To ease the pain, someone who loves you will tell you all about the mutable qualities of grief. They will call you and apologize for your loss, for the time you’re having, and then they will slowly stop bringing it up. You will be left to wonder if there is an expiration date on the changing vanity of grief, or if you were just left behind and written out of the next scene. The next scene has color, so you’re a little jealous. This scene, too, has color. You’re left wondering how you can feel so intensely for something that was at once yours and not yours, all yours and everyone's. This is the mutable first month after the loss of something like Mac Miller.
Perhaps it is trite to make him, Malcolm, and his music ephemeral in this way, but where grief makes me listless, this is the best I’ve got. All of this is to say I’ve spent the last month in a pensive and confusing Shiva. Since then, I’ve come out of one passive and egregious mourning and stepped into another more impassioned and focused mourning. The kind of mourning that makes us want to honor our dead as if they are the living. That is where I have arrived.
That is how we have arrived at this new project, “Year of Mac”: a yearlong endeavor to honor Mac Miller once a week across a series of essays and interviews, and whatever else seems fit for his sprawling legacy. I said “write my heart out,” and I meant it, of course.
In Russian Jewish culture, you’re not meant to toast the dead when you remember them at a function. Fuck that. At this collective dinner party, we’re toasting so hard the champagne floods the table and the glasses shatter from the magnetism of celebration. This is the “Year of Mac,” where we aren’t taking anything for granted. Sometimes you need a whole year of subverted-Shiva-on-paper to get through one traumatic day. So be it. Grief is a mutable thing, and the form it takes now is one of admiration and excess. I’ll let Mac close out this intro. Thanks for coming, everyone.
“So I guess this is a letter, to all my brothers, Most Dope, that’s forever / I love you more than words could express / And this the part that Q start crying, if he ain’t already yet” —Mac Miller, “Perfect Circle / God Speed”
Here we go. At the time of writing this, it’s been five weeks since Mac Miller passed. Twitter has mostly moved on, but every so often you see someone tweeting that they’re still not over Mac’s passing as if that’s something to be ashamed of—it’s not. Information moves faster than our emotions, and perhaps that’s easy to forget now, but there is no shame in hurting over the hurtful.
Much of Mac's music has taken on a new meaning in the past month and change. This seems obvious, but nonetheless, there’s something striking about an entire discography being slowly bathed in death. Changes are happening from lyric to lyric, not album to album. Songs are shedding their skins to become richer renditions of themselves. The loss is rich, literally. It is gaping and cavernous and total in the way a slathering of something delicious might be. Sticky. So, how to unstick? There’s a song for that: “Dunno.”
It's unlikely that Mac Miller wrote “Dunno” with the intention of it being the vehicle to process his death, but in the end, he did wish to keep most intents to himself. So now we have “Dunno,” which is a song that contends with anger and resignation the way I contended with anger and resignation on September 7, the way anyone who thought “Didn’t he know I need him” contended with their feelings. “She do whatever she like,” Mac sings, “and that just don’t seem right.” This is a nettling anger, the kind that is easy to feel yet summons guilt. The kind that you can direct at a boulder barreling towards your peace, but the kind that can’t stop the boulder. It was as if he knew that his passing was an accident, and speaking with those closest to him, he wasn’t the only one.
Perhaps the repetition of “Wouldn’t you rather get along?” is most striking as a feature of death and grief. The underpinning question there—Wouldn't it be better if things were different?—is a nod to our collective unwillingness to accept the present until it feels ever-so like the past. That’s why so many people keep confessing they’re not over his passing on Twitter, because there is no past quality to Mac Miller’s spirit or his music. For so many fans and writers—just check the eulogies online—Mac Miller was their present. He was mine. How to put him in the past? We can’t.
The beauty of “Dunno,” then, is that it tells us we do not have to box him away like that. The hook has the quality of Kaddish, a series of prayers, with so much range packed into four sung lines: “Until, until, there is no longer / Let's get lost inside the clouds / And you, you don't gotta work harder / I can calm you down.” Just like that, “Dunno” becomes Mac’s giving us permission to grieve how we like. The only way through a feeling is through it, after all. There is nothing noble in compartmentalization, especially when entropy dictates boxes are meant to be opened and bottles unsealed. Under the lens of death, there’s a benevolent quality to the song.
The close of “Dunno” is thusly a hand on the shoulder. “I think we just might be alright, thank God / I think we're gonna be alright, alright, okay / Hold me close, don't hold your breath / That's really your favorite, I know.” The track is both permission and promise now. With the pressure of getting over lifted, there’s an assurance that whatever shape your grief may take, you will arrive at your light. Conversely, you can cherish his memory without suffering. Celebration is welcome, “don’t hold your breath.”
Ending with “I know” might be the most wrenching moment of peace, because he did know. He always knew. He knew, but the good news is that knowing is absolute in a way: the relationships we built with music cannot be undone even under the most tragic of circumstances. Mac Miller is knowing, present progressive and continuous, and in that there is solace.
We’re gonna be alright, alright? Okay.
Jake Franssen's original illustration is based on a photograph by Justin Boyd.