Susie Tennant Memorial Fund
Susie Tennant, a longtime member of the Seattle music community who helped break Nirvana and many other bands, died Thursday of early onset dementia. She was 61.
Tennant had frontotemporal degeneration, a form of dementia, for several years, and before that, ovarian cancer. She died in her home surrounded by family, said her husband, Christopher Swenson. In addition to Swenson, Tennant is survived by children Ella and Eli, plus many friends and admirers.
“There was no one in Seattle music that was as well-loved, or as respected as Susie,” said Kim Warnick of Seattle punk rock band the Fastbacks. Warnick was Tennant’s roommate in the 1990s. “She was the bond that connected so many, and there wasn’t a person in Seattle music that didn’t love her.”
Tennant was best known professionally for her work for DGC Records, a division of Geffen Records, and over her long career in Seattle had also worked in promotions and marketing at Sub Pop, Experience Music Project (later MoPOP), Tower Records, BMG, University Book Store, M3 Marketing and Town Hall. Jim McKeon of M3 said that Tennant succeeded as a promotion representative because she “was able to get even the most cynical radio program directors to play her bands simply because she truly believed in everyone she promoted.”
Marco Collins was a DJ on KNDD when he first encountered Tennant. “Susie had a passion that I’ve never seen from another promo person,” he said. “When she came to play new records, she got up and danced because she loved the music. If I saw her in a club, I’ll never forget how she would shout my name and run to embrace me.”
Tennant was an early and avid supporter of Nirvana, and played an essential role in breaking the band. “We loved Susie a great deal, and she will be missed,” band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic said in an email this week, upon hearing of her death.
Novoselic and Grohl recounted the band’s legendary record release party in 1991 for “Nevermind,” which Tennant organized at Re-bar, and how the band members were kicked out of their own party (for starting a food fight). “Susie laughed it off,” they said. The party then moved to Tennant’s house, where Kurt Cobain donned one of Tennant’s dresses. “He looked really good in it,” Tennant once told me.
When Tennant was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Novoselic and others played a benefit concert at EMP to help pay her medical expenses. Pearl Jam, Grohl and dozens of other bands from around the world contributed. There was a “Friends of Susie Tennant” Facebook page with hundreds of followers, and buttons printed up that read “Susie Tennant Fan Club,” mirroring J.P. Patches memorabilia.
Despite her closeness to what would become one of the most successful bands in the world, Tennant was humble, and didn’t capitalize on her famous friends. “It was a very special and very complex time of my life that I am still sorting out,” she told The Seattle Times in 2011.
Tennant also worked with Sonic Youth, Beck, Hole, Weezer and many others. Seattle music magazine The Rocket in 1995 named her one of the most powerful figures in Seattle music, and The Supersuckers wrote a song about her titled “Juicy Pureballs.” The song documented a time she scolded the band for not cooperating with her efforts to get them airplay.
Susan Silver, manager of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, recalled Tennant with warmth as a friend and colleague. “Susie had such a big impact on me, personally and professionally, from raising our kids in the same neighborhood, to both working with history-making Seattle rock bands,” Silver said. “She set the tone, always leading with positivity, enthusiasm and perseverance.”
Tennant made friends wherever she went, and I was lucky enough to count myself among them. One day at lunch she told me about some of her health setbacks, but then asked how I was doing. I had some good news, but told her I felt odd in even mentioning this, given her challenges. She responded with her typical beaming smile, saying, “Your joy is my joy.” She began to stop waiters in the restaurant to tell them my good news. Tennant was always trying to create community.
When she showed her first signs of forgetfulness, Tennant sometimes called me to ask about details of her own fabulous and famous career. But with all things, Tennant had a sense of humor about what she called her “chemo brain,” and even with the onset of dementia, she made new friends in health care settings, continuing to live a full and active life with her family, children and friends.
She continued to enjoy the Seattle Sounders and her West Seattle neighborhood. “With her husband Chris,” Silver noted, “Susie created this great logo and hand sign WSHC (West Seattle Hard Core). It’s been used in the neighborhood for on decades.” Tennant wore the logo proudly.
Tennant was always about connections. “Every person Susie worked with, or even met, became a friend,” Warnick said. “She was the unsung hero of Seattle music, and she brought that same love to everything and everyone. She was the glue that stuck Seattle together.”
Details of a forthcoming memorial service will be posted on the Friends of Susie Tennant Facebook page. The family asks that any donations in Tennant’s name be sent to Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare (smashseattle.org), Seattle Musicians for Children’s Hospital (smoochforkids.com), MusiCares (musicares.org) or The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (theaftd.org).