Chapter 14: Long Black Veil (Rock Deaths)

We have two ways of memorializing rock stars who die young: compilation discs and conspiracy theories. Neither method, however, provides an adequate answer as to why so many of them expire in their twenty-seventh year on the planet. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison: all dead at 27. And that’s just the A team: other rockers who just made it through one score and seven include Chris Bell of Big Star, D. Boon of the Minutemen, and Pigpen of the Grateful Dead. That’s old enough to have left their mark, young enough that we can always argue about whether they would have been able to outdo themselves if they had lived.


  1. I heard that friends of James Taylor in college flew his girlfriend in as a surprise, but her plane crashed–which is what “Fire and Rain” is based on. Any truth to that story?
  2. I heard that Jeff Porcaro, drummer for Toto, actually died in a “tragic gardening accident,” a la Spinal Tap. Can that be true?
  3. I heard that the former bassist of Iron Butterfly was an innovative scientist who was killed after finding out in his research that objects could go faster than light. Is this true? It seems pretty bizarre.
  4. Did one of the Temptations die in a crackhouse?
  5. Before Ty Longley of Great White, had any rock stars died onstage?
  6. Did the Yardbirds’ Keith Relf really get electrocuted onstage by an electric guitar?
  7. I got interested in Donnie Hathaway after I heard Ruben Studdard was a big fan, and I was wondering: did he commit suicide?
  8. Did Johnny Ace really shoot himself?
  9. Did Keith Moon and Mama Cass really die in the same apartment?