NEW YORK — It’s hard to know how to experience an album by a talented, 21-year-old dead person, let alone market it. The pleasure and elation that one can feel from music is weighted down by melancholy, whether you knew the artist or not, and the traditional methods of getting people excited about a new release can be inappropriate if not ghoulish or downright crass.
So needless to say, emotions were complex Thursday night at Ideal Glass, the small East Village performance space where a select audience of 100 or so people gathered to hear a playback of Lil Peep’s first posthumous album, “Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 2.”
Yet to their credit, the organizers of the event — Columbia Records, which is distributing the album; Peep’s business partner, First Access Entertainment chief Sarah Stennett; and his mother, Liza Womack — handled the situation respectfully and lovingly. Womack spoke at length about both the opioid crisis that took her son (whose real name was Gustav Ahr) at the age of 21 almost a year ago, and the challenges presented by, as she put it, “the way we handle the problem of the posthumous release by young artists who have left no explicit direction about what to do with their work if they die.”
The space was decorated elaborately but tastefully, with a giant mural outside (its creation was livestreamed on Instagram), several big photos and a video projection on the walls inside, and Halloween pumpkins emblazoned with Peep’s name and even his face: Halloween was his favorite holiday, and his birthday was Nov. 1. Light food and drinks (just beer and wine) were served.
Before the album was played, bittersweet speeches were delivered by Womack, Stennett, the album’s producers Smokeasac and George Astasio, and Columbia marketing VP Jay Schumer, who compared Peep’s music to the punk rock of his own youth. Stennett spoke of the decision to release the album through Columbia and Sony Music, which she said was slightly influenced by a rarely photographed and “rather large tattoo of the Sony logo that took up major part of Peep’s leg.” She said Womack and others had asked Peep why he’d gotten a tattoo of the corporation’s logo. “He responded that he ‘didn’t know, mama’ — he’d just done it.”
But of course the most poignant moments came from Womack, who addressed virtually every elephant in the room. “This is an important album because it is the work of a young, creative, honest, trailblazing artist,” she said.
“This album is important also because Gus is dead,” she said pointedly. “But this is the album he would have made if he were living.”
She then spoke of the opioid crisis, referenced Mac Miller’s death and Demi Lovato’s recent overdose, and then directly addressed the media in the room.
“Young music artists in this field are dying too often,” she said. “The posthumous release of a young artist’s music is a problem you are all going to have to face. You are facing it now: What do you do when a young artist dies long before his time, leaving behind a legacy of finished and unfinished work and a legion of heartbroken fans?”
She paused before saying, “Well, I feel very proud of what Columbia Records has done with Gus’ album and what [producers] have done to preserve the legacy. This is the album Gus would have wanted,” she sighed.
She concluded with a bold assertion. “’Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 2’ is important because it is the album to serve as the model for the way we handle the problem of the posthumous release by young artists who have left no explicit direction about what to do with their work if they die,” she said. “If [music companies] care enough to pay for the artist’s work, [they should] trust in the artist’s work — study the artist. Trust in the producers and collaborators that they trusted.”
While time will tell whether the full scope of that claim is accurate, on the basis of the one listen to the album that followed — journalists had been asked by label reps not to “review” the album, which should be impossible after just one listen anyway — we will say that it’s a more evolved version of Peep’s trademark sound, and sonically, Womack’s assertion largely rings true.
As a parting touch, on the way out guests were given gift bags that contained a black Peep hoodie and a bag of Halloween candy including, of course, Peeps marshmallow pumpkins. It’s likely that’s something he would have wanted as well.