Listen to Mac McCaughan's new song "Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)."

In “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again),” Mac McCaughan Hopes for a Differently Terrible 2017

In “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again),” Mac McCaughan Hopes for a Differently Terrible 2017

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Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 27 2016 9:59 AM

Mac McCaughan’s “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)” Hopes 2017 Will at Least Be Differently Bad

Mac McCaughan has seen the future, and it’s not pretty.

Michael Rubenstein

There’s no guarantee 2017 will be any better than 2016—and in fact, you can make a strong argument that it’s likely to be worse. But take heart: At least it can’t be terrible in precisely the same way.

That’s the very modest message of hope offered by “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again),” a new song by Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan. Written and recorded on Dec. 24 and debuted on Princeton’s WPRB-FM during Jon Solomon’s annual 25-hour Christmas Day marathon, it’s about as up-to-date as it’s possible for a song to be. And yet 2016 still managed to slip the death of another icon into the narrow gap between the song’s conception and its release. (Seriously, 2016: Enough already.)


Like the songs on last year’s great Non-Believers, “Happy New Year” is a hymn to the power of common experience, even if in this case what binds us together isn’t the memory of sneaking off to guzzle beers with your teenage friends but the shared feeling that the year that is about to mercifully come to a close was, in the words of Dame Helen Mirren, “a big pile of shit.” Or, as McCaughan puts it in his opening verse:

It was a year when everybody died
And it was a year when the adults and children cried
For the loss of their hope
For the loss of their youth
And next year might be better, but I don’t see any proof

It might be useful to mention at this juncture that McCaughan, who also co-founded the venerable indie-rock label Merge Records, is a resident of North Carolina, a state whose residents have special reason to despair—which, along with the song’s brief gestation period, goes a ways towards explaining blunt lyrics like “This could be a great year if you’re rich/ Or if you’re a racist craving an authoritarian hand.” But at the end of the song, McCaughan pulls off a surprising rhetorical swivel. Where he begins with a call to “raise a glass” to like-minded friends, the last verse suggests breaking bread with family members who don’t share your views, being ready to reconnect once they realize the man they voted for isn’t going to follow through on his promises. (As you may have gathered, “Happy New Year” is not addressed to Trump supporters.)

So gather with your retrograde relations at the table
Nursing hangovers of hatefulness and fear
Remember who needs to get out and see the world
Play the long game, muster up some cheer
’Cause if they believe that nothing really matters
All that winning might end sooner than they think
We might not have democracy or freedom anymore
But resistance will be hatched around this drink

McCaughan describes “Happy New Year” as a song that was written “in a moment of trying to look at any possible bright side of the coming new year after the disaster that was this one.” But even in that forcibly optimistic frame of mind, he still envisions things having to get worse before they get better. The best we can say is that however many beloved cultural figures die in 2017, none of them will be Prince. “Happy new year,” McCaughan sings, “it can’t be this one again.”

Sam Adams is a Slate senior editor and the editor of Slate’s culture blog, Brow Beat.