This is great. While I’ve been out of the rhythm of writing blog posts and everyone else has been out of the rhythm of reading them, suggestions for blog posts have been coming in by email, facetube and twitter. It’s almost like you guys actually want me to write some stuff.
Do ya miss me? Huh? Do ya?
One such suggestion came from the UK, from an anaesthesiologist (I think that’s what she does, anyway?) and involved a retrospective cohort study, conducted in Australia, asking – after Amy Winehouse’s untimely but not entirely unexpected death and the fuss over the “27 Club” – whether 27 was really a dangerous age for famous musicians.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Australian scientists have pondered important questions in the BMJ using cohort studies. Who could forget the seminal research of Lim et al at an Australia research institute back in 2005, investigating the disappearance of teaspoons from er… an Australian research institute?
This 2011 paper on the 27 Club (or, as it appears, the lack of it), comes from Adrian Barnett and others from Queensland University of Technology and uses complex statisical methods to analyse the mortality rate of musicians who had number 1 hits (albums) in the UK between 1956 and 2007 and compare them to the mortality rate amongst the general UK population. During this period 71 (7%) of the musicians died.
The sample included crooners, death metal stars, rock ‘n’ rollers and even Muppets (the actors, not the puppets). The total follow-up time was 21,750 musician years.
The authors used mathematical analysis to determine the significance of age 27. They found no peak in the risk of death at this age, however musicians in their 20s and 30s were two to three times more likely to die prematurely than the general UK population.
The research team found some evidence of a cluster of deaths in those aged 20 to 40 in the 1970s and early 1980s. Interestingly, there were no deaths in this age group in the late 1980s and the authors speculate that this could be due to better treatments for heroin overdose, or the change in the music scene from the hard rock 1970s to the pop dominated 1980s.
The authors conclude that the “27 club” is based on myth, but warn that musicians have a generally increased risk of dying throughout their 20s and 30s. They say: “This finding should be of international concern, as musicians contribute greatly to populations’ quality of life, so there is immense value in keeping them alive (and working) as long as possible.”
Their frame of reference begins with Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! on 28 July 1956 (dead), and continues through to Leona Lewis’ Spirit on 18 November 2007 (sadly still with us). However, as with any research, it has its limitations:
Our sampling scheme only captured three of the seven most famous 27 club members), as one fell outside our time period (Robert Johnson, who died in 1938), and three did not have a number one UK album (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison).
Although we only captured three of the seven famous 27 club members, we did capture seven Muppets.
I can hardly wait to see what Australian statistical research provides us with in December 2017.