On a clear December afternoon, friends, family and fans gathered to honor the late Lil Peep in Long Beach, New York. One 19-year-old fan named Tim explains why he got a tattoo honoring the singer-rapper on his lower left rib cage. “I have pretty bad anxiety and depression,” he told Rolling Stone. “When that got really bad with a relationship I was in, Lil Peep was my outlet … Like, someone else has been through the same thing.”
Lil Peep, born Gustav Åhr, died on the evening of November 15th at age 21 of a suspected drug overdose. The hundreds of fans lined up to pay their respects outside the beachside Allegria Hotel were overwhelmingly young. Some wore black Come Over When You’re Sober sweatshirts in honor of Lil Peep’s final recording, hoods up in solidarity. Others wore some form of pink – Åhr’s favorite color.
Over the last two years, Lil Peep’s music blended rap and rock, often coupling a tremulous guitar line, untouched by distortion or drama, with jaw-rattling bass and hi-hats. Peep delivered hummable melodies with conversational ease, and his songs included frank discussions of suicidal thoughts, heartache and drug use. He released music primarily via streaming services like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and he currently has some four dozen songs on SoundCloud with more than a million streams each.
During Saturday’s tearful ceremony, friends and family testified to the young man behind the music. Eddie Whalen presented Lil Peep as his fashion guru, the invaluable friend who taught him it was OK to throw out his Sketchers and stop tucking his shirts into pants pulled high above his waist. Emma Harris, who dated the singer, recounted falling in love with Lil Peep by the time she was in fifth grade, enthralled because she “never met anyone who colored his hair more than me.” “I don’t think it’s physically possible to shed more tears for anyone,” she added. In a ceremony on the beach after the service, fans laid roses in the surf in Lil Peep’s honor. One man showed his affection for the singer by stripping to his underwear and running into the Atlantic, red rose in hand.
Lil Peep’s rise to stardom was powered by relentless drive. His mother, Liza Womack, said he often labored through the night, working on music until after the sun rose again next morning. “You may be surprised to find out that Gus and his housemates had a weekly Frank Sinatra night,” she continued. “His favorite song to sing was ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ and he was fucking good at singing it.” When Lil Peep tracks like “Star Shopping” or “Save That Shit” played during the service, friends in the audience thew their arms around each other’s shoulders, swayed and sang every word.
Womack also remembered her son as someone who reckoned with multiple forms of societal prejudice. “Gus understood that many good people suffered injustice because of what they looked like or how much money they had,” she said. “He saw how the cool kids who lived in the fancy neighborhoods looked down on his friends who lived in the projects – and looked down on his own family who lived in an apartment and drove an old Nissan. Gus got fed up with that world. He rejected it.”
Womack encouraged others to learn from Lil Peep’s example. “Please do not make assumptions about people or events in ignorance,” she instructed. “Ask yourself these questions: Do I really know this person? Have I sat down face to face and asked him to tell me about himself? … Am I dismissing this person because he does not match my definition of a ‘good kid’?”
“Be honest,” Womack said. “Gus was.”