I was shocked and, frankly, sad when I heard the news about Tim Bergling’s (Avicii’s) passing. I don’t usually feel anything personal upon the passing of people I’ve never met, but this time I did.
When we reflect on the life of an artist, we reflect on how that artist’s contributions affected us. Because that’s what artists aim to do: they hope to make an imprint on our lives. In my case, Avicii succeeded memorably. So I want to say a little about his unexpected imprint on my life, as a tribute:
Avicii’s music came to me during an existential detour: one of those that you never could have planned but which surpassed BY FAR anything you might’ve been imagining, expecting, or aiming at.
I never particularly liked EDM (nor did I particularly dislike it), but naturally, I couldn’t escape Avicii’s biggest hit, “Wake Me Up.” That song — deeply spiritual — was ubiquitous at clubs in Shanghai in late-2013 and thus etched itself onto my life soundtrack. It described well where I was at the time: wrapped up in universal themes like struggle and dreams and trying to find our way and the goals we wonder if we’ll ever live to see fulfilled. But the song is also about the wisdom we accidentally pick up along the road, and the miracles that are happening even when we don’t notice them — which is what I was starting to glimpse at that point in my journey.
Simultaneously one of the toughest and one of the most magical of my life thus far, 2013 was a year whose gifts I appreciated even more once it closed, when its primary characters shuffled off the stage for a break between scenes and I had time to reflect on how amazing they were. On all the heart in their performance. On the lines they delivered that went straight to my soul. I don’t know how many years like 2013 life offers you. I’m lucky I had at least that one.
So ever since, I’ve listened to “Wake Me Up” from time to time just to reconnect with that sense of wonder.
I play Avicii’s biggest hit, and I’m 29 again, in China. I live in a mouse- and roach-infested hostel above a fetid wet market; I’m poorer than I ever thought I’d be; I see no solutions; but I’m out on the town, dressed like a pauper in a city of amped-up glitz, and I’m dancing like nothing even matters — just happy to be young and alive and free.
As ever, I am on the dance floor with my Portuguese neighbor, and sometimes we draw close, grinning at each other. In any number of these moments — in any number of places — “Wake Me Up” comes on, and I sing to him while I smile. Even though the music is ecstatically loud and he can’t hear me right now.
The song is about me. It’s about him. It’s about all of us. It’s about this life and any others and about the spaces where all our waking dreams connect.
In this song that I love so much, Aloe Blacc sings, “Wake me up when it’s all over.” That’s actually one of the reasons I fell in love with the track to begin with: when I first heard it on Shanghai’s club circuit, life felt very much like a dream, and I was opening my eyes to the magic that happens when we “wake up” in new lives after the drama of an old one is “all over.” Fundamentally, I was learning things about rebirth, and about how we reconnect with all our favorite companions again in the next round because we all love each other so damn much.
Basically, the theme of that year, for me, was “transcendence,” and Avicii’s smash hit fit precisely that kind of score. I’m not familiar with his fuller discography — just one song was all it took to immortalize Avicii in my mind — but I still can’t help but imagine that there is no more perfect song to commemorate his life, since “Wake Me Up” captured something of the essence of every one of us and the value of our time here.
I’m sad that the world lost Avicii so young. I’m also sad because his passing somehow feels like the end of an era, given that I associate his music so strongly with a particular (incredible) period in my life. It’s weird to realize that I was already older than he ever got to be by the time his music struck such a beautiful chord in my own soundtrack.
Avicii was an artist who didn’t hold back. He may have exited the stage while he was still young, but I don’t doubt that he gave us his best before he went. Nevertheless, when a 28-year-old dies, it reminds you that time is precious. You don’t know when you’ll go either.
So have some fun. Start expressing your spirit now. Don’t take your gifts to the grave. Most importantly, recognize the value of the people right in front of you, and love with your whole heart.
“Life’s a game made for everyone — and love is the prize.”