The Inspiration of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Especially Ryan Lewis.

"I don't feel like I'm the grownup. I feel like I'm the 15-year old down the street, trying to escape, get out of class, smoke weed..." - Macklemore

...Because I seem to be on a roll with the #blessings-that-look-like-something-else; roll or rut, you decide 😛

During the second banking merger I experienced in my former work life (Dryden-Meespierson by Fortisbank), the name of a very senior boss in the upper echelons of the acquiring institution began to make its way into conversations among our more immediate bosses. Firmly based in the Netherlands at the time if I recall correctly, most people in Asia didn't know that much about him.

The story that got everyone's attention however, had to do more with his perceived parenting style - which then largely formed people's impression of his personality, thereby earning him a revered and fearsome reputation as a boss: Already having several biological children of his own, he had then chosen to adopt an HIV+ child to come live with his family. One of our bosses met him and after a long dinner late one night had finally asked him why he did it. Super Big Boss had then launched into a description that included all the precautions they had to take at home, regarding open wounds and bodily fluids, trips to the hospital for blood transfusions, medications. He had wanted his biological children to learn something, from living with an HIV+ sibling. 


Ok, and now to Ryan Lewis of Hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Ryan Lewis grew up with a mum who became HIV+ due to a blood transfusion during the birth of her first child (Ryan is the youngest.) This was a year before testing was mandatory for blood given during transfusions, and she didn't find out she had been infected til after all the children were already born.

Ryan Lewis has said "it" had a profound effect on him: 'I think it really just opened up the door, as a kid, to life experiences that most of my friends didn’t know anything about.' Growing up firmly middle-classed in a conservative Christian family, his parents told him his mum had AIDS when he was 6 years old. His parents are both social workers. That giant tattoo on his forearm is an AIDS ribbon.

'This was an era when people were really shunned for having HIV,' his mum, Julie Lewis, says. When she was diagnosed with HIV, she was 32 years old and had 3 young children - 2, 4 and 6 years old. She was given a few years to live.It's called the 30/30 project because 30 years later she's still here.

I found all that out later.

Here's why I was writing about him to begin with:

Ryan Lewis was 18 years old when he met Ben Haggerty, and they started to work together 3 years later, after finishing college (Lewis majored in Comparative History of Ideas, examining the interplay of cultural, historical and political contexts - which I assume is why some of their other songs were released with a rough correlation to legislation being passed). "Thriftshop" was the first single since 1994 to hit No.1 on the Hot 100 charts without the backing of a major label. Ryan Lewis then was... 25 years old. (He is now 29.)

pic from Youtube

pic from

They eschew branded goods and make it look really cool turning second hand thrift store stuff into your own look (I like when he impresses the "sneakerheads" with his dance moves...

screen shot off Youtube

...while wearing those white velcro school shoes we've all worn to public school haha) I'm not embedding the video because of the language (my limit is soft-swearing*), so instead here's a few more screen shots:

(Rocking adult-size Batman onesies and racoon hat) pic from

...inspiring also signs and memes on rebloggy and memegenerator...

Found the Sesame Street one (sadly the real one with the bad language sounds better):

Ok here's a "clean" one, Ben Haggerty surprising his grandma on her 100th, in a nod to reality tv not unlike Maroon 5s "Sugar" video where they ambush-perform at random weddings across town, and use that as music video footage:

Note however that at the start Surprised Grandma asks, "What d'you want to do, go for a drink? Oh, you don't drink, just me. I took up your habits.." Macklemore picked up and struggled with addiction in High School. At one point his parents transferred schools, but it didn't help. Some interviews put him at 13 years old when he first raided his parents' liquor cabinet (12 shots, his first time). He eventually checked himself into rehab in his 20s on his dad's urging, only to relapse after the success of the first few hits. ("Glorious," above, is more recent.)

Now, to my next point about Ryan Lewis. His much more famous partner Macklemore is 5 years older (remember they met when Lewis was just 18), and is widely seen as the face of the duo. Jimmy Fallon even did a segment, "Who Is Ryan Lewis?"

(Then prompting articles confirming Lewis actually does everything else, from producing, managing the recording process and mixing the music, to directing the music videos.) Note he appears so secure, very non-plussed, in the fact he's the by far lesser-known half of a successful hip-hop duo that no one seems to know his contribution to - and he's fine with that(Hello-o, Sesame Street -You replaced Lewis with Oscar the Grouch to do the kid-friendly version of Thriftshop with Macklemore - really??) So I started Googling Lewis.

Addiction features strongly in Macklemore's life, and he's a rockstar, a real hip-hop celebrity, but if you watch some of the interviews, you'll find Macklemore saying things like "If I (don't think about people other than myself), inevitably I will relapse, and Ryan will leave me and go make an album with someone who is probably not as talented but more consistent as a person.." He's also credited spiritualism with helping him stay sober.

How did this duo succeed, and how does Lewis stay so grounded? Raw, wild talent..... and Refiner's Fire.

ps: Ok, rant time, feel free to leave now 🙂 Addiction or excess are things that I grew up feeling very strongly about. I mean, I spent more than a decade in a dealing room (alcohol! cussing!), and my dad being especially fussed about alcohol prompted me to always have some in my dorm room fridge (me badass! :D) BUT in reality I've never been drunk in my life.

When I first started work I spent several weekends at Boat Quay "learning to drink and order stuff" so I wouldn't embarrass myself or get drunk at work events.. but Dad, that time I fell down the stairs was because I was in 3-inch platforms, not because I was drunk... Your asking me that in jest inspired me to buy the stuff and put it in my fridge! Imma rebel! <fist pump> Still, thank you for believing I could actually pull off feet killers hooker heels instruments of foot death weapons of mass podiatric health destruction 😀

For real though, I once read a commentary by a young woman recovering from substance abuse, and she said someone who has never known the lure of a cigarette cannot understand the craving of an addiction. Those words scared me into never taking up smoking or getting drunk. Much harder to stop than to never start. Anyway, if you've ever wondered what it's like to smoke or try recreational drugs, you should also wonder what addiction feels like:


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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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