It was just after I posted last week’s Sunday Song that I noticed my Twitter plugin had way more activity than usual for a Sunday night. The news, of course: David Bowie was dead, age 69.
Growing up, I wasn’t much of a Bowie fan. I liked the Wallflowers’ cover of “Heroes” when it was released, and I knew of him, of course. But I also remember having a classmate in high school who was obsessed with Bowie, and how I thought that classmate was a total weirdo. Little did I realize, we were both right.
The first time I heard the riff from “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it wasn’t that song at all. My friend’s older brother was babysitting my sister and me, and had brought over a Discman to connect to our living room stereo. I still remember the force of that searing guitar, followed by the voice of an icon: Weird Al. “Smells Like Nirvana.”
I came around to Nirvana later.
Bowie, of course, was a huge influence on Kurt Cobain. Bowie was a huge influence on *everyone*, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief at his sudden demise. Yesterday, I remarked at how different the mourning was from previous celebrity deaths, how Bowie just achieved his first #1 album, and yet his death carries with it a long tail that I can’t remember Michael Jackson, a true megastar, receiving. Granted, Jackson’s legacy was sullied by the time of his demise in a way that Bowie’s wasn’t, but still. Jackson’s fans were sad about his death. Everyone seems sad about Bowie’s.
When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV. My mom had adopted a rule my aunt had instituted with her children, banning that channel until age 13. At my grandparents’ house, though, all bets were off—most Friday nights, we’d go over there, and I’d watch some TV in their bedroom while my grandfather monopolized the living room TV until dinner time. I still remember turning on the TV on April 8th, 1994, and seeing a sullen Kurt Loder reporting the news that Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home. I was ten, and barely knew of Nirvana, but could tell this was a big deal.
It’s funny, now, thinking that I live two and a half miles from Kurt’s house, that I drank Monday night at the bar where he was last seen alive, that I discussed Bowie’s death over a pitcher or two. It’s sad to think of the tendrils of influence that radiate from both, of how generous they both were with artists they appreciated, but yet, they never connected. I read somewhere this week that after Bowie heard about Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World,” he wished they had met, but it wasn’t to be.
Ultimately, though, their legacies endure, intact. Gone, but never forgotten. Forever selling records, having never sold out.