I always wanted to be Mac Miller.
He was effortlessly cool, his cockiness somehow charming through his willingness to be publicly imperfect. His music was easy-going and kind, an impression confirmed repeatedly by those who knew him personally. He possessed sensitive indie proclivities (e.g. the “Nikes On My Feet” video opens with a snippet of “Wordless Chorus,” his sampling of Sufjan Stevens, his covers of “Lua” and “First Day of My Life,” etc). He started as a fun kid and developed into a thoughtful and clever lyricist with a penchant for irreverent humor interspersed with Hemingway-esque moments of incisive candor. He was always rhythmically innovative and musically-minded. His music soundtracked my high school experience and, to a certain degree, my college experience so far. He felt like an old friend.
Mac Miller died alone at his home on Sept. 7, 2018, of an apparent drug overdose.
I’ve spent the last two weeks listening almost exclusively to Mac’s music, and the main message I’ve taken away from it is that hindsight is 20 / 20. His most recent works in particular are foreboding: What could be brushed off before as an exercise in depression as a lyrical theme now feel like obvious foreshadowing. Take “Rain”: “Sober I can’t deal, I’m in the corner with my head low / Runnin’ from my shadow, never ending chase / Ease the pain and the battle that’s within me / Sniff the same shit that got Whitney, the high heel depression / My temple feel the metal comin’ out the Smith & Wesson, bang / Say a prayer, leave my brains on the tile floor,” or “Perfect Circle/Godspeed”: “They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother / Tell her they could have done more to help me / And she’d be crying saying that she’d do anything to have me back.” The tracks that hit the hardest, however, are from the K.I.D.S era, a time when Mac seemed so carefree and lighthearted. “Nikes On My Feet,” “Knock Knock,” “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza” and many others now serve as morbid reminders that the good times don’t always last.
Since his death I’ve been asking myself the same question: What is it about Mac Miller’s music that makes his loss such a devastating blow? I think it’s that he always seemed triumphant in some way; even when he was candidly discussing his demons, it always felt somehow inevitable that he would overcome them. For him to succumb so tragically is a grim message. If Mac, a guy with so much going for him, can’t beat his own human failings, who among us can? He always stressed that he was a normal guy, especially in his early tracks like “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza”: “I live a life pretty similar to yours / Used to go to school, hang with friends and play sports.” What was once an inspiring message now turns bleak.
The title of “So It Goes,” the final track off Mac’s final album, Swimming, is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” in which the phrase “so it goes” is repeatedly used when someone dies. For this to be the title of Mac’s final track is unfortunately fitting. Mac’s final Instagram story, posted hours before he was found dead, was the outro to “So It Goes.” His final tweet, later deleted, was “The end of So It Goes is so beautiful man. I told Jon Brion to play the ascension into heaven and he nailed it.”
The phrase “so it goes” is often misinterpreted as an expression of passive acceptance, a shrug of the shoulders. To the contrary, Vonnegut used that phrase to convey the way in which words are often not capable of expressing the raw tragedy of death. Instead, the reality of the situation is numbed through cliché fatalism. The repetition of the phrase draws attention to how much pain is buried beneath stoicism. It is not a positive message.
Mac’s death is not poetic, it is sad and meaningless and real. He once said “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess who can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. You don’t go down in history because you overdose. You just die.”
So it goes.
Rest in peace, Easy Mac with the cheesy raps.