I came across Lil Peep early this summer the only way I could have as a dorky mom, by reading this New York Times article. The headline jumped out of all the bad news, and then I googled him instead of the other artists because the article had a photograph of his forearm, and the forearm is the most beautiful part of a man’s body.
The first video I watched, BeamerBoy, remains my favorite. At first I just thought it was cute and ridiculous. But I watched it over and over again. It wasn’t just catchy, it was mesmerizing, because Peep’s raw vulnerability comes through heartbreakingly clear, in words and body language and expression. See the look on his face when he says “I feel like I’m a no one. That’s what they told me.” He’s not acting. He’s baring his soul.
If you knew me in college you know why there’s a tender spot in my heart for a skinny shouldered boy sitting on a low couch smoking a joint, alternately disconsolate and swaggering. But the comparison to my ex-boyfriend didn’t cross my mind until a couple months later when I sent the videos to my friend Batya and she responded, “I feel like I’m staring deep into your adolescent self.” By then, I had already taken a deep dive into the Lil Peep archives, where sequencing the clips and videos is easy because of the steady proliferation of tattoos across his face.
My husband didn’t like Lil Peep. He found him musically unimpressive (little point in arguing; he feels the same way about Bruce Springsteen) and he wasn’t moved. In recent years the only new music I get exposed to is through my husband, and the songs that got me through my teens and twenties languish in a trove of horridly scratched and sticky CDs plus the hard drive from my old, dead laptop, which is lodged, naked, in a hard drive sled gathering dust on an out-of-use baby changing table. Plugging the sled into my new laptop reveals an impossible quagmire of unnamed files. The tunes are there, but they’re out of reach.
We listen to good music all the time, and quite often I choose it, but in my life now nearly all music is mediated by husband and his knowledge and taste. Except Lil Peep. Peep fandom was a solo project.
Lil Peep was from Long Island, like my best friend. On one rare visit to New York over the summer, I made her watch the videos, gushing over how exposed he was, how communicative his bearing, how charismatic and sad. Two weeks later she sent me a photo from an airport. “Guess who’s on the customs line with me?”
She said he was cute and nice. She said she told him a friend really liked him but her husband didn’t, and he told her that was normal.
He put out a new album, and I didn’t like it. He was ostensibly moving away from rapping and towards singing; he was embracing emo and discarding the absurd white-boy rapper persona I had fallen for. But his voice sounded less musical, not more; he had flattened it into an irritating deadpan that seemed copped from other, less interesting people. The videos were staged. He was growing famous, and he was drifting away.
I was disappointed but not surprised. I kept hoping he would find his expressive voice again; wondering how he would handle the increasing attention and all the twisted trappings of fame; wondering what would come of him, hoping he would take his talent and really grow into a musician. I kept paying attention. And when I saw that he was going on tour, for only the second time, I pounced, and bought two tickets to see him on Halloween.
I enlisted Batya, but she had to bail. Andrew didn’t want to see him and I didn’t want to get a sitter on Halloween, anyway. I asked a new friend; we’d never hung out without our menfolk before. Trick-or-treating with the girls had been tiring and while we were out news was trickling in about the van attack on the West Side Highway; I was spooked and tempted to stay home. But I ventured into the city and met Olga and we drank a lot of whiskey and we saw Lil Peep, on the night before he turned 21. The crowd sang Happy Birthday, and I resolved to tweet to him about how he should return to his roots.
Here’s my second favorite Lil Peep song, Lil Kennedy. The video makes it easy to see what happened. It was hard to imagine him growing up. He had a cavalier attitude towards being alive. Maybe he wasn’t suicidal, but he wasn’t holding on very tight. And he overdosed. He died on Wednesday night, on his tour bus, in Arizona.
I miss you, Lil Peep.