Swimming in circles, one day at a time - Sazi Bongwe
For Mac Miller fans the past 7 months have been as bittersweet as they come. His tragic passing in September 2019 sent shockwaves through the music world. In a time of uncertainty and disbelief, the one undeniable fact was that a truly ingenious life was taken from us far too soon. One could only hope that Mac Miller, born Malcolm McCormick, spent his last days happy and smiling; in consciousness of his life-long struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues. We are led to maintain this hope through Miller’s first, and only, posthumous album : Circles. In accordance with much of Miller’s discography, yet in a truly unique and touching way, Circles is personal, heartfelt and visceral. What I find most striking however, is the immense value Miller places in a single day. The worth of a day becomes a recurring theme in the album, seen initially as Miller sings in the opening and title song, ‘Circles’ : “you’re feeling sorry, i'm feeling fine / don’t you put any more stress on yourself, it’s one day at a time.” This same trend continues in this masterful 49 minute collection of touching music. When you hold the significance of a day in the same light as Miller’s untimely passing, you get a tragic account of what it means to truly live, and to do so one day at a time.
On ‘Complicated’ Mac Miller dives into the sea of complication that is life. He holds in stark contrast the outward appearance of his life with the inner workings of his mind, and explores the day-to-day ramifications of this ongoing battle. In the song’s first verse Miller writes, “some people say they want to live forever / that’s way too long, i’ll just get through today.” It’s a line that immediately resonates with us, because we possess the same fear of a life short-lived that Mac refutes. Miller has never shied away from dealing with life’s most harsh realities, yet in these lines he offers a simple yet imperative resolution. He notes just how complicated life can be, and urges us to deal with all that today holds, rather than to overthink and get lost in our heads. “ ‘Fore I start to think about the future” he sings, “first, can I please get through a day?” The notion of taking life one day at a time has been dragged to something of a cliche, yet in these lines, testament to Miller’s artistry, we come to recognise just how much value there is in this.
Through this same notion, we get a lot of optimism from Mac as well. On ‘Blue World’ in and amongst the head-bopping raps he sings in the refrain : “hey, one of these days we’ll all get by / don’t be afraid, don’t fall” and on ‘Good News’ he lets us know that “there ain’t a better time than today.” Whether it’s the nostalgia of “Best Day Ever” seeping through or the pervading feeling of each of these lines, we’re driven toward hope and appreciation. These lines show how Mac is able to use his lyrics to alter the way in which we take on our own days; between melancholy and vitality, back and forth, almost in circles.
When you pair Mac Miller’s two most recent works (which were intended to form part of a trilogy), you get the concept of swimming in circles. This idea extends through any line you look to, and the two albums complement each other magnificently. This holds true on a number of levels, from the inner dialogue in Mac’s head but also in the way each day continues on this cyclical path. When Mac says “too many days in a daze, better wake up” on ‘Woods’ we recognise this thread; and even more so on ‘That’s on me’ when he lets us know that “[he] said good morning this morning and [he]’ll say goodnight.” It’s both a gloomy thought and a hopeful one; circles symbolise continuity and wholeness, but simultaneously can also symbolise being trapped or without a way out. Mac suggests we swim through our own circles one day at a time, in an effort to navigate the tumultuous seas of our lives.
This recurring theme reaches its climax on the album's final track, ‘Once a day.’ A song as beautiful as it is tragic, as uplifting as it is full of despair. The song sees Mac bring this thread to a close and complete the circle; we see him put into practice the day-to-day plan that he outlines in the rest of the album. We can only hope that each day leading up to his passing saw Mac rise and fall asleep ‘cheesing from cheek to cheek.’ Circles calls upon us to use everything we’ve felt and learnt as Mac Miller fans to go on and make the best of our days. To continue Mac Miller’s legacy everyday “until the day we have to meet again” as he sings on ‘Hand Me Downs.’ Mac Miller deserved more days. Yet, the value he expresses in a single day comforts me more than anything else. I know that for as few days as Malcolm got, he made the most of every single one of them, and in doing so touched an innumerable number of lives. I challenge each of you to do the same, for in the words of Mac himself on ‘Right’ :
“Days turn into nights...love turn into life”