Keep the Light On: An Elegy From the Notes App

Myles Andrews-Duve writes a moving piece about how music fit into his very personal 2019.
By    January 13, 2020

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In a just world, one day writing will get Myles Andrews-Duve that ‘Rarri.

“And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of the people before me who had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it. I wondered about them. I wondered how they had done it—it, the physical act. […] I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine.”
– James Baldwin

Maybe ’cause I’m a dreamer and sleep is the cousin of death
Really stuck in the schema of wonderin’ when I’ma rest.”
-Kendrick Lamar

2019 was the first year in which death occurred to me not just as a reality but a place of comfort — an escape from the world and how it’s made me, my ancestors, my niggas, suffer. I had thought about death before as, possibly, we all have. But this past year, life itself, the relentlessness of time passing, felt more confusing and defeating than it ever had.

It’s no coincidence that I spent more time than ever this year documenting things, jotting fragmented thoughts like these down in my Notes app and courting photography as an escape. The abstract questions surrounding earth’s persistent orbit and our place in it found agency in the refuge of the camera. I used my Sony Handycam and Canon TELEmax to keep a visual record of friends, strangers, conversations, women I met, and the beauty of everyday. I learned that life, and unhappiness with it, can feel so complex that the profound stillness of what you capture through a lens provides a strange sense of relief.

Even still, the lens can only capture so much. I spent much of this year alone, isolating myself, getting high, and having sex I can barely remember. I used muted sparks of creativity and faux passion as veils for my demons. That shit is cool until it’s not. It’s fun until your car is faced head on with a wall and the notion of “life or death” becomes a manner of your own split-second decision. Until you feel ready to drown yourself in anything you can find because breathing air hasn’t done shit for you lately.

The night I really tried to kill myself this year is still a blur. I remember running to a movie theater to watch Waves and hide for a few hours. I remember turning my phone off and driving my car aimlessly around Los Angeles for hours on end, contemplating the easiest way to wreck it — all of it. I remember finally meeting a friend in the park at 3 AM and waking up in my bed the next morning with my heart racing. 

I can’t even tell you why I tried. Shit I couldn’t even try to tell you why I’m depressed. Pac once wrote, “I exist in the depths of solitude” and nigga I have lived that way for a minute. It can feel more comfortable to sit in your own pain, live with and familiarize yourself with it, when the muted pleasures that arrive with joy are fleeting. Oftentimes this year, I found myself preferring to sit still, wallowing in my own special, personalized hurt than to risk feeling the unique kind of low that lurks beneath the euphoric heights of love and pleasure. But still you gotta thug it out.

I tried two relationships this year and fell out of love entirely. One girl I connected with on a whole brand new and exciting tip and the other was just a facade. 

When shit ended with the first joint it forced me to look in the mirror. I turned to The Sun’s Tirade for a lot of that process. Songs like “Silkk da Shocka” hit different when you’re dealing with heartache. I mean, Zay is literally on there saying “It’s rare, I know you love me” four times in a row on the hook, then reflecting on how he fell in love with this girl on the verses. He ends the song by reciting this Silkk the Shocker line: “See I don’t wanna be here if I don’t gotta / My weed habit is so close to snortin’ powder.” And the progression of that song, from love, to love lost, to helplessness, hit home like a motherfucker at the time.

Sun’s Tirade was actually the first album to become a home for me this year. I crawled into it often, sometimes ran, like a junkie who needed a fix. The music wasn’t so much a high as it was warm and familiar. I guess when the world around you feels overwhelming and chaotic there’s a comfort in routine, in what’s known. I would sit alone sometimes and cry tears in that home. Tears that held life and meaning still undefined. Tears that, if I could capture each one, would perhaps take some shape that helps make sense of all this shit.

“But who do u know that stops that long to help another carry on
The world moves fast and it would rather pass u by than 2 stop and c what makes u cry”
– Tupac Shakur

“The feeling of an apocalypse happening but nothing is awkward.”
– Kendrick Lamar

I guess what they don’t tell niggas about growing up is a lot of times you’re just up — the growing part happens abruptly. Shit like seeing a parent or sibling killed at a young age, being abused — that kind of abrupt. Some niggas are forced grow up as soon as they’re old enough to take a step outside their front door.  

As a Black man you are always expected to make due with shit like this. Carry any amount and form of trauma on your shoulders and still be able to lift them high without struggle. I always thought eventually that shit has to catch up with you. It caught me early. I turned 23 this year and got to really thinking about it all, not just my own trauma, but our own: the generationally persistent power and evil of racism, both systemic and practiced. Weighing heavy on my mind was the countless black bodies we have lost — the Trayvons, Freddie Grays, the Philandos. How damn near every leader we have had, present and past, has been gunned down, jailed, or both. How six men from the Ferguson protests have died inexplicably at time of writing. How John Singleton had to leave this earth.

I thought about how insurmountable all of this feels. I felt conflicted by how strong the Black body and mind is and how disposable it has been made to be. Mortality remains undefeated. The killers roam free. Hate continues to conquer.

In these moments I felt what Kendrick felt when he wrote “FEEL.” Because who really is praying for us?

We lost Nip this year. I still sit back and wonder about that shit. Like how do we lose Nipsey Hussle that easy dawg? He was our leader, our spiritual and moral compass. I thought deeply about how the city would push forward — about what it really means for a black man to be gunned down on the very block that embodies his legacy as a pillar of his community. I thought, how do the kids looking up to him move forward after seeing another prospering Black dream brutally deferred? 

The answers are complicated as hell, so instead you just shake your head, roll up, and throw on Victory Lap

After his death, Nip’s music saved me. “Last Time That I Checc’d” still carries the same kinetic energy it did the day it dropped as a single. “Dedication” and “Racks in the Middle” became motivational anthems for the city. And “Double Up” soundtracked a lot of collective healing. His entire discography provided spiritual uplift.

The thing about Nipsey’s rapping is he delivers each line with absolute conviction and presence. The kind that makes it feel as if his voice grabbing ahold of you through your car speakers. The kind that feels like he’s right there rapping to you. You can’t help but to feel emotional.

Victory Lap gives a strange sensation because it all feels so resolute. To really hear that album is to hear Nip at peace. He’s made it to the mountaintop. He’s conquered it all. But he’s still grinding. When it dropped it made me laugh, smile, and rap along loud as hell. It gave me strength. Today it brings tears to my eyes. But we are rapping along louder than ever.

“Yeah, what can make a nigga wanna go and get it?”
– Nipsey Hussle

The past year felt like a paralysis, my mind yelling for help and body not able to articulate it. It’s all a blur. I still see demons when I sleep and box them during the day. I move publicly invisible and feel more at peace with the metaphysical. That feeling, whatever you would call it — Lucki is perfect for that.

I don’t think this nigga Lucki has missed yet. Freewave 3 is like dopamine. He’s wrapping you inside his woozy, narcoticized world of drugs, sex, and expensive clothes and I used that shit like a blanket. The more depressed I felt, the more I put Lucki on repeat. His hurt feels palpable. The time it really hit, I was extremely high and doing upwards of 90 down a highway at like 3 AM. “Let’s See” came on and I’m rapping every word. I’m driving at the song’s pace, losing myself in the music. The car in front of me was not. I somehow evaded it. That’s the type of flash before your eyes that makes you slow down.

There was a moment where Nina provided the perfect feeling. Some time around April, the pain in her voice grabbed ahold of me like a vice grip. Like any semblance of warmth grabs you in the cold. On “That’s All I Ask” she bellows each word with so much desperation, a naked honesty, begging for love, any slightest hint of love despite all of the pain that came with her own relationship. That whole album, Wild Is The Wind, feels like Nina is singing directly to you, in an intimate room full of people who feel exactly the feeling you’re feeling at whatever moment. It’s the type of shit that breathes life into the word “soul.”

So Much Fun helped get me through it, too. The celebratory nature of it. The fact that we’d waited so long for the Thug hit album. When So Much Fun came out, it was the only time this year I felt inspired enough to put my name behind something in writing. For my best months this year, that album was the soundtrack. I’m not sure what aligned but I felt aight, the world made a little more sense, and friends enjoyed my company more. 

Those couple months felt euphoric. But the shit about euphoria is it’s like a high that only comes as a result of pain. It is a pleasure from which you feel oddly disconnected and that which can be wholly undefinable. The come down is as low as the way up was high. 

And so depression goes, in waves. That’s really the shit about it, is as fucked up as shit has been, I came to believe that sometimes you have to go through these extreme lows in order to achieve extreme highs and greater mental clarity. And that process is agonizing. But eventually it mellows out, and you’re just at peace. I’m getting there.

What I learned from the pain, from running and hiding in the music, is eventually you have to go out in the light. I’m tryna live with that now, every day. This life shit really is precious. Nina lived hers, tragically, but she lived it. Baldwin grabbed ahold of his, as did Nip, as did Singleton, as is Kendrick. As can we.

Baldwin once wrote that the simple tragedy of life itself is that we are all just one under the sun and moon and can only make of that what we can until the sun sets for the final time. I would add that the greatest thing about life is it keeps going. So what I am saying is that aside from the inevitable, we have control over the rest. What I am saying is that no matter what we must always keep the light on.

“Don’t try to blow out the sun for me, baby.”
– Nina Simone

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