental illness and drugs abuse.

The news about Chris Cornell’s death three months ago shocked thousands of people, he had one of the most powerful and distinct voices in the industry and was overall an amazing artist with a power to connect to his audience yet, life works in mysterious ways and so do depression and medication.

Magazine articles, books, and even songs have been written about death in the music industry especially in those cases where young and tragic combine. It is, in fact, an industry filled with stories of careers cut short, excesses, and human beings spiraling down into convalescence and cynicism.  In the end, Cobain himself said, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, which in fact he never did (fading away) and probably wouldn’t have done if he had stayed alive.

Everyone has listened to at least a song from one of these famous troubled souls who died too soon, be it Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Chris Cornell, or even Chester Bennington. We have been touched by their music, their words in interviews, and by the energy that they radiated on stage. They touched many people’s lives.

Bowie even wrote a song about it, Rock n Roll Suicide, give it a listen. It’s about the snow ball effect that comes with the crushing rock star lifestyle and the struggle with a mental illness, like depression, combined with drugs, alcohol, and abuse. But is it true that the music industry is surrounded by despair covered in gold? Or is it that mental illness and abuse of substance is a part of the show and creating the art?

“Being a pop star is a crash-and-burn sort of lifestyle, If you go into it, you want adulation. You want to respond to the crowd. You can’t be a pop star in isolation. If you need that adulation, you obviously have other needs” said rock journalist and broadcaster John Aizlewood.

There’s no investigations or studies at the moment that prove that being part of the music industry especially on the rock spectrum will lead to substance abuse and mental illness, yet family members and fans wonder every time a tragedy like this happens as to why is it so easy to link the deaths of rock stars with drug abuse and depression. There’s always something that links one to the other either. The motive, the execution, the substance or the relation between the two.

According to a report by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 1 million adults attempt suicide every year. The rate is equally as alarming worldwide were according to the World Health Organization at least 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in 2013. With these reports, it seems unlikely to be able to find a direct link between rock stars and suicide, because it can be solely related to the fact that they’re human beings, just that their lives in on the public eye and millions of people are looking at them every second of the day. And I get it, because even though it is a life of madness and self-destruction – it is appealing, I mean what it would be like to be adored by millions of people? and having money and nice things nobody else can have?

Yet there’s actually studies from Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University that tries to prove that there’s in fact something that makes rock and pop stars more likely to die prematurely than “normal” people. The study from 2007 focused on 1,064 stars from the rock, punk to new age genres and “compared each artist’s age at death with that of European and U.S. citizens of similar backgrounds, sex and ethnicity” and later reported numbers that showed that “between two and 25 years after the onset of fame, the risk of death was two to three times higher for music stars than for members of the general population matched for age, sex, nationality and ethnic background.”

The rock industry won’t change and whether there’s, in fact, another factor that strikes musicians in a different way than other people and makes their lives cut short or it’s just the components of the rock n’ roll lifestyle like journalist Amanda Hooten described it, “sex, drugs, rehab and bitterness”. It won’t change at least not in the next few years to come and we will continue wondering and thinking about the ‘what ifs’ involving the music industry and the people we have grown to admire.

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Catalina M. Gorbitz

Cata is a media and communications major at college who loves old rock music, languages and read as many books as she can get.

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