Mac Miller’s final interview, like the icon Jimi Hendrix’s, reveals the painful normalcy of uncertainty
The terrible art of figuring life out and the search for peace — whether one is famous, or not — has not changed
“Everything has so much weight, but it’s all just chapters. It’s all just pieces of the story. There’s gonna be a next part. It’s not a big deal. It’s not. That’s the thing. Trust. The more I trust in who I am as a human being, the more I’m like, ‘Okay, this will all kind of figure itself out.’ ”
Sept. 18 marks 48 years since Jimi Hendrix died at 27, enshrining himself — next to Robert Johnson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse — in the ghoulish 27 Club. While the cause of Hendrix’s 1970 death was officially ruled asphyxia due to barbiturate abuse, the paradigm-destroying guitarist’s final day has been a topic of debate for nearly a half-century.
Seattle’s James Marshall Hendrix, along with fellow 27 Club members such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, helped bring to life the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” ethos of the 1960s. History may never know how many Vesparax sleeping tablets Hendrix actually took, but one is prescribed to knock a man out for eight hours, and Hendrix is said to have taken as many as nine the evening he died.
Hendrix’s music — 1967’s genius Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love, and 1968’s genre-expanding Electric Ladyland — became part of the soundtrack of a young, rebellious generation bracketed by war, separated by racial strife and heartbroken by a decade of high-profile deaths and assassinations. His fans escaped into his music, finding pieces of their souls in his guitar solos.
Maybe it’s just timing? They are, of course, very different in terms of just about everything but sadness. Yet strands of a connection can be been found in the last interviews of Hendrix and of Pittsburgh rapper and producer Mac Miller. There has been an overwhelming outpouring of grief since the death of Miller, who was found dead on Sept. 7 in Studio City, California. While the cause of death is officially undetermined, a source told People that Miller went into cardiac arrest after “appearing to suffer” a drug overdose. It’s a death that has struck the hip-hop world harder than many might have expected.
Miller was 26. And Malcolm “Mac Miller” McCormick and Hendrix share a kinship in that their final interviews — Hendrix’s conducted a week before his death with NME, and Miller’s published a day before his death via Vulture.com — are breathtakingly normal.
A condensed and animated version of Hendrix’s final interview.
The more prophetic the death, the grander its legacy. We cherish Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop” speech not only because of the power he spoke with but also because he envisioned the bullet that killed him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel so soon after. We cherish Malcolm X’s “1965” chapter in his autobiography because he knew he was a man writing with death’s breath on his neck. We linger over Whitney Houston’s death because it is an ending we feared was inevitable.
We still grieve for Winehouse, whom the United Nations all but called an international menace to society for her drug and alcohol use. Seared in our brains are the two empty vodka bottles near the bed in which she was found. We languish over Marvin Gaye’s final months — a man spiritually at war with the world around and the soul within him before his own father ended Gaye’s life. We pine over Tupac Shakur’s last photo (and last words) on the Las Vegas Strip because the look in his eyes reveals the reality he always knew was “around the corner” — and seemingly ran toward. We agonize over The Notorious B.I.G. dubbing his only studio albums Ready to Die and Life After Death.
Full audio of Jimi Hendrix’s last interview given a week before his death with NME’s Keith Allston on Sept. 11, 1970, in England
Yet in the final two interviews of each of Hendrix’s and Miller’s lives, it doesn’t appear they were breathing like they could see death in the corner of their eye. Perhaps that is what will always haunt us. Neither gave an urgent manifesto.
Hendrix was in the process of reinventing himself musically — a process that, according to longtime Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, “the public didn’t understand.” Nearly two years had passed since Ladyland and a year since Hendrix redirected the course of music history with his 1969 Woodstock performance of the national anthem that channeled the rage, despair, hope and pride of a generation that knew a god with a guitar when they saw one. Over the course of the 30-minute interview (above, on Soundcloud), Hendrix floated through a multitude of topics ranging from his Isle of Wight festival performance to putting together a new band.
He was quasi-skeptical of his own talents, unsure how people would take to the fruits of his marathon recording sessions. Self-doubt is artistry’s calling card. “Everybody goes through those stages,” Hendrix said of the quieter approach he was taking with his image. He cut his hair. His numerous rings began to slowly disappear. Hendrix’s life had changed. He realized that he wasn’t invincible. His acquittal of a career-threatening drug charge in Toronto in 1969 was a lesson. “I felt like I was being too loud or something, because my nature just changed.”
The weight of his reality also gave way to a revolving door of vices. For Hendrix, the blues weren’t merely a genre. The blues were his life. “My hang-up is getting hung up with things that happened in the past.”
As Hendrix contemplates a life of lavishness, he’s asked if he’s made enough money in his career to live comfortably. Hendrix laughs. The rock star lifestyle wasn’t going to finance itself. “I want to get up in the morning and just roll over in my bed into an indoor swimming pool and then swim to the breakfast table, come up for air and get maybe a drink of orange juice or something like that,” he said. “Then just flop over from the chair into the swimming pool, swim into the bathroom and go on and shave and whatever.”
It was always easy to root for the perfectionist in Miller. And like Hendrix’s final interview, Miller’s paints a profile of an artist in transition. Headlines about his breakup with Ariana Grande (reportedly due in part to his struggles with addiction) and a May car crash that resulted in a DUI were part of the tabloid-related energy surrounding Miller in his final months. Yet, there was a sense of peace he was finding in himself as he talked to Vulture’s Craig Jenkins.
“I think I’m in a different place than I thought I would be, but I think I’m in a place that Malcolm as a human being wanted,” Miller noted. “When you first get caught up in everything, that’s what you want. You want more. More of this. You want to be at these places and this and that. I think I’m in a place now which is just natural to me.”
Anxiety haunted him, as it does so many. But, in his last deep talk with a journalist, the feeling was that Miller was evolving — if nothing else, learning to cope with the ebbs and flows that come with being north of the dirt. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s just a game that I haven’t got into playing. But it just seems exhausting to always be battling something,” Miller said. “To always be battling for what you think your image is supposed to be. You’re never going to be able to get anything across. No one’s ever gonna really know me … and that’s OK.”
Miller’s Q&A with Jenkins is more therapy session than interview. More release than retreat. The conversation was something Miller, as demonstrated by his willingness to be open, appreciated. His last activity on Twitter, hours before his death, was sharing Jenkins’ story. The talk may have been a way out of his own head, just as he’d yearned for on this year’s psychotherapeutic and tender ode “Come Back to Earth.”
Uncertainty and anxiety over the future is the DNA linking Hendrix and Miller and their final interviews, separated by nearly 50 years. Both were young men in the back half of their 20s. As Jenkins noted, labeling Miller a “work in progress” is marginally accurate but fails to paint the entire picture. The same goes for Hendrix.
The demons and the drug usage that bond these two (and so many others, famous or not) only tell half their stories. Miller, like Hendrix and those of his generation, are no different, musical talent aside, from anyone attempting to solve the Rubik’s Cube of happiness.
Peace is life’s fingerprint — different for each person. It’s what we’re all born searching for. Miller’s music, Hendrix’s music and their last interviews are testaments to the hunt for that personal utopia. Perhaps they found portions.
“The one thing I know for sure that I can do no one else can is do whatever this is. Whoever I am. It’s just trying to get there as much as possible,” Miller said in a quote that, over time, will come to represent the complexity of his life to generations still decades from birth. “My goal is trying to find some type of comfort. I think the last wish I made was for peace of mind, probably.”