Watching Movies with the Sound Off

The route 49 bus is usually late. While I’m waiting for it to arrive, I open up my iPhone notes and turn on the “Gold Instrumental Beats” playlist on Spotify and write rough drafts of rap songs. By the time I’m finished writing some verses, the bus arrives, and I mouth through the lyrics until I reach my stop. From there it’s a seven minute walk to my house, and the streets are usually empty enough that I can rap the words aloud.

This week I almost threw up in therapy. After some probing (and necessary) questioning, I began crying and dry heaving into a wastebasket without knowing exactly why. “The body has memories,”  my therapist told me, and suggested that there were some things that my muscles remembered that my brain did not. As a result, I’ve been more or less nauseous and sad for the majority of this week. Sometimes I feel one step separated from myself, like I’m eavesdropping on my conversations with friends rather than participating in them.

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Chey sometimes refers to me as her “sad boi” because of my intermittent gloom. I have a list of things I am supposed to do to keep me safe when I am down, which includes things like texting my friends, being in a public place (like a cafe), and writing rap lyrics.

On Friday, one of my favorite rappers, Mac Miller, died of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 26. Several friends texted me to express their condolences because they knew I was a fan. To be honest, I did not feel devastated. I am of course upset that he died so early in his life and career, but I can’t exactly determine why I felt so numb to it. One guess is that it would just exhaust me to be sad about another thing.

A favorite song of mine by Mac Miller is called “Watching Movies” from his album “Watching Movies With The Sound Off’. The track begins with the sounds of owls and crows, followed by a Halloweeny sample of string instruments. Here are two of my favorite lyrics from that song:

“People worship these idols ’til they come in contact with Gods.”

“Looking at my life is like you watching movies.”

I don’t think I worship my favorite rappers. I think of them as peers. Mac was born just about a year earlier than me, and even though it is tremendously impressive that he was so talented and successful, I liked thinking that he was grappling with some of the same thoughts that I had. The more art I consume from the people I admire the most, the more I hear their reminders that they are human beings, even though their art becomes something incredibly large and beyond themselves. People worship these idols ‘til they come in contact with Gods.

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I don’t have the book with me so I am going to attempt to reconstruct this from memory: in Mary Ruefle’s “Madness, Rack, and Honey”, she touches on the fact that an artist’s death changes how we look at their work. The way I read it, she suggested that the death of an artist serves as a period, an end to the sentence of their career. The art now stands as an example: this is a life, from start to finish, in contrast to the work of a living artist who is still trying to derive some kind of meaning in their time here on Earth. Looking at my life is like you watching movies.

I am often surprised at how happy it makes me to write rap lyrics. It is the most reliable way to get me out of a dark place, and the good mood it creates lasts long after I’m done writing. I’ve played with this idea for a long time, theorizing about why this is. But I’m not really that interested in thinking about it right now. Instead I am thinking about the rap scene and the community it creates. I know rap has gone through ridiculous iterations and changes, but I love how much people love it in a very simple way.

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The first Mac Miller song I ever heard is called “Good Evening”. It was around the time I was a senior in high school. I had managed to sneak out late at night to drink jäger and eat cold pizza with friends in a garage dimly lit with green and purple lights. The song has a wide, resonant bass pattern, topped with distorted, high pitched vocals. He must’ve been eighteen when it came out. And here I was, doing the kind of shit that he rapped about! Out past curfew, hanging out with friends, feeling (in his words) “most dope”.

Rap has a funny way of worming its way into the brain. Lyrics stick with you the same way poetry does, and you end up thinking about the same lines over and over again. It becomes subconscious, this underlying rhythm of words, the bits and pieces and segments that bubble up without warning. This informs what I’m writing while waiting for the Route 49 bus. The lyrics flow from all the other lyrics I have previously consumed, making me part of a continuous work of art, built by Mac, myself, and every person that has spoken a word to another.

 

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