Soundtrack to my Life—Dealing With It

Intro

I am constantly listening to music.

I have an obscene amount of playlists created on my iTunes account. Some were created with specific events in mind, others are simply labeled “Mood A” and so on. I ran out of letters at one point, so I’m starting to borrow letters from other languages, such as “ñ” and “ç”. But, that’s not entirely relevant. The point is: Music defines me.

One of the friends that I lived with during my time in Madison felt similarly. We both had a working knowledge of thousands of songs and (much to the annoyance of our other roommates) occasionally spoke to each other exclusively in song lyrics. Pulling various lines from various decades, we would sing-talk at each other for hours.

Sometimes, bands and artists really nail it; on occasion, we will find a song that perfectly sums up that indefinable thought that has been racing through our heads.

Dealing With It

With the help of some songs that I have been listening to recently, I am going to discuss the events of 3/8/13-3/14/13.

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I never thought [you’d] die alone. [You] laughed the loudest, who’d have known?

About a week ago, as I was decimating a heavily sauced turkey burger and enjoying a drag show at a local restaurant where a few of my friends work, I received a phone call that shot back and grabbed a long-forgotten fear of mine from a dark corner in my brain, dragging it to the forefront of my mind and leaving it there to re-root itself in my head.

My mind went numb as I listened to the frantic voice of my younger sister on the line. I sat in shock as I registered phrases like “He shot himself in the stomach,” “No note,” “No one knows why,” and “They pulled the plug” coming from the other line.

Full of broken thoughts I cannot repair, beneath the stains of time…

When I was in high school, one of my greatest fears was that a friend would commit suicide. High school was a tough time for many of the people I knew, and the media was constantly barraging the public with the latest high school suicide rates. I learned about self-mutilation during my freshman year and was horrified to discover that this was not an uncommon practice for people in my age bracket.

But it didn’t happen. We all made it through without having to attend any of each other’s funerals. As college began and one year gave way to another, I watched everyone grow up. No longer was anyone suffering under the toils of puberty and the Mean Girls-esque high school social scene. Sure, we still struggled from time to time, but it was a different kind of struggle. A struggle that was manageable, now that we were all adults. We all knew how to talk out our problems now, and we knew when to seek professional help (there wasn’t a stigma attached to therapy anymore). Now that we were older, we stopped blaming ourselves for things that were out of our control. We had people we could trust. As adults, we learned to deal with the things that life threw at us.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought. How terribly, terribly naive of me.

2638_58416419321_795356_nDidn’t even think he had a problem…

It was an old friend of mine from my hometown, one that I had been rather close to during my high school years. As cliche as it sounds, he was one of the last people I would have ever expected to take his own life. He greeted everyone with the biggest of bear hugs—even if it was the first time he had ever met someone. People would light up when he walked into the room because his joy and fun-loving attitude were that contagious. Spending time with him ensured gratuitous amounts of laughter and singing, usually in combination with the kind of crazy adventures that result from a small hometown, a big truck, and a handful of hyper teenagers. This friend also knew how to listen. People came to him with their woes. Life’s tribulations were seemingly no match for him, as every misery-stricken friend who came to him left with a renewed sense of spirit and a gleaming smile that threatened to dissolve into giggles at any second. The kind of smile that mirrored the one that was always on his face.

Now, I am not one to over-glorify the dead. He had flaws, of course. After all, he was an unapologetic country fan. He had a tendency to cancel plans at the last minute. He broke a heart or two. Typical teen stuff. But, this was all overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of positive in that kid. Always polite, always loving, always singing, always involved with his church and community.

Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did…

As friends share old photos and memories on his Facebook wall, the same underlying message rings clearly behind everyone’s sentiments: WHY?

As was said during the eulogy at his funeral, he had a way of making people feel special. He would loudly greet people with a “[insert first and last name of person being addressed here]! HOW THE HECK ARE YA’ DOIN’?!” before they even knew he had arrived. One time he had stopped by my house unexpectedly. When I heard his typical greeting echo down the hallway, I bounced up, took three powerful strides, and leapt into his arms. Not realizing how powerful the velocity behind my excitement was, I had nearly bowled him over. The apology I had tried to offer was lost in his laughter. He had been used to those kinds of shenanigans from people. Everyone who was fortunate enough to encounter him loved him.

The entire city was in pain. We all lost a family member that night.

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And you feel the eyes upon you, as you’re shaking off the cold. You pretend it doesn’t bother you, but you just want to explode.

Alas, the world had not actually stopped turning. Days passed, and before our weary souls knew it, it was Monday. Time to drag our heavy hearts to work. Chipper coworkers would stop by before I even took my coat off and—as routine would have it—ask how my weekend went. The amount of effort it took to take a deep breath, smile, and say that it was “okay” was unreal. How was I supposed to answer that question?

My attempt to talk to as few people as possible that Monday completely backfired. I seemed to leave my desk at the exact time that everyone else got up to do something. It felt like I was forced into polite hallway conversation that day more than any other day in my 22 years on this earth. The weight of my grief was starting to be rivaled by that of my irritability. More than ever, I just wanted to be left alone to focus on work. Naturally, it had to be the day that everyone was torturing me with all kinds of questions about my weekend. Somewhere in the back of my head, a voice of reason was gently reminding me that they were not actually trying to be malicious and that I would have reveled in this attention any other week. The voice was right, of course, but it was just as equally irrelevant.

The mental friction caused by trying to continuously shove these thoughts out of my head while reminders kept flowing in was wearing on me. It was exhausting. In spite of everything, I still managed to be productive. However, my fierce level of focus was not without consequence. A raging headache plagued me for the remainder of the evening—the result of a 9 hour mind battle during which I fought hard to keep him out of my thoughts.

I can’t look out the window. I can’t look at this place. I can’t look at the stars, they make me wonder where you are.

During the days leading up to the funeral, I desperately tried to distract myself. The problem was, he was everywhere. My boyfriend and I went shopping, hoping that good ol’ retail therapy would cheer me up. On the way to a store in the mall, we passed the food court. Almost immediately, the smell of cheap Mexican food worked its way into my olfactory system.

Once the smell hit, I was taken back to a time with my late friend. We had been riding in his big, shoddy, ridiculously hick-looking truck. I had no idea where we were going, because planning a destination to our “road trips” across town conflicted with his style. I had shaken my head and giggled as he rolled down the windows and sang—no, screamed—along to some terrible country song. Suddenly, he had turned off the radio and veered into the parking lot of our local Taco Bell. He told me that night that he he hoped I was hungry, because he was buying.

Lost in this memory, I floated through the shopping trip. I hardly remember doing any shopping.

217549_6340029321_3380_nBlackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise […] Blackbird, fly into the light of the dark black night

Thursday morning eventually arrived. The day where we would lay my friend to rest had come. Work was a blur. The bus rides there and back were a blur. I only vaguely recall curling the ends of my hair and changing.

Before I knew it, I was at my parents’ house with my little sister.

Would I be out of line if I said: I miss you?

Standing in line at the wake, we smiled. There were somewhere between 12 and 20 poster boards that were covered in pictures of him at varying ages. We laughed as we recalled a few more of his stories. Ah, and there hung a string of his countless hats. I had nearly forgotten how much he had loved hats.

Turning around, I became acutely aware of exactly how vast his impact was on my community. Never before had I see my humble little church so full of people. Almost two hours before the service was scheduled to start, the seats were nearly full. Members of the church were scrambling to find folding chairs to elongate the rows. Chairs were even beginning to be set up in the foyer, just so everyone who wanted to stay could do so. Even still, people started lining up behind chairs and around the wall, knowing full well that there would not be enough seats for all who were mourning that day.

Pulled away before your time—I can’t deal, it’s so unfair! And it feels, and it feels like heaven is so far away. And it feels, yeah it feels like the world is so cold, now that you’ve gone away.

I couldn’t do it.

I had just rounded the last corner before approaching the casket and the family. As shoulders and feet shuffled, I caught a glimpse of him lying there. Lifeless. Contrasting so sharply with every memory I had with him. My throat tightened, and I stepped out of line. I couldn’t face him. I couldn’t deal with it. Ashamed, I kept my head down and my shoulders hunched slightly forward as I slipped into the back row.

Each of his younger siblings and both sets of his parents wrote letters to him and read them aloud to the congregation. The letters were a tragic, yet perfect mix of beauty, love, and pain. Their words reflected their current state: afraid, unsure, raw, broken, sincere, clinging tightly to anything they could. At that moment, their suffering seemed almost tangible. The air became thick with the pain of everyone in the room. An acidic taste developed in the back of my throat, and my lungs began to tighten. Heat rose to my face, centering itself behind my eyes. Muscles in my arms and legs began to inexplicably tense up. Slamming my eyelids shut, I silently willed myself to keep it together.

It’s alright, ’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown. So let go, let go…

And then, it was over.

Moving on autopilot, I grabbed my coat and got into the car. On the way back to Milwaukee, I slid my big, black sunglasses onto my face. The cover of darkness failed to offer enough privacy. Five or so minutes into the trip, the tension that nearly suffocated me at church was released. Finally, tears poured freely. Relief surged throughout my body. Every salty tear took a worry or question with it as it slid down my cheek. Some of the excess weight on my shoulders evaporated. A wave of peace rolled through me, and I realized that I was starting to move on. It would be a long journey, but I had taken the first steps.

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In Defense of Macklemore

Okay.  I just had to address this.

I follow The Daily Swarm on Twitter, and yesterday (Jan 28th), they tweeted this article about a Brooklyn DJ’s thoughts on Macklemore, with specific regard to his dislike of “Thrift Shop”.  It appears that Skinny Friedman was inspired to voice his thoughts after reading this even more opinionated article by Brandon Soderberg.

A few disclaimers before I begin:

  1. I have no qualms with the people who legitimately do not prefer Macklemore’s style (or rap music in general).  People have different tastes in music, and that’s fine.
  2. I completely understand if people do not like “Thrift Shop” specifically, or if they are getting sick of it being played 23x a day on every radio station (even though I, personally, am not one of those people—I crank up the volume every time).

That being said, the reason I am all up in arms is because these articles reek of ignorance.  Both authors very clearly missed the point, and have quite obviously done zero research on Macklemore and his music.  Even though Skinny admits that “Macklemore is a legitimate, self-made indie success story,” he does not feel like Macklemore is “an artist who will be around for the foreseeable future” simply because his first hit was a funny song.

Oh...right...

Right, because that’s never worked out for anyone before.

I might have been able to let that go, but then he said that “Rappers don’t break through to the mainstream with chart-topping singles; if they even have one, it usually the result of months or even years of buzz, local singles and popular tapes.”

This statement blows my mind because a simple Google search will show you that this is not Macklemore’s first song.  He has been working hard for over 12 years to try and make it by doing what he loves.  Before “Thrift Shop” went viral, he already had a sizable following of people who had been listening to and loving his earlier pieces.

Another flaw in Skinny’s article arises when he claims that Macklemore’s work “wasn’t aimed at people who like rap”.  Dear sir, what are you talking about?  Macklemore has a lot of other work out there, and if you had listened to any of his other songs, you might have made a different judgment call.  It just seems a little foolish to have done so little homework on this artist before judging him so openly and harshly on a site that was bound to get a fair amount of traffic.

Aside from that, “Thrift Shop” was not created with the intent of going viral and making a mockery of his genre.  No, it is something quite different.  Comedic personality Matthew Inman notes in his latest comic that he “paint[s] portraits of fiction, sometimes to cope, sometimes to escape, and sometimes just because it makes [him] happier” because he has “found the best way to deal with terrible things is to tell funny stories”.

Sometimes the most hilarious people lead the most difficult lives.

Sometimes the most hilarious people lead the most painful lives.

If Skinny had listened to almost any of Macklemore’s other songs, he would have quickly learned about Macklemore’s reoccurring battle with drugs, or about how Macklemore has watched drugs take the lives of several of his friends.

Getting back to “Thrift Shop”—this song was not created to mock second-hand stores or turn it into a cool fad for rich white kids (I’m looking at you now too, Brandon).  Brandon’s article boasts that Macklemore’s hit “stinks of privilege”.  What privilege?  He has been shopping in thrift stores his whole life (which discredits a solid 50% of Soderberg’s article).  Soderberg’s lack of research far surpasses Skinny’s, too.  He took offense to Macklemore’s song, claiming that “he pitches his vocal down to sound like a black dude”.  That might hold some weight, except that it features Wanz…and it says so right in title of the song.

How dare he sound like a black guy!

How dare he sound like a black dude!

Conclusion: Before you go trying to bash artists, at least look up the very song you’re directing your hate towards.  Then, conduct a basic Google search.  Maybe then you can avoid being so painfully misdirected.  Long live Macklemore—the man is doing some great work.  And as a final note to everyone, do yourselves a favor—listen to the entirety of Macklemore’s latest album.

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