I forgot until recently when a good friend brought it to my attention; you were a Capricorn, same as me. I really think I knew that then, when I walked between the building where I worked, the updated conference center where we sat in a room calling parents and alumni, fundraising for new stadium seating and scholarships, back toward my townhouse apartment one late afternoon. I just don’t think it mattered much then, prior to giving a shit about anything so abstract and uncertain as astrology. Then, I lived maybe half a mile away in the mainly student complex, alone, abandoned by not one, but two roommates over the course of the year. I was almost finished with the sum of the spring shifts, impending summer glistening through the greening leaves on the trees and vocalized through sweet singing chirps of robins. Tromping through the not-so-recently-mowed field, I listened thoughtfully, yet somehow thoughtlessly at the same time.
“Being broke starts to get a little old, my money hadda get some fine tunin’.” Earbuds plugged into the appropriate orifices throughout much of college, I navigated pavement with my eyes scanning paths and sidewalks for new cracks and heads-up pennies, my fear being I’d be forced into some uncomfortable or awkward interaction; that fear I’d come to realize as anxiety kept me from experiencing things I can only imagine during that time. But it gave me a chance to get to know you (I thought, but we never really know anyone, and especially some famous artist I’d never met in person; I felt it, though, I think).
I hummed along, “and baby all we got is time, let’s just watch the clouds go by, by, by, by, by...” and as I heard it, through my amber-tinted and oversized sunglasses, the setting sun peaked out, illuminating a view of the cumulonimbus that could only be sent by God Himself, indeed.
You were raised jewish. That always intrigued me, enticed me. I wanted to understand that part of you more. I don’t know why I cared, it just seemed important. It still does.
“Tonight might be the night I might make it, so let’s live it up and not regret it at all...” I wouldn’t be going out to “live it up” with anyone. I was going “home,” to the apartment, to wait out the days until I could escape my personal hell—the practically empty townhouse where my cat had recently died—was I that terrible of a fucking roommate?
Did I really deserve isolation, this self-defined pariah of the university? In just two years, I seemingly had no one (looking back, I’m sorry for the true friends who steadfastly remained)… So I turned to you.
I turned to you when I popped four generic benadryl and chugged three beers, just to “fight the sleep,” a “fun” little game I rather enjoyed, because, “what the fuck am I trying to accomplish?” The sophomore slump was my engrossing reality, and it didn’t seem like it’d ever improve, laying there on the scratchy, brown, nylon-fiber floor, in one of the two barely lived-in townhouse bedrooms. I looked up from the carpet and saw your home-printed, pixelated photo (I must’ve found on Google) pinned to my cork board, and I’d put my headphones in, and try to get to know you more (or, honestly, fantasize about meeting you, having you fall for me the way you said you felt for Nomi, singing on stage while you spit swift, tough tongue twisters, like you’d come to perform with Arianna, “uh huh...”)
I thought I was learning about the dude I’d crushed on harder than anyone even remotely famous, not ever (“Everybody famous, everybody wildin’.”) I thought you were up there, on my vision board, to marry someday, or at least collaborate with musically. Hell, you’re only from across the state in Pittsburgh, only 17 days my junior. Pa Nights plague my brain, these I still can’t shake.
Obviously this pipe dream was way far off realistically, even more so then, but your music, your dreams coming true, gave me drive, hope, something... Fuel to write reviews and submit them to publications, fire to present my own creative non-fiction writing in front of a student conference, the ability to stand in front of a group of 50 students, 3 nights a week, and plead with them to call people and beg for money...
That was later though, not that long after the Benadryl and brews and walks home from my shifts as a caller. Not long after peering through amber-tinted lenses, staring at the clouds, “I tell ‘em I’m fine, I ain’t got a damn thing on my mind...” That memory pings in my mind, along with the one not but a month later, driving home, listening to you, yet again, the long way, that lacked tolls and toured south central-eastern PA. My car was packed full with the contents of the townhouse, and you “yeah yeah yeah’d” me the whole way home, relieved I’d survived the solidarity and other heartbreak of that second year of college.
Along with that flutters about a recollection from the year prior, when Uncle Adam called to tell that BJ hung himself from a tree in his backyard, taking solace in lines on “I’ll be there,” curving hilly turns through blurred eyes home, the same songs I listened to after the funeral... seems like ages, yet somehow still just like last summer. That must be the pain.
And then, after crawling back from Central PA to the Philly suburb I call true home, like a wounded animal from the sophomore townhouse, things were different. The albums felt weak, reviews awful, and they said you were a junkie. There was a tv show out, but everyone said it sucked. And I drifted toward Childish Gambino and Chance and A$AP and new things, different sounds, but you were always there. I just didn’t feel like I knew you anymore. Probably my bad; maybe I didn’t want to get to know you anymore. I moved on. People grow up and change, tastes evolve, and sometimes they don’t.
Until one day, 3 or 4 years later, late at night in my ex’s basement, high on lust and drained from mistrust, I played “100 Grandkids,” and fell back into your dip-mouth rasp and swagger, even if the album as a whole fell short. That song and “Weekend” played on repeat for months, and I still skip neither.
And we went to see you, and I cried, and I vowed to be back, and I was ready to buy my tickets for this year’s show in Philly, because with The Divine Feminine, my girlfriend became my ex, and you got it; you got me through that.
And I wrote that blog with you in my head, on the page, pushing me through, in Florida, before my ex came back again to tell me she loved me, only to leave again weeks later, and you were there, singing me to sleep.
Because then Ariana left, and you crashed the Range and got the DUI, and I knew you then, tired and worn and fading, fast, though you kept growing brighter in my eyes, louder in my ears, clearer in my mind. I thought I did, knew you, know you, but people like me never really know people like you, and so the circle continues on; cycle, cyclical. I wanted you to know me. “Can you draw a perfect circle?”
Not until Swimming. Oh, Swimming, that completed me, made me whole again. The old Mac, the Mac I knew and loved, was back. Fully. You got it, hard, you vibed and I knew it, for some reason you were still in my head. The universe is strange sometimes, how it brings things to you when you need them most. “Self Care” was that. “2009,” “Wings;” I believed it in your voice, in the coos and the “welps.” “I got neighbors that more like strangers, we could be friends...” Uh huh.
When I got the “I’m sorry for your loss” text, quite literally, from an old friend turned acquaintance, I was driving home from my umpteenth interview, here in the future, but I felt good about it for some reason; I was ready to head to happy hour with my brother and friends to celebrate life and all the opportunity in front of me. And I saw the text, and I sobbed, as if I knew you. And I laughed and really, really sobbed, angry at myself for thinking I could know you, would ever get to. Still, most everyone reached out and said sorry, as if I knew you, as if I ever could. But they knew me, that you were a part of me still. And that is fucking silly.
I didn’t know you. I longed to, but I never will. But you, you taught me so much about me. That pariah year in college, depth and life and real-ass thoughts. Originality. Loyalty, kindness and sarcasm.
You were Larry Fisherman, Delusional Thomas, EZ Mac with the cheesy raps. “Well, baby, you were everything I ever wanted...”
Littered with lyrics, I shook, exiting I-95, reading the text, shock, relief it wasn’t one of my brothers, but feelings crashed in telling me this was nearly as catastrophic a loss as one of my own family. And then the disbelief that I could be so disillusioned as to think I was allowed to be this upset. But texts kept coming.
And we say the same thing we always do. “Crazy, man. Drugs, don’t do that shit.” And then we said the part that matters most; “I love you.” And we heard it. Because it’s never really heard the way it’s intended unless we’re dealing with tragedy, which is what your death is.
Drugs are stupid, but the smartest of us have done them. If I know you, this isn’t drugs, but something much more nefarious that’s cloaked itself in drugs, substance abuse, even music. It’s the great depression of the 21st Century, that makes the strongest of millennials cower in its shadow, that drives millionaires to muddled cocktails and burst veins. It’s a sign of the times, romanticizing the suffering, cutting the ties with the ones we love and cutting them deeper in the backlash.
But I didn’t know you. I don’t know what happened. I’ll never get to ask. And I’m sorry. Because I just mostly wanted you to know how much you helped and changed and impacted and outright grew a little, inconsequential girl from the Greater Philadelphia Region. Even that doesn’t matter. You left your music with us, no matter how bitter we’ll be you didn’t get to leave more. If you’ve taught me anything, it’s to keep going, and laugh. I Love Life, Thank You.
“Somehow we gotta find a way, no many how many miles it takes.” And through those amber glasses, traipsing the field, looking at the sky marshmallows, I somehow knew it would be okay. I think somehow me then was connected to me now, which makes me think I’m somehow connected to me out there in the future. And me then smiles, not sure why, but singing aloud and not giving a single fuck, “I tell ‘em I’m fine, I ain’t got a damn thing on my mind, and baby all we got is time, let’s just watch the clouds go by... by, by, by, by...” I hope you see God and really are impressed. “Kinda find it strange, how the times have changed...”
As I fly west (after your light extinguished), blackened aviators atop my head, I notice a girl about our age with a pixie cut look about the cabin with almost widened eyes, waiting in line for the bathroom, as if she’s scanning for someone, searching for something to occupy her vision to couple her working mind. It’s the same look I’d seen on your face; staring into, but through at the same time, curiously and innocently enough, yet deeply thoughtful and thoughtless at the same time. I didn’t know you, but I could have easily, the same way I don’t know but know this girl, the same way I don’t know the people I used to love. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t get the job, by the way, and it rained for about 7 days in Pennsylvania right after you left us.
“Win or lose, I don’t keep count, nobody checking.” But I was checking. And as much as it matters to me, it didn’t matter. I love you, Malcom, even though I never knew you. We are all just trying to relate. And thank you, Malcom. You taught me who I was, partially. You taught me I could love and let go. You taught me to laugh through the pain, smile through the hurt, even if it was just through your example. If thought is truly love’s currency, you probably know me, anyway.
Malcom McCormick, 1992-2018