So It Goes: Grappling With the Death of Mac Miller, an Artist Who Was Always Trying to Be Better
On September 4, just three days before his unexpected death, Mac Miller declared the ending of “So it Goes” to be his favorite part of his latest album, Swimming. He did so in an Instagram livestream, which I just so happened to be watching. The Instagram Live feature is both a fascinating and bizarre one: it usually consists of someone who has a large following with the selfie camera in their face while hundreds of live comments pour in by the second. These streams can offer honest looks into the lives of celebrities, more so than other press mediums, but are often something that can be visibly awkward for the streamer. During this livestream Mac did nothing out of the ordinary: he ate an apple, smoked a cigarette, and rode a hoverboard around his house, claiming that his label Warner Brothers were making him do this because they wanted more social media content from him. But throughout the seemingly mundane stream, no matter what ordinary thing he did, the comments were a steady stream of love and support — thank you’s and blessings for being the person he was and making the music he made. Whether or not you actually knew Mac Miller, you felt like you did through his music and his aura, which is what makes his passing such a tough one to cope with.
The origins of the phrase “so it goes” come from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which takes place during World War II and employs the phrase following any mention of death. Throughout the course of the novel it’s repeated over 100 times, and a 2011 New York Times letter to the editor clarifies that the phrase does not denote apathy but instead represents the “randomness of death — how death can come to anyone at any time.” Its repetition forces the reader to “ask themselves about the meaning of death (or its lack of meaning).” The randomness of death holds eerily true in Mac Miller’s passing. His lyrics were never 100% positive, but on songs like “Wings,” there were signs of tangible improvement, like when he says that he’s “never felt so damn good where I’m at.” It’s a devastating song to listen to today, and displays Miller’s newfound positive outlook on life: “I ain’t worried now ‘til I leave / I’m just tryna ride and feel the breeze / With something bad beside and next to me.” Few people put as much good and exuded as much love into the world as Mac Miller, but that didn’t stop death from taking him from us. So it goes.
Arguably the best song of Mac Miller's career is the penultimate track of Swimming, "2009." It's the closest I've ever heard him sound to legitimate inner peace, and it was meant to be the latest evolution in a career marked by continual growth. Miller always strove to find the truest version of himself, and "2009" is that sentiment embodied: heavenly production to match his smooth flow on top of meaningful lyrics. I hope that wherever Mac is now, this beat is playing on an infinite loop there. The song's lyrics reveal Miller's unwavering honesty with himself, saying that he "doesn't have it all but that's alright with me," along with acknowledging "demons that's as big as my house," all of which is to say that Mac Miller was never perfect, but he was always trying to be better. His desire for absolute self expression is perhaps what I admire most in him, and he was someone who was never afraid to switch his sound up so long as it was to make his most honest music (see: Watching Movies with the Sound Off, Delusional Thomas, The Divine Feminine, Swimming). Like so many people my age, we grew up alongside Miller. I found solace in the way he navigated a large and confusing world, and his failures resonated with me to make his successes feel that much sweeter.
Of course, Swimming does not end with "2009." Miller still wasn't ready to fully embrace the peace he found on that track and instead chose to end with the reflective "So it Goes." Lyrics like "Nine lives, never die, fuck a heaven, I'm still gettin' high," stick out in the wake of his passing, but the most resonant part is undoubtedly the song's final minute, in which Miller's voice descends into a sound that becomes increasingly grand and celestial, leaving us with the same feeling of peace that he always searched for. His last Instagram story, recorded the night before he passed, was of that exact outro. In what was presumably his final interview, Miller said that the best way for people to know him that wanted to would be by listening to his music. He was someone who loved and obsessed over his craft, and all I can say is thank you for all of it.