As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Martin Douglas explores a heavy year and a half of his life through Earl Sweatshirt's 2015 single "Grief." Read or listen to the piece below.
For most of summer 2015, I stayed in the house. I didn’t drive up to Seattle to go to shows, I didn’t spend time with my friends. I went through an ounce of indica every two weeks, staving off panic attacks to be able to make it into work at my soul-sucking grocery retail job. I was involved in an affair with a married woman I met at said job. She came over on her 8am jog, we did our thing, I talked about losing my parents and she talked about not being in love anymore.
Memorial Day Weekend is usually the kickoff of summer, even though the season doesn’t officially start until about a month later. Memorial Day Weekend 2015, I was urgently stirred out of my sleep by my then-brother-in-law, telling me my dad had been shot. He’d been grieving my mom for the past fourteen months, as she had passed away suddenly just days before her birthday in January 2014. He suffered from depression; same as my grandfather. Same as me. My first thought was that he killed himself. I was told on the ride to his house that he had been murdered in an altercation the night before.
Two funerals in consecutive years. A year and a half of having to drag my heart behind me wherever I went. At my dad’s funeral, I wept hard into my little brother’s shoulder and I could feel him trying to pull away from me. I never felt more alone in my life. For most of the next three months, I leaned into that feeling; mostly at home, almost always by myself. Box fan humming in the window during those hot months, my body as heavy as my soul.
“Grief,” the lead single from I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt, was released about two months before my dad was killed. I’d spent most of the past year in a similarly heavy state of grief after my mom passed, so it was safe to say I identified greatly with its themes. The melody of the beat floated in a glacial, ambient haze; it sounded like Sweatshirt was rapping under a storm cloud. He kicked verses about distrust and antisocial tendencies, about burying his pain under the fog of substances and empty sex, about panic attacks and the discomfort that comes with being an innovator.
There are a lot of things I can’t speak about here. A lot of feelings about family and toxic codependency and the world being bigger than the nest I flew away from. About the things I had to give up to get the things I want.
I carried a lot of guilt through the years following my parents’ death. I spent a lot of time isolating myself from the family unit, trying to heal from traumas I suffered long before I moved cross-country to live with them. Spending countless hours in front of a computer screen honing my craft as a writer. Obviously that all paid off for me, but not before I could show my parents. Not before I could bring them a copy of Seattle Weekly fresh off the presses with my name on the cover. “This is what I’ve been doing all these years. This is what I’ve been spending all that time trying to cultivate.”
I have to live with the fact that it took me too long to bring them proof that I’m achieving my dreams. That the extremely solitary work I had to do provided results. That I sacrificed relationships to be great at this, and now I am.
Give or take a handful of months, Earl Sweatshirt is a decade younger than me. And yet, I felt a bigger sense of identification in his words than probably any other rapper I’ve ever heard. With all due respect to his very good 2013 album Doris, “Grief” is where this personal attachment started. It’s an immensely heavy song filled with pain obscured by bitterness. It’s a portrait of the artist standing on the edge of something he can’t turn back from. Will he choose healing or will he allow the grief to consume him?
The seven years since “Grief” dropped has answered that question substantially. Though he had shown glimpses of his maturity on Doris, “Grief” and the work he’s done after it has found Sweatshirt embarking on a path to turn his spiritual weight into meaningful art. I’d like to say I achieved something similar. But everything good is earned at a cost. I’d like to think Earl Sweatshirt knows this as well as I do.
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Dusty Henry looks at “Degree of Change” by Nairo…
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. As we jump back to 2006, Martin Douglas shares his reflecti…