Patterson Hood celebrates life and death with a “27 Club” mixtape

Patterson Hood celebrates life and death with a “27 Club” mixtape

In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.

The mixer: A member of the Drive-By Truckers for more than 15 years now, Patterson Hood is somewhat of an elder statesman in the alt-country scene. Still, it’s only recently that he’s started making solo records, like the new Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance, his third. With its genesis in a book Hood started writing about his life when he was 27, Heat Lightning aims to capture the anxiety inspired by that age. With that in mind, The A.V. Club asked Hood to make a mix about the infamous “27 club”: singers, writers, and artists who died when they were 27.

Robert Johnson, “Hellhound On My Trail”
Patterson Hood: If you’re going to do a song list based on that subject matter, it does kind of begin with him. He was the first great rock ’n’ roll death, even though it was 20 years before they started calling it rock ’n’ roll. But he kind of laid out the archetype for the whole rock ’n’ roll mythology—his life and death. And he wrote that book then, back in the ’30s, so it kind of does begin with him. 

Hank Williams, “Cold, Cold Heart”
PH: Likewise, I put a Hank Williams track on here because he died at 29. Twenty-seven gets all the press, but 29 is really just about the same difference. I think a lot of young, particularly males—females too, but particularly males—flame out at that age. And I think it’s not just in music. I think the musical heroes get a lot of attention and publicity, but I think it happens in life in general, too, that there’s so much pressure in our society to have achieved. We’re such an achievement-based society, and the goal is to achieve something tangible by the time you’re 30. And, you know, 27 is when you wake up and it’s upon you. It’s like, “Oh, shit. I’m not going to make it by 30. I’m not going to have done those things by then.” And that may not be necessarily why someone like Kurt Cobain died at 27, but I think that is a big part of the cultural makeup of our society. 

I’m way on the other side of 30, but I vividly remember 27 almost killing me. Enough to where I was attempting to write a book about it, and it ended up being a big part of this record, and has reared its head in other songs along the way that I’ve written, that if I’d written them at a different time probably would have been on this record. So yeah, I get that. 

Gram Parsons, “$1000 Wedding”
PH: He died just, like, a month short of turning 27. But somehow it just fit too, you know. He might as well have been 27. And I love that song. It was an excuse to put that song on a mixtape, too, because that’s a great song. That’s my favorite Gram Parsons song. And probably one of the most blatantly dark ones, too. 

Neil Young And Crazy Horse, “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”
The A.V. Club: In your notes about this song, you say that it was included for its mention in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

PH: Right, though [Crazy Horse member] Danny Whitten was younger than 27 when he died. [He was actually 29. —ed.] He was real young, but his death haunted Neil Young in his life and in his work for many, many, many years. A lot of my favorite Neil Young songs or records came out of his being haunted by Danny Whitten’s death. “The Needle And The Damage Done” to the Tonight’s The Night album, which is my favorite Neil Young album. Then the fact that Cobain quoted that song in his suicide note, which inspired Neil Young to do an entire Crazy Horse album about that a year later and all that, so that just seemed like a good one to include. 

Bob Dylan And The Band, “I’m Not There”
PH: This one might have been a little bit of a stretch, I don’t know. Dylan was probably around 27 when he did this song, though. And he almost died at that point in his life, or at least that’s the legend of the motorcycle accident. No one will really know, I guess, how close he came or if it was all kind of blown up and an excuse to disappear for a while or reinvent himself. But whatever happened, he did The Basement Tapes right after that, and “I’m Not There” seems like a fitting one to include. 

Badfinger, “No Matter What”
PH: Two members hanged themselves in that band, and that’s an interesting statistic. You know, two suicides in one band is a lot to start with, but two by hanging and one [Pete Ham] at 27? And I love “No Matter What,” that’s a great song. Jay Gonzalez, who plays with me in the Downtown Rumblers and the Drive-By Truckers, he’s got a solo thing he’s doing, and they end their set with a cover of that a lot of times. And it’s smokin’. Great song. 

Chris Bell, “I Am The Cosmos”
Minutemen, “Shit From An Old Notebook”
PH: Wonderful song, great artist. Big Star, God, three out of the four are gone. And I’m friends with Jody Stephens a little bit, their drummer, and what a wonderful guy. 

But yeah, I love “I Am The Cosmos,” and honestly, I didn’t realize he was 27 when he passed away until I was putting this together and I was poking around online just looking at the different lists. 

Same with the Minutemen; I didn’t realize that D. Boon was 27, either. And of course his wasn’t a self-destructive death; his was an accident. He was someone that I think planned on living to be a ripe old age, and he didn’t live particularly self-destructively, but when you spend 300 days a year on the road, sometimes that can catch up with you, and of course in his case, he actually wasn’t touring, he was on vacation when it happened, which is just kind of another one of those weird ironies, I guess. 

AVC: It’s kind of surprising that doesn’t happen more, considering how many bands are on the road in vans that they don’t take care of or don’t put new tires on or that they’re driving recklessly.

PH: Oh, I can’t believe it. I’m amazed we didn’t die. I’m amazed that we lived through what we used to do. We tour a lot now, but it’s real different. We’ve got families, and we’re a lot more careful and not self-destructive about it. We take a lot of care now. But in our younger, wilder days, when we didn’t really feel like we had a lot to lose, we didn’t think anything about taking off on journeys in vans with bad tires. We’ve had blowouts and slid through intersections on rainy roads pulling a trailer and all kinds of crazy stuff, usually drunk. So it’s a wonder. 

Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz”
Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
PH: I should have put Hendrix on here, but the problem with putting Hendrix on a mixtape is it alters the mood of the tape so extensively that where do you go from there? I love Hendrix, but I really only listen to him when I’m in a very particular mood. It only works on mixtapes when you end with that or something, and I’d already planned on ending with “All Apologies.” But yeah, Janis, Jimi, and Jim [Morrison], the three J’s that all died like a month apart or something. That’s where such a big part of the rock mythology comes from. 

As far as Amy Winehouse goes, that’s a fucking shame. She was a real talent. She could’ve really gone on to be a great artist, but as it turns out, she made one pretty good record that probably wasn’t even really scratching the surface on what she could do. 

I saw her live two years before she passed away at a festival in England, and it was truly one of the worst pieces of shit I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, it was awful. It was every bit as bad as the tabloids would say it would be. It was pathetic. And I remember sitting there kind of watching it, and I’d heard her record and seen footage of her performing well and knew what she was capable of, and I remember sitting there going, “Well, you know, she’ll either get it together and live to tell the tale and go on to do something great, or you know, this will be it. She’ll die.” And it’s sad when that happens. 

AVC: The industry didn’t really do her any favors. She got so popular so quick and she just had to stay on that machine.

PH: It’ll do that. It’ll definitely do that. And you know, the machine will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. And if you’re given to kind of abusing yourself, it just makes it that much easier for them, and especially if you end up getting into that whole tabloid scene, which is even worse in England than here. It’s a shame. 

The Rolling Stones, “Out Of Time”
PH: Of course that’s for Brian Jones, who’s another one of the charter members of the club, and that was the last full album he did with them. I guess he was on Beggars Banquet, but he was kind of in and out on that one whereas on Aftermath, he was a very vital part of the band. [Jones contributed as a multi-instrumentalist to three more Rolling Stones albums before his death. —ed.] And I love “Out Of Time.” I think that’s definitely, probably my favorite early-era Stones song. 

Nirvana, “All Apologies”
AVC: You said that you intended to end with “All Apologies,” and you did. 

PH: Yeah, which is a phenomenal, great song. That song really holds up. 

Our big cause is a thing called Nuci’s Space here in Athens, which is kind of an artist’s resource center. It’s non-profit and bands can practice there, go there and have someone show you how to fix your gear and guitar and all that, but they also help artists, musicians, get health care and particularly psychological health care when needed. And the No. 1 goal of what they do is suicide prevention amongst the local artists and musicians in Athens. And they’ve done really incredible work. But one of the offshoots of what they do is this rock ’n’ roll band camp every summer for teenagers, and I volunteer once per session. I go and spend a day with them and it’s always, like, two of my favorite days of the summer every year, when I do those sessions. I noticed the first year we did it, everybody was sitting in a circle and everyone was saying who their favorite songwriter was, who moved them. This was probably four or five years ago, and in all the intervening years since, when that’s happened, the one artist that’s named the most, over and over, continues to be Kurt Cobain. Even that first year when they were doing it, I was looking around the room and I was thinking, “The oldest kids here were 2 when he died. And weren’t born yet when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came out, and the youngest ones here weren’t born yet when he died.” It’s like his music really has had a staying power that I think a handful of people probably predicted at the time. That song kind of illustrates why. It is just a stunning piece of songwriting. 

AVC: How much of that do you think is due to being gone too soon? The same goes for Robert Johnson and these other artists. A very limited body of work remains. 

PH: Well, of course. You never have to see them get old and fat and lose it and go to Vegas. They get to stay young and beautiful and super-talented and super-fucked-up, all of which is magnetic. There’s definitely a magnetism to the super-fuck-ups that are really talented, and like the Neil Young song says, “Better to burn out than fade away.” Which is coming from someone who has managed to do neither. 

AVC: It doesn’t have to be one or the other. 

PH: No it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But hanging in there, that’s the hard one. Just to figure out how to not die and still be cool. That’s a tough one.