Inhuman Swill : Deaths
            

David Bowie
This morning we wake up to a world without David Bowie.

It seems impossible that he's gone. If anyone on Earth seemed otherworldly enough to transform himself into something eternal and transcendent, it was Bowie. But even he tried to remind us in 1997 that he was not really an alien but an Earthling.

His death hit me harder this morning than I would have expected (as is no doubt true for all of us). I haven't felt this devastated at a musician's death, in fact, since 1990, when Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash. (And is it coincidence that Bowie had helped raised Vaughan's profile, as he did with so many other musicians?)

I came to Bowie "late," as I didn't really start paying attention to his music until 1983, when I was 16. Let's Dance ruled the charts, but it was generally held that his important work was all behind him and he was now selling out. None of that mattered to me, though. I knew some of his earlier music because he was one of the few '70s artists who was played on my favorite Utah new wave station. But Let's Dance was a perfect album for my generation—consummate pop you could move to on the dancefloor while still feeling smart. And Bowie himself seemed the epitome of suavity and cool.

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The trade-off

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Maggie Thatcher's dead,
but so is Roger Ebert.
Always a trade-off.

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My grandmother, Elsie Marie Rigby Partridge, passed away early Sunday morning. She was 95 years old, going on 96. She was raised in the farmlands of Idaho, where she had seven brothers and one sister, not to mention five stepbrothers and a stepsister. She had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood, including my mother. She had 18 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.

She suffered a stroke about ten years ago and had been in a wheelchair ever since. Her mind was still mostly sharp, but she had gradually lost the ability to much for herself. Between that and my grandfather's passing five years ago, she had been praying for the end to come—mostly with good humor, at least on the occasions when I was able to visit her.

Grandma Partridge was a strong, funny, acerbic presence, one of the few people who could go toe to toe with my dad in the sarcasm sweepstakes and put him in his place. (She was his mother-in-law, after all.) She trained as a nurse before getting married and having kids, but I'd never call what she did settling down. As a child when we would visit, I remember all us kids looking forward to when Grandma would get home from work in her nurse's uniform. We were also always delighted to hear her talk about how she'd trained herself to say "shhh-ugar!" when she was mad, instead of the farm word she'd picked up from her many brothers.

One of my clearest memories of her comes from when Laura and I last visited her together, in early 2011. She would usually tire after a brief visit, but that day she was on, and she told us stories for a couple of hours. My favorite was about when she was a young mother living in Queens, where Grandpa's job had taken the family. This had to be sometime in the mid-1950s. She was driving with her three kids in the car on one of those outer-borough parkways that are still confusing to this day if you don't know your way around. She missed her exit and rather than risk getting lost put the car in reverse and tried to back up to where she had needed to get off. When another driver stopped and chewed her out, she played the just-a-lost-farmgirl-from-Idaho card and managed to escape the parkway unharmed.

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RIP Mark Bourne (1961-2012)

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UPDATE: Mark's funeral service will be Thursday, March 1, in Seattle. (Details here.) A less formal celebration of his life will be held in a few weeks.
Growing older comes with a lot of unexpected benefits. One of those benefits, though, is most definitely not the way that more and more good friends seem to leave this life before their time.

I was stunned yesterday to learn that Mark Bourne passed away on Saturday. Given his history of serious heart problems, I probably shouldn't have been, but you're never really prepared to hear that someone as young as he was has gone.

Besides writing many very fine science fiction stories, Mark was a musical theater enthusiast, a film reviewer, and a writer of planetarium shows. If you ever went to planetarium star shows, you probably saw some of his productions without knowing it. (I did.)

It's funny. I considered Mark a good friend, even though we only met in person a few times. I think the first time I ran across his name must have been in 1994, when he and I turned out to have come in 9th and 10th place in the balloting for Campbell Award nominations. Our first actual interaction came during an unfortunate online flamewar a few years later. I sent him a note of apology some months later, which he very graciously accepted. This was entirely to my good fortune, as he had no good reason to do so. It didn't take long before we were fast friends.

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Michael Brecker memorial mix

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Tenor of the Times: A Remembrance (1972-2003) of Michael Brecker (1949-2007) Five years ago today, Michael Brecker—one of my favorite saxophone players, and a pioneer on the instrument in many ways—passed away of complications from leukemia. He had suffered from the rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome, and never found a matching donor for a successful stem cell transplant.

Brecker was one of the most in-demand session players of his time, besides being a consummate jazz innovator in his own right. He was also instrumental in promoting and pioneering the use of the EWI (electronic wind instrument). Back in 2007, I put together a Michael Brecker tribute mix as my contribution to the CD Mix of the Month Club I used to belong to in New York. Called Tenor of the Times, it contained a sampling of some of his best work both as sideman and band leader. On this anniversary of his passing, I thought I'd make a zip file of the mix available. Grab it quick—I won't leave it up for long. Some liner notes are here.

RIP.

Download (88 Mb)

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Swan song

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I can't believe it's been two years already.

My friend Scott Swanson passed away on January 11, 2010. He had battled a severe heart defect his entire life, and in fact his poor circulation made it so that he could never walk very fast in the time that I knew him. Complications from those heart problems eventually took his life. He was 36.

I first met Scott in 1998, when I joined the online department at the Children's Television Workshop in New York City. (Our group were the ones who built the Sesame Street website.) I was one of the programmers, while Scott was essentially our IT department. He scared me at first. His tolerance for stupidity was low, and his tongue was as scathing as his wit, and I admit I bore the brunt of both as I learned the ropes at CTW. But before long we discovered a large set of geeky mutual interests, and that in turn led to a genuine friendship.

Scott was pained and bitter in a lot of ways, especially when it came to matters of the figurative heart, an area in which he never got particularly good treatment. (By contrast, his medical treatment was probably the best anyone could have received.) But underneath the gruffness, it was not hard to to see that he was one of the most caring people around, who took more responsibility for the people around him than certainly his job required.

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RIP Mark W. Worthen (1962-2011)

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Mark W. Worthen
My friend Mark Worthen ([info]nitewanderer) passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was a horror, crime, and science fiction writer who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the Stoker Awards for the Horror Writers Association and also served as HWA's webmaster. I wandered around in dark fog yesterday after hearing the news. I can't believe he's gone.

I first met Mark in 1993 when I joined a writing group called Xenobia in Provo, Utah. He was only a few years older than I was, and we bonded over a certain darkness and irreverence in our fiction and our worldviews. I wouldn't have expected it back then, but he's the person from that group that I stayed in closest touch with over the years. Through one circumstance or another, we both ended up moving out of Utah around the same time and leaving some misunderstandings behind. That was another thing to bond over, the feeling that we were outcasts and exiles.

While I went to New York City, Mark's path took him to South Korea. He was a brilliant linguist and specialized in teaching ESL. I was amazed by his adventurousness, but he had lived in Europe and South America already and from the stories he told later he took full advantage of his time in Asia.

Next I heard from him, he was in the Midwest, Missouri to be precise, with the love of his life, J.P. Edwards. It was probably around then that Mark asked if I'd contribute a story to his new online horror magazine Blood Rose (one of the earlier of its kind). I did, and actually ended up hosting the website for him (which I still do). It wasn't much later that I found myself traveling to Jefferson City for Mark and Jeannie's wedding, and found him happier than I'd ever known him.

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Anna Nicole Smith, née Vickie Lynn Hogan, a/k/a Vickie Smith, a/k/a Miss May 1992, a/k/a 1993 Playmate of the Year ... we barely knew ye.

Unless, you know, we were Playboy subscribers back in the early '90s.

Rest in the peace you never found in this straitlaced, size-two world.


Update:  Laura points out that, only two hours after the death, Anna Nicole's Wikipedia entry is already updated. Man, those motherfuckers are inhuman.
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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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