'There Was No Stopping Him': Alan Light, Former Spin Editor-in-Chief, Remembers the Late Marc Spitz

Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press
Marc Spitz photographed Oct. 20, 2009.

Marc Spitz, the author and playwright who scribed biographies of David Bowie and Green Day and enjoyed a long tenure at Spin as Senior Writer, died over the weekend at 47. Here, his former Spin editor Alan Light recalls the star writer's time at the magazine. Spitz's funeral will be on Friday.

I don't think I've ever met anyone who believed in rock & roll as much as Marc Spitz did. The grand gesture, the adolescent romanticism, the infinite possibilities of identity and sexuality -- he bought it all, loved it, needed it. He was certain that rock stars were superheroes, and that for us journalists who were entrusted to pass along their musings to the masses, it was our obligation to get as close to their flame as possible. So there he was, doing lines with bands, making out with movie stars, sneering at requests from the DJ booth.

When I took over as Spin's editor-in-chief in 1998, Marc was part of a motley group working on the just-born website, at a time when the web had no rules and no expectations. He was a snotty kid, using his dubious position as a way to get on the list for shows and parties. He was already becoming a star -- somewhere (hopefully) there is still a collection of Polaroids of the Spin staff dressed up as Marc, resplendent in shades, boa, and dangling cigarette.

From the language in his scathingly honest, very funny memoir, Poseur, Marc thought I was a bit of a stiff (which, compared to him, I absolutely was). But he won me over with a dirty secret that he shared with most of the rock gods he idolized: He worked his ass off. Soon after I started at Spin, Axl Rose got arrested in a Phoenix airport, which suddenly added more urgency to the question of what the hell he'd been doing during years of isolation. Marc raised his hand for a news story, originally planned as a half-page, which he then began reporting relentlessly. Every day or two, he would swing by with word of new sources he had reached who had contact with Axl -- Tommy Stinson, Moby -- and we bumped the piece up to two pages, then to a full feature.

When he excitedly told me that he had spoken to Shaquille O'Neal, who had rapped in the studio with Axl, we knew we were onto something. My editors and I decided to make the Axl story a cover -- on the condition that Marc get a quote from Slash (which, of course, he did). Axl flipped out, calling me at home in the middle of the night when he heard our plans. With a glorious shot of a young Axl Rose (from a photographer who requested that we not give him a credit, for fear of antagonizing the subject) and the words "What the World Needs Now is Axl Rose," the issue sold like crazy, and Marc had his first cover story. After that, there was no stopping him.

His limitless faith in the music seeped through every page of his biographies and novels, every second of the dozen plays he wrote, every line of his journalism. For years, he tried to talk me into working on a history of rock criticism with him; I was squirrelly about taking on something so self-referential, which I think was exactly what he liked about the idea.

I suppose I have to choose a last dance for Marc. He would hate that my first thought was "Don't Stop Believin'" -- though he would appreciate the Sopranos reference, as he was working on a book about rock and film at the time of his death. But let's give the final word to his beloved Smiths: The spirit of Marc Spitz is a light that never goes out.


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