Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Heath Ledger, Nirvana. Me looking backward.

I’m not of the Heath Ledger generation. And the only bit of his work I’m familiar with is what I’ve seen in The Dark Knight movie trailers – but that was enough, I’ll admit, to get me really psyched about the movie, which is saying something because I haven’t even seen Batman Begins.

That said, his death last week got me and my wife and my friends talking a little bit about celebrities dying young. Ledger’s passing didn’t really hit any of us beyond the "wow, that’s sad" factor , but my friend Adam mentioned that an early-twenties person in his office was absolutely devastated.

So Jenn and I were talking that night about artist/musician/actor deaths that really gave us that gut-punch feeling. She mentioned George Harrison, and I do remember how sad she was when he died. Her parents were big Beatles fans and she’s always had a soft spot for the quiet one.

Next day, Adam and I had a similar conversation – to him, Ledger brought back the memories of River Phoenix, someone our generation sort of grew up with on film.

It’s weird, but I keep coming back to the week in April, 1994 when Kurt Cobain died. Not in a "Wow, his art really impacted my life" kind of way, but because that week came during a period of so many personal upheavals in terms of where my life was and where it was going.

For starters, Cobain died the same week a college friend of mine was killed. Their deaths are always linked in my mind, and I can’t untangle the surrounding days. I lived in Florida, and I got the news about my friend on a Saturday – I know because I just went back and checked my journals – the same Saturday that the news was breaking about Cobain, whose body had been discovered the day before. I made a nineteen-hour drive back to Ohio for a Monday funeral and was back in Florida again by Tuesday. Now, for years, I have sworn that I heard the news about Cobain after I got back. And that may be true. But  for that to be right, it means the news – and it was BIG news – had to have eluded me for three solid days, which seems practically impossible these days, but now that I think about it, if you figure I was in a car listening to my Star Wars Radio Dramas and still kind of in shock about my friend, I guess it’s not that far-fetched.

At any rate – that’s the first reason Cobain’s death seems to have left an impact. Beyond that are issues that are tougher to describe: I was coming off a horrible long-term relationship, yet I’d also started dating Jenn. I was getting back in touch with people who had been extremely important in my life yet whom I had alienated while in that horrible relationship. (They will never know how much it means to me that they welcomed me back into their lives.) I had just started the new job which finally put me in my chosen career field and brought me permanently out of my post-college fast-food and line-cook world. (Though sometimes I wish I could still make a stromboli from scratch.)

Thing is, I associate Cobain and Nirvana with that entire span, from the best of my final years at Bowling Green State University through the worst and darkest times of my life when I lost my dad and turned my back on my friends and family, and on to the reconciliations and good times that came (not soon enough) after. I still have a promotional CD single of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that came to my roommate, the metal director at our college radio station, during a fantastic summer – the first time I lived in an apartment away from home. Over the next couple years, when I was miserable (which was often), "Nevermind" was there. And when I met Jenn working in a McDonald’s in Orlando, we used to sing "Heart Shaped Box" from "In Utero" while slinging Egg McMuffins. (Okay, so we’d sing it while impersonating Fred Schneider. It’s still a Nirvana memory.)

I honestly don’t know if there’s a celebrity out there who’s passing will stick with me like that again. Don’t get me wrong: When George Lucas goes, it’ll hit me; Ray Bradbury, too. But while those are guys who’ve shaped who I am, they’re also of a different generation. People my age? If Kevin Smith died unexpectedly, yeah, I think that’d hurt. Wil Wheaton, too, because of the writing he’s done over the past few years and because "Stand By Me" is one of the best movies ever. I guess those are guys I kind of feel like I "know," even though I don’t, really. (Still – Kevin, Wil, look both ways when you cross the street, OK? It’s cool having you around.)

And maybe that’s another part of it: Maybe I’ve reached an age where it’s harder to be impacted by the death of someone I don’t know, simply because as we get older, odds are death’s going to hit closer to home sooner rather than later.

January 26, 2008 - Posted by | Current Affairs, Film, geek, Music, Ohio, Religion, Weblogs


  1. John-
    Great post; couple thoughts:
    1. I’m in between you and the Ledger generation, but I am very sad by this. He was one of those guys whose movies I always liked. I would encourage you to go back and check out his films – always entertaining and span several genres of film.
    2. I was a high school junior when Cobain died; I was leaving my friends house early to take the ACT when the news came in, delivered by Curt Loder. It hit me hard; but thinking of a celeb who died that really shook me, I have to point to Chris Farley. I don’t have space to write why.
    3. You, of all people, haven’t seen Batman Begins? John. What’s wrong here? Trust me; I was skeptical as well, but, unless you just don’t like Batman, there is no reason for you to not immediately see this film. I’m serious. I will rent it and bring it to your house forcing you to watch it. For real.

    Comment by Tastyburger | January 26, 2008 | Reply

  2. It’s not that I don’t WANT to see Batman Begins – it’s just that I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe I’ll hit the library tomorrow and see if they’ve got a copy. I’ve heard loads of good stuff about it.
    (By the way – thanks for the comments! This has been simmering most of the week, and I just haven’t had much time to write outside work.)

    Comment by JohnB | January 26, 2008 | Reply

  3. First of all, let’s call it even on being welcomed back in each other’s lives…means just as much from this end too, Mr. B :)
    (Tobi’s death rattled me enough that I have never put the two events together – that’s so weird!)
    Secondly, I’d have to go with the death of John Lennon as the first death to impact me. Even though I was fairly little, I was in the car with my mom and remember her starting to cry. Then there are the deaths of Jim Henson, Fred Rogers, Mr. Green Jeans, Captain Kangaroo. They all hit me – some more than others but still.
    Lastly, I totally agree on Batman Begins. It was very good, except for Katie Holmes (she’s really not a very good actress). I had no idea of the all-star cast but also Christian Bale is the perfect balance between play-boy millionaire and dark,tortured hero. Joe Bob says check it out.

    Comment by anamcara | January 31, 2008 | Reply

  4. Katie Holmes IS a horrible actress and the glaring weak spot of Batman Begins. Speaking of horrible actresses, Kristen Bell has got to be the most overrated one out there. I have never watched a whole episode of Veronica Mars, which my wife loves (I think it filled the Buffy void in her life), but I have watched her run on Deadwood (the best-written television show ever) and on Heroes, and I have to say I am so not impressed. Of course, I’ve also seen the shots of her in the Slave Leia outfit from Fanboys, and, yeah, I’m in.

    Comment by Adam | February 16, 2008 | Reply

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