Facing Mac Miller's Death Again on "Perfect Circle / God Speed"

Nose to nose with his own death, Mac Miller still worked in joy.
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“Admit it’s a problem, I needa wake up / Before one morning I don’t wake up” —Mac Miller, “Perfect Circle / God Speed”

Forever alchemic, even in death, Mac Miller has altered our relationship to his music. Some cannot listen to his material, while some must. Some can parse the writing from the circumstances, while some cannot help but lose themselves in the overt themes of death that have always colored Mac Miller’s discography. 

While it would be disingenuous to suggest this writing was prophetic—Mac Miller wanted to live and Swimming told us as much—there are still moments strewn about his discography that are haunting in how accurate they are tales of what’s to come. Of course, all of Faces boasts a fresh terror in the face of Miller’s overdose, but no one record forces us to bear his death over and over again quite like 2015’s “Perfect Circle / God Speed.”

True to its name, “Perfect Circle / God Speed” stands as a perfect song. At nearly eight minutes in length, everything from the chilling opening choir to the two-piece format of the cut makes it one of the most gutting songs in Miller’s catalog, that’s both pre and post-mortem. 

The song works precisely because the thump and dank creep of “Perfect Circle” prefaces one of the soberest and plain-stated moments of Miller’s career. We get the sensation we are arriving somewhere, that we are pivoting away from something sinister. At the time of writing the track, Mac Miller certainly was. In that breath, there are necessary layers to “Perfect Circle” that set up “God Speed,” beyond building tension.

I wash these pills down with liquor and fall / Leave it to me, I do enough for us all (I do),” Mac slurs on the hook. Here we have the crux of the track: he’s hurt himself so do we do not have to. “Perfect Circle,” then, becomes an exchange of wisdom. 

Our trust in Mac, so early into the cut, is twofold. Firstly, we trust in him to get better by the nature of the themes of sobriety and recovery that permeate GO:OD AM. Secondly, we trust him to shoulder pains on our behalf. In that way, we learn from Miller’s mistakes and he becomes ever more virtuous. The function of “Perfect Circle” is to set Mac up to be a wise, if not divine, spirit. He presents as matured and all-knowing. If this places Malcolm in some worn ivory tower for the time being, then so be it, because what follows is a gruesome admission: he is going to die. At once, he is fighting to live.

“Everybody saying I need rehab / 'Cause I’m speedin' with a blindfold on and won’t be long / Until they watching me crash / And they don’t wanna see that / 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” —Mac Miller, “Perfect Circle / God Speed”

“God Speed” is a song of dichotomies. Mac Miller appraises his life and his death with the same critical lens and does not rule out either conclusion. Rather, he uses musing on his death to keep himself alive. In the wake of his passing, then, the song becomes a barbed jab to the heart. As he spits about not wanting to OD, not wanting to let down his mother, and the potential to have his life saved, consider how true-to-life the lyrics are. 

With its stark accuracy and deadpan delivery, “God Speed” forces us to face Mac Miller’s death again and again with each play. The centerpiece of GO:OD AM, the song is a reminder that Mac Miller was a fighter through and through, no matter how aware he was of the line he was toeing.

The emotion here appears impossible to reconcile. How can a passage so entrenched in a very real death speak so much to Malcolm’s desire to live? That was his duty dance, it seems. 

Ever self-aware, Mac Miller knew he was playing a dangerous game with himself. That is not to say his vices won, or he lost, but rather the rules were changed. Above all else, this is what makes “God Speed” a challenging listen. Of course, the harrowing realism of the writing could make the strongest of listeners brittle, but more so it is the gut fan reaction to read the whole situation as “unfair” that makes this such a breaking moment for Miller. Accidental overdoses will do that to a discography.

Facing Miller’s death in this way leaves us with an important task: preservation of memory. This is why we run #YearOfMac, and why it is imperative his music continues to be played. For as miserable as his passing was, speaking to his collaborators and listening to his work, we know him to be full of life. 

Though death always appeared in his work, the challenge is to make sure it does not overwhelm his legacy. This is why Mac Miller wakes up at the end of “God Speed.” He comes to because the plan was always to live on and prosper. We even end with a humorous skit. Nose to nose with his death, Mac Miller still worked in joy, and that addendum remains the most essential element of his legacy.

“I said that I thought it was a disservice to Mac’s memory to turn his life into speculative 3 a.m. bar gossip and to second-guess the fond recollections of the people lucky enough to have met him in the interest of playing caring sleuth and insider to an audience of strangers.” Dying young doesn’t retroactively make an artist’s entire life a meditation on death, even if death is present in the margins of their work. They were trying to escape it, using art to locate and share a moment’s respite, and even though they didn’t beat what was bugging them, they should be honored as people who fought to live, not people who sat around waiting to die” —Craig Jenkins, “Lil Peep’s ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2’ Encases His Triumph and Tragedy in Amber

Perhaps Craig said it best in his review of Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2. Mac Miller was never trying to die. He was vying for life with every bar about the cocaine ether, though it may not have always been so obvious to us. He was creating to purge himself of his darkness, so as to not internalize his compulsions, so as to become more than the sum of his lyrical themes.

In sweeping waves, his approach worked. We already know it to be true that Mac Miller saved lives, and we can assume that was only made possible because beneath every mention of his death was an overwhelming desire to press on. That is what the listener gravitated towards. 

Mac Miller never allowed us to sit in his death or our sorrow. There was always the next step. That is the triumph and tragedy of “God Speed”: even in death, even post his death, Miller urged us to press on. In his honor, out of a sense of duty to our heroes and to ourselves, of course, we shall. 

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