There are moments in life when—as soon as they pass—you know for certain that you’ll remember them forever. The birth of a child, the death of grandparent, the Eagles winning the Super Bowl.
I had one of these last month when that same friend Andrew messaged our Facebook friend group thread that Avicii had died.
Back to Thanksgiving Eve, 2011. We were about to leave Andrew’s basement for the bar, but before we did he insisted that I listen to a song. He crouched by the laptop, typed “Levels” into Youtube, and with a few key punches changed my life forever.
I’ve heard it hundreds, maybe thousands of times since then. If I'm lucky I'll hear it many thousands more. It’s pure ecstasy that just happens to be expressed via song.
Depression is a relentless bastard, but I’d like to think that Tim Bergling found some relief in gracing us with that joyous ode. All this time I was finding myself in Tim’s music, but I never knew he was lost.
Fade into Darkness
A Eulogy of Tim Bergling
Recreational marijuana is legal in Nevada, so of course I partook. I drove to the dispensary with the radio tuned to Sirius XM BPM, my preferred EDM station. It was a constant stream of Avicii tributes, but my mind was already on the weed.
I spent the weekend in a hazy stupor, fading in and out as my friends joked around me. I sat on the edge of Lake Tahoe, wondering how something so beautiful could inhabit the same existence as death.
In retrospect, it was sitting out there in front of us the whole time. A GQ article written just as Avicii “peaked,” begins with the sentence Tim Bergling is anxious. It’s right there. In bold. But we missed it, at least I did. I was too busy picturing the “ecstasy-dosed, champagne-soaked masses,” and imagining what it will be like one day when I’m a jet-setting celeb awash in women’s bras that has the girls “hyperventilating, ‘I want to fuck him so bad.’”
On a Wednesday night in November of 2011 I was in the basement of my friend Andrew’s parents’ house. This was no ordinary autumn evening—it was Thanksgiving Eve—and my first such Thanksgiving Eve after turning 21.
As I’m sure it is in your town, Thanksgiving Eve is a bit of a tradition where I come from. The newly minted adults gather at the local watering hole (in my case, directly across the street from the high school) and engage in the ultimately futile gesture of delaying the big 30 for as long as possible.
To prepare for this orgiastic charade of inebriated awkwardness, Andrew, myself, and our high school friend group were pregaming with poorly mixed cocktails and the viral videos of a more innocent time.
I had just turned 21 the previous summer and this was one of the first nights of partying I’d have with my high school friends. I anticipated a thrilling night of shots, dancing, more shots, laughing, more shots, and ill-advised hookups with that one girl we went to high school with.
I wasn’t remotely prepared for what came next.
How can a human being “peak?” But then again, how could we ever have heard the screams of a man’s demons when they were a mere minor chord in a joyous, soaring melody? Avicii made music with Coldplay’s Chris Martin—who gleefully described him as “so talented.” Avicii also slashed his own neck open with the shards of a wine bottle. Or was it his wrist? No matter—the page views will come all the same.
How can one man contain such multitudes?
Go back and watch the video with Chris Martin. 25 seconds in, via voiceover, Avicii says, seemingly out of nowhere, “I loved making music…that was the one thing I could come back to.” He loved music so much that he played it through 532 concerts and six years of non-stop drinking that landed him in the hospital with acute pancreatitis. Why the drinking? “I was so nervous,” Avicii said in the GQ piece. “I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it.”
The things we love kill us every time. Music may have killed Avicii, but alcohol wielded the knife.
Am I any different? Are you? The poison may vary, but the process is the same. I went to all those concerts and all those festivals because I’m addicted to the thrill, to the smell of weed in the air, to the sweaty warmth of a college girl in cut off jean shorts grinding on me.
We never think of the morning after—the hangover, a body’s protest against poison. We never think of what’s missed when the bass gratifies our drunken haze: a friend’s understanding, a newborn in your arms, the steel blue horizon of an infinite lake.
I stared at the phone, uncomprehending. It was 4/20 and I was to board a plane later that day en route to Lake Tahoe and a weekend of slightly more mature debauchery with the same friends from Thanksgiving Eve seven years before.
Though at first my shock belied reality, Google and Twitter quickly disabused me of that denial. The disbelief was universal, but soon the tributes came pouring in. My favorite is still this mashup of some of Avicii’s most popular songs. It’s seamless and flawless, and perfectly encapsulates the radiant lyrics and pristine melodies that made Avicii the Mozart of EDM. The transition from the lyrics of Wake Me Up into those of Seek Bromance (1:25 timestamp) is just breathtaking.
And so after a few empty hours filled with newly melancholy Avicii music I left for the airport—for Lake Tahoe, for my friends, for what I thought would be a hilariously fun weekend. The spring sun streamed through the plane’s window as I watched this video of Avicii’s song Heaven. I think I may have cried, but all I really remember is the music.
Over the past half-decade I’ve seen more DJs than I can count. I’ve been to enough EDM festivals in the summer sun to dehydrate a camel. I’ve seen The Chainsmokers, Tiesto, Hardwell, Calvin Harris, Armin, Kygo, Axwell /\ Ingrosso, and The Chainsmokers and Tiesto again a couple more times.
I never saw Avicii live, and it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.
I had a ticket to see him at Festival Pier in Philly in the fall of 2015 but that was one of many shows he had to cancel. We should’ve known at the time that something was wrong. But, human nature being what it is, we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. We couldn’t see the person behind the name.