Book Review: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

by Hanif Abdurraqib

I know that I stopped thinking about extreme grief as the sole vehicle for great art when the grief started to take people with it. 

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a collection of essays by an author who grounds his memories and insights into life and race/religion relations in pop culture, and music in particular. Each story has its own style and its own memory anchor. Hanif Abdurraqib has experienced some of the worst aspects of life — racism perpetrated by police, the death of his mother and several friends, lost love. And the way he weaves those stories into critiques of bands and concerts is real and raw and jarring and comforting and sort of how a lot of us try to get through life. Quite honestly, I feel like anything I could write about the book would pale in comparison to the book’s beautiful foreword written by Eve L. Ewing.

Hasn’t that always been the way of it? We all choose our sins, and their measure. The ones we believe will render us unforgivable, and the ones that we will wash off with a morning prayer.

I will just say this: Abdurraqib has a powerful way of finding meaning in the otherwise vapid, in the otherwise missed, in the otherwise ignored. He shares his memories as though they were written down in real-time. And he tells the reader about the personal events happening in an artist’s life at critical moments in their musical career that shed new light on many songs and albums for me. He makes me want to pay attention. He makes me want to dig deeper. There are so many profound thoughts in this book that if it doesn’t make you take a hard look at yourself and life and the music you love, then nothing will.

The thing about grief is that it never truly leaves. From the moment it enters you, it becomes something you are always getting over.

Interested in reading it? Buy it on Amazon here (or find it locally like me!)!

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