Why We Mourn Lil Peep: Requiem for a Xanax Nation
The millennial tragedy of Gustav Ahr
Like many, Lil Peep’s passing has had a profound effect on me. He was young, he was talented, he was beautiful, he was honest, and he had so much more to offer the world. Unfortunately, that world did not do him the justice that he deserved.
I’ve never been particularly sentimental nor have I previously understood grieving over the death of a celebrity, but Peep’s passing was different. Maybe it was because he was only a few months older than me. Maybe it was because I had fallen in love with his music and what he represented. Maybe it was because he battled with the same things most kids my age do. Maybe it was because one of those things was Xanax addiction, which led to me being hospitalized for a seizure last year. It’s an addiction I still struggle with today. I never had the pleasure of meeting Gustav Ahr, but I feel like I knew him.
I first heard Peep’s music—which hit the Billboard charts for the first time this week—two years ago on a song produced by Hector Vaé called “October.” I was enamored by Peep’s drawling vocals about girls, drugs, and his own mortality. Death didn’t seem to bother him. He said it was “fine by me cause my time is fading.” It fascinated me, but like many other songs in my SoundCloud feed, it slipped through my fingers until a few months later when I stumbled upon an Instagram video of him—a tall, lanky white kid with bleached hair who was covered in all sorts of tattoos ranging from his scratcher tribute to love with a sad face for an “o” to “Cry Baby” tattooed over his right eye in script.
Having spent the last year letting my best friend cover my arms, legs, and torso in a variety of quotes, images, and random thoughts that popped into either of our heads, Peep’s approach to body art felt familiar. My family still doesn’t understand my point of view, but the way I see it, we’re all marked by life. At least through ink, I get to choose.
In the IG video, Peep runs out of his bedroom in his boxers and jumps up on the couch, proclaiming that his plan for the day was to go to Melrose and “ball the fuck out.” I was fascinated by this character and as I started digging around his SoundCloud. I began to fall in love with this enigma.
His lyrics were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. There are songs like “White Tee,” where Peep raps over a Postal Service sample “I used to think I love you/ Now I know it ain’t true/ Now I know it’s not you/ 50 on my boxers/ Bitch I know you see me/ Shining in my white tee/ It’s easy, I make it look easy/ Believe me we gucci.” Or “OMFG,” where he intones, “I used to wanna kill myself/ Came up, still wanna kill myself/ My life is goin’ nowhere/ I want everyone to know that I don’t care.” It was like Future meets Green Day and that head-on collision couldn’t have come at a better time in my life as I was delving deeper into my Xanax addiction and loving every second of it.
Many people listen to Peep’s music and think that he is glorifying his drug addiction, anxiety, and depression. While that is one interpretation, I saw it differently. These were all parts of his life, and parts of my life, too; things to be confronted on a daily basis. His music was an attempt to reconcile conflicting emotions: insecurity and vanity, loving drugs and hating them, womanizing bravado and vulnerability. These contradictions were nothing new to me and I believe they deserve to be heard in a more nuanced conversation, a conversation that doesn’t gloss over the plight of the individual being analyzed.
Lil Peep may have been “glorifying” his self-destruction for some, but any of his true fans know that the vignettes of his life which he shared didn’t always paint a perfect picture. Traversing life and maturation in the 21st century is not as simple as it was 20 years ago. The political climate is almost as unstable as the planet’s biosphere. Overpopulation is approaching unmanageable levels. A college degree no longer guarantees a job, instead it provides students with seemingly insurmountable debt. As our physical world crumbles, we retreat further into the digital, projecting manufactured images of beauty, wealth, masculinity/femininity, and happiness, acting as if everything is OK.
Before the internet, the various tangents of your life were as isolated and siloed as you wished. You left school—there were no emails to be received regarding new assignments. You left your friends—there was no window into what they were doing without you. You left home—your family could not reach you. Being alone with your thoughts was a reality, not just a concept we have come to fear. It shouldn’t be difficult to wrap your head around why anxiety levels are at an all-time high, signaling a mental health crisis on college campuses and leading some to change what was formerly known as Prozac Nation to the United States of Xanax. Maybe that’s why when I first heard the opening to a Lil Peep song marked by a woman’s blood-curdling scream of fear, I thought to myself, “OK, it’s about time.”
Just like when I was taking five plus bars a day with a smile on my face and a daze of confidence in my eyes, Lil Peep wasn’t glorifying his struggle. He was terrified, agonizing amidst his glory. Like too many, as I struggled with my mental well-being, I kept my mouth closed. When I went to parties in high school and threw up in the bathroom from social anxiety, I would sooner tell a friend it was because I drank too much than the truth: “I’m really, really uncomfortable and I don’t know why.”
It was around my junior year in high school when Xanax hit the streets of New York in a big way. On his song “Nothing to U” Lil Peep told me, “I got pain in my brain but I don’t ever complain,” and when I found Xanax that got much easier. It felt like the skies had opened up and granted me a key to the life everyone else was living: I could go where I wanted, do the things I fantasized about without my stomach reminding me of the parameters some subconscious sector of my brain had set for me.
But nothing comes without a price, and let me tell you when your reality becomes a Xanax-induced serenity, boy does sobriety fucking suck. So while I was experiencing things I had never before been capable of, I was quite aware of my crutch. I would wake up sweaty, panicked, and nauseous, painfully hungry but unable to eat. Then I would take my medicine. “I do a lot of drugs and I hate it, but I love it,” Peep sang as the placebo effect washed over my body. Relief was en route. I was normal again, confident, blissfully pushing the realities of life to the back of my head as the lyrics flowed through my headphones: “I ain’t never had a meanin’/ Just another fuckin’ junkie.”
That was my life for a while: pain and bliss, noon and night. I felt like this was Peep’s life too, euphoric highs and horrific lows. His music vividly portrays this if you care to listen. On “Beamerboy,” one of Peep’s most popular songs, he raps, “I got hoes now and I got some dough now/ But they don’t wanna hear that, they want that real shit/ They want that drug talk, that ‘I can’t feel’ shit.”
You can listen to the song, enjoy the beat, and bob your head along to the lyrics a thousand times without noticing his social commentary; “They want that real shit/ They want that drug talk/ That ‘I can’t feel’ shit.” And that is what you did, Peep. You gave us all that real shit. When you said, “I don’t give a fuck, I love who I love” on “Right Here,” you meant it. You never made a conversation out of your bisexuality, while others used it as a headline. They called you the Kurt Cobain of SoundCloud. You didn’t need the comparisons. Just listen to “Lil Kennedy.”
“Everybody wanna be me ’til I pull up and they meet me/ I’mma die, so sweetie, I ain’t never had a meanin’/ Just another fuckin’ junkie, drain my blood, but don’t be greedy/ Leave some liquid for the centipedes, they eat away my memory/ Feed me to my enemies/ Lead me to death, I’m Lil Kennedy/ I ain’t got no remedy, bury me/ Pocket full of ketamine, methamphetamine/ Put me in a limousine, drive me to destiny/ Pussy on the leather seats, music and ecstasy/ She don’t think I’m sexy, but I can’t let that get to me.”
Where previous artists glossed over the realities behind their seemingly “recreational” use of drugs and alcohol, opting for “bottles and bitches” over honesty, you told it like it was—the good with the bad. You never let yourself off the hook, and in turn held me responsible. Even in death you continue to hold me responsible as I traverse my addiction. You wore your heart on your sleeve and let no one challenge your identity. You changed me, you changed the world and your legacy will live on forever through me and the countless others who saw themselves in you.
To anyone reading this, you are not alone. Everything is temporary. Things get better.
RIP Gustav Ahr