Miller never lost sight of what mattered most; being honest and vulnerable so others know they aren’t fighting their battles alone.
Balancing self-sacrifice with self-healing. Fighting through obstacles and risking everything for your dreams. The plight of an artist defines and provides commentary on these inherent human conditions. The late and great Mac Miller, who would have turned 27 today, was a natural at conveying his smiles and cries. His music continues to inspire thoughtful tributes, and on Miller’s day of birth, celebrating his spirit calls for an appreciation of Miller’s determination and growth.
Countless words have been written about Miller’s Grammy-nominated album Swimming and for good reason. A cathartic listening experience, Swimmingpositions us right beside Miller, matching stroke for stroke and rooting for him on his mission toward renewal and away from personal demons. The journey resembles that of Gattaca, a 1997 futuristic sci-fi thriller, in which genetic discrimination threatens Vincent’s (played by Ethan Hawke) dream of going into space. A particular moving piece of dialogue in the film occurs when a genetically rebuilt Vincent outswims his dismissive, once superior brother. In awe of Vincent’s newfound stamina and how he’s been able to infiltrate the space program, Vincent replies, “You wanted to know how I did it. That’s how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Viewers are struck by Vincent’s perseverance during the powerful scene, the climatic breakthrough for a protagonist who’d been deemed inferior by society. Rising to fame early in life, Mac Miller wasn’t always taken seriously as musician. But year after year, Miller’s catalog expanded in focus and sound. The culmination of Mac’s efforts are present in Swimming, and the thematic similarities to Vincent’s trajectory in Gattaca are revealing.
“In my own way, this feel like living, some alternate reality, and I was drowning, but now I’m swimming, through stressful waters to relief,” kicks off the first verse on intro track “Come Back to Earth” on Swimming, setting the scene for Miller’s wave-ridden voyage. From there, numerous mentions of flight (‘Keep your eyes to the sky, never glued to your shoes, guess there was a time when my mind was consumed’ on “Small Worlds” and ‘All the way in with no exit plan, already left and the jet don’t land’ on “What’s The Use”) represent the ambition it takes to break away from the barriers of issues such as poor genetic makeup or depression and substance abuse. Motivations may vary, but both Mac and Vincent were willing to lay it all on the line for their goals, and nothing can challenge the work ethic of those who are destined for something greater than the bad cards handed to them.
Every time we hear Mac Miller, we hear his pleasures, his pain and the genuine desire to contribute to the world of music he created and dedicated his life to. Just like Vincent, Mac never saved anything for the swim back. He gave his fans everything he had and even with all the accolades, as reflected and symbolized on “Conversation Pt.1” (‘Started in the basement, made it way above the top, now I’m in the spaceship, in a spaceship, shit is spacious’), Miller never lost sight of what mattered most; being honest and vulnerable so others know they aren’t fighting their battles alone.
In the last scene of Gattaca, as the spaceship prepares for take-off (with music eerily similar to the intro of Miller’s “2009” playing in the background) Vincent reflects, “For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once a part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving. Maybe I’m going home”.
As we celebrate Mac Miller on his birthday and moving forward, we can only hope he’s found his own home in the sky and is in peace, because he gave the world exactly that.