Inside Long Beach, New York’s Allegria Hotel, Gerard Way’s voice comes through the speakers at the memorial service being held for Lil Peep (born Gustav Ahr), who died Nov. 15 in Tuscon, Arizona. The famous, sorrowful line, “So long and goodnight,” from My Chemical Romance’s hit “Helena,” reverberates throughout the hall, which is filled with the emo/hip-hop artist’s lifelong friends, family and industry partners. The words are all too poignant as those the 21-year-old music maverick left behind grip each other with love and tears, emptiness and solidarity.
It doesn’t take long for a close friend of the family and local mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, to come up and speak with me as if she’d known me my whole life. The entire music community, from Good Charlotte (who covered “Awful Things” for the service) to Ty Dolla $ign, is pained by this loss. Prayers for Peep aren’t confined to this island or even to this country, as my new companion tells me her daughter, who is studying Buddhism in Nepal, has her fellow monks praying for her fallen friend. Suddenly, the “EXIT LIFE” tattoo on the late musician’s back is not just a sentiment, but also a description of someone who, according to his peers, still had so much left to do and to change.
Lil peep wtfffffffffff bro I'm sick❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
— Ty Dolla $ign (@tydollasign) November 16, 2017
I begin to cry tears of my own as Peep’s former girlfriend Emma Harris, mother Liza Womack and even grandmother Jenny Kastner take turns speaking. As each gives their own account of how tender, determined, stubborn and unique their Gus was, I gradually begin to feel like I’d lost a friend, too. The woman I just met, who stands next to me for the entirety of the memorial, fondly remembers the details of his life that the news doesn’t share. “He was a great baseball player,” she says. “He took tap dance—the only boy in his grade.” Lil Peep wasn’t ordinary by any means, but he also wasn’t just a celebrity. He was a best friend. He was that kid in your class. He was a neighborhood son. And by the end of the ceremony, he was someone that I wish I had known personally, too.
During her powerful tribute, Peep’s mother recalled how, from a young age, the artist felt like an outcast. She shared that some people rejected him because of his lack of interest in school, his penchant for tattoos and piercings and his refusal to fall in line with societal norms. She went on to say that if you had seen him walking down the street at night you might be put off, scared or even label him a “loser.” “If you had made these judgments about this teenager, about this young man struggling on his own to find meaning as a man, then I ask you to use this moment, right now, as a time to reflect on your actions,” she challenges. “Ask yourself these questions: ‘Do I really know this person? Have I sat down face-to-face and asked to tell me about himself? Do I know what matters to him? Do I know what he values?’ Please do not make assumptions about people, or events, in ignorance. Try to step outside of your own box, and open your mind to new ideas. Must everyone fit into the box? Why must we have a box?” She offered an important message asking us all to examine our own prejudices and refrain from judging a person based on how they look or choose to live their life.
When it’s all over, friends write their last messages to Peep on a canvas bearing his photograph. “What an inspiration” is written and underlined beneath his “Cry Baby” facial tattoo. Countless “I love you”’s are scrawled across his likeness—his face and memory now imprinted with permanent declarations of fondness and compassion. Slowly, we all walk out of the room the same way we walked in, hearing Gerard Way singing, but now it’s the lyrics “We’ll carry on” from “Welcome To The Black Parade” as we mouth along.
The sun begins to set over the beach outside as droves of fans and people from the service make their way to the shoreline. Small, calm waves break on the sand as roses are tossed, one by one into the sea. There are a few daredevils who make their send-offs special: One man runs with his rose out into the deeper parts of the ocean in nothing but his boxers, while another tries to make it onto the crowded beach by jumping off the boardwalk, resulting in a broken tailbone. But, these were appropriate goodbyes for a young artist who always dared to be outrageous—an outcast who was and continues to be loved by millions.
According to Peep’s representatives in the industry, new music will be released posthumously at an undisclosed date.
Take a look at images from Lil Peep's memorial service in Long Beach, New York:
[Photos by: Nick Karp]