The second-to-last song off of American indie-folk singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco's 2017 album, This Old Dog. A song I've been coming back to with no way to really describe my feelings about it.
I'd say, see you later, if I thought I'd see you later
And I'd tell you, that I loved you, if I did
But I want to try. Let's start with this, then: the big climax of DeMarco's album is a 7-minute long piece dedicated to an absent, dying father that slowly builds into an explosion of distorted noise, an audial assault of whipping, howling wind, bombarding you with something frigid, something intense, something isolating.
It's one of my favorite songs of all time now. My partner showed it to me, and I wanted to make out with him immediately after I finished the song. He was talking about the death of a character—a terrifyingly slow bleed within the confines of a blizzard. He used this song to illustrate it to me. And there, lying in bed at a garishly late hour, visions swam in my head as the noise built. A dragon's wings fluttering softly in the night, to be buried with snow the next morning. Red blood cells seared onto the snow-patched ground with frost covering up any trace of the crime in a matter of hours. A quest for revenge gone horribly to plan, a plea for forgiveness spelled out in their last few shuddered breaths.
It's so strange, deciding, how to feel about it
It's such strange emotion standing there beside it
It's just an interesting thing to highlight, for me. Contrary to what I have described, DeMarco doesn't attribute any emotion to the death in question. How could he? Here before him is a man dying of cancer, someone to whom he should feel sad for, but he can't. This isn't someone he was close to; DeMarco and his mother were abandoned, left to survive as his father delved deeper into alcoholism and addiction. And yet he feels... something. What that something is, he can't quite label for the listener. Consensus on the matter seems to be that it's at least a negative emotion—at least, on Genius, a website I am not so keen on trusting as far as I can throw them.
It reminds me of my own experience with grief. I've had people who were close to me pass away, but only once so far has it brought life to a complete halt, metaphorically speaking. My uncle, my father's older brother, who ultimately lost a lengthy fight with a brain tumor, passed away perhaps 7 years ago at this point. The way I dealt with it was, to me, infuriatingly confusing. Here was a man I had been close to, to whom my dad had been very close, who I had known all my life. But that's the thing with childhood memories; they're so fickle and so fleeting. They know no master except the passage of time.
It dawned on me fairly early on that I could not recall a single moment spent with this man while he was healthy. I still can't, thinking back on it now. My grief, like DeMarco's, is detached from the human experience. As fleeting as any memory I might've shared with him. It simply isn't there, and that's always baffled me. I know of times we've spent together, related to me by others. But I am ultimately in the dark. They aren't my memories anymore.
It's so strange, deciding, how I feel about you
It ain't like I ain't used to going on without you
There is, unfortunately, no resolution to this little thing I've related. He was there, and then he wasn't, and with him went those memories. It's strange deciding how to feel about him. Everyone else moved on, and in some strange way I can't, because it feels like I never got the chance to even define my grief. I remember friends who died—Tom, or John, or Eddie. I remember them as clear as day. I remember Tom; one day he was there, and then all of a sudden he stopped showing up at our church. I still see him every damn Sunday. There's someone now who comes by who looks almost exactly like him. I remember the days spent with Eddie, week after week, as his health declined, until one day, just like all the others, he was gone. How is it that I can remember these people so clearly and not the one person I could actually consider close? All I can remember is every day we spent in a nursing home down in Norwalk, watching him waste away with no respite in sight, not until he mercifully passed in the early hours of just another day. It had spread everywhere. He couldn't even open his eyes, nor could he speak. It was just too painful for him.
I can't help but wonder if all my memories of those who are no longer with us will be nothing but pain. What will happen when, say, my mother passes? My father, my sister, or my partner? Or even my best friend of 11 years? Will those memories surface readily, unbound by the anchor that is memory decay? Will I be able to (more or less) rest assured that I am not, in this way, broken or flawed over something that feels simultaneously out of my control and yet so easily controllable? Or am I doomed to forget it all? Am I cursed to be a pariah in my own dilemma, bound to the anchor of memory decay, forever left to sink?
I'm home, with moonlight on the river, saying my goodbyes
I'm home, there's moonlight on the river, everybody dies
But maybe I've overthought it again. Like DeMarco said, it's strange.