Joining the 27 Club isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be

A lot of American musical heroes have died at the age of 27. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Kurt Cobain. Heck, Brian Jones was from England but you can count him too. Superstars dying while still in their prime has become the climatic symbol of rock-star excess and glamor – the ultimate and almost necessary outcome for those who believe it’s better to burn out then to rust.

But there have been other American musicians that have died at age 27. While their deaths have still been incredibly tragic and often taken place under mysterious circumstances, their stories have lacked the excess and glamor of  “the Big-Five.”

Mia Zapata is perhaps the best example.

Mia Zapata was the frontlady for the grungey/bluesy/punk band the Gits.  The band had formed in Ohio in 1986 before heading to Seattle where they had a very important impact on the music scene there, with Zapata paving the way for other female vocalists and Riot Grrrl bands like 7 Year Bitch.

On her way home from Seattle’s Central District one night in July 1993, Zapata was beaten, raped, and strangled to death. She had been out that evening with some friends remembering Stefanie Sargent, a member of 7 Year Bitch who had died almost exactly a year before.

The police didn’t have a suspect.

Five years after the murder, Daniel House, the owner of local label C/Z Records, told the Seattle Times that  Zapata being killed “was innocence lost. The brutal way she was killed changed the fabric of the community; we could no longer proceed with the same openness. Having that person [the killer] still walking around–maybe he’s the guy at the bar, maybe he’s someone at your own party–that changes the way you look at the world. People haven’t recovered from it.”

The killer was not found until the ten year anniversary of Zapata’s death. The murderer’s DNA had been found in saliva on Zapata’s body, and a match came up on a man in Florida who had been arrested in 2002 for domestic abuse and bulgary.

He is now serving a 39 year prison sentence.

Ben London (Alcohol Funnycar frontman) had this to say about the Gits: Slowly, the Gits took off first – anybody that saw them was converted into a fan. They got asked early on to open a show for Nirvana and Tad and the HUB Ballroom. (Prato, 360)

















Steve Fisk (Producer/Engineer) had this to say about Zapata: [Mia] was a really amazing talent – really delivered in the studio. I’d put her in the top five people I’ve worked with. They were punk rockers, and that’s what they were about. In some ways, we had more records in our collection in common then maybe I had with Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, or Nirvana. They weren’t pretending to be influenced by Ted Nugent. (Prato, 361)

Daniel House (Skinyard, C/Z Records) had this to say about Zapata: She was really sweet, really funny. She was probably the most trusting of them, but still somewhat mistrustful. But once she did, she was warm, genuine, and open. Also very forthright and straight up. She was definitely one of those people that I would refer to as a “no bullshit” kind of person. She’d say what was on her mind – what she thought, what she believed. (Prato, 362)

After Zapata’s murder, Home Alive was formed in Seattle by artists and musicians to raise awareness of danger and violence in the community, and provide education for self-defense. Home Alive recently closed its doors in June after 17 years of activism.

Here’s a song off the 1996 Home Alive complication album the Art of Self-Defense, by Alcohol Funnycar called “Overtaken.”

The song was dedicated to the memory of Mia Zapata.   

Explore posts in the same categories: American Glamour, Debunk an American Myth

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3 Comments on “Joining the 27 Club isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be”

  1. […] like I was saying before, not every musician that died at age 27 went out with a glamorous […]


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