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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Eminem: Curtain Call

I must begin this week’s post with a dedication to my lovely brother who turns 27 today. He introduced me to Eminem. Thanks, Chuckee D! Rub you!

As a disclaimer, I believe that Eminem needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt and listened to as the smart, savvy lyricist and performer he is. I don’t think he’s a homophobe or a racist or a misogynist.

I went through a period of time when I kept realizing how much I missed Eminem. I didn’t have any of his songs on my iPod, even though I’d listened to him a lot in college. So I invested in Curtain Call, his 2005 greatest hits release. There are a couple of his masterpieces that aren’t included on this album (“White America” and “Kim” are among my favorites), but overall, it’s a pretty satisfying collection, spanning the hit singles from 1999’s Slim Shady LP to 2004’s Encore and including lesser-heard duets with Notorious B.I.G. (the most shocking lyrics on the album are on this duet, "Dead Wrong"), Jay-Z, and D12 as well as some new songs, including the dance hit "Shake that Ass" featuring Nate Dogg, and the hilarious track, "Just Lose It," which includes a fart joke.

This compilation begins with an “Intro,” in the guise of a doo-wop song and dedicated to the ladies in the audience, segueing into “FACK,” the title of which makes me giggle even. The bass line throbs and Eminem busies himself rapping about a sexual encounter in which he basically doesn’t want to…finish too quickly. It’s hilarious and strangely hot.

The next track, “The Way I Am,” from 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, is a driving, angry tirade against the way Eminem is interpreted in the media. It is a recurring theme in his music, obviously. Aside from the anger (which I understand could easily cloud anyone else’s interpretation of the song and the singer), he also manages to articulate really smart things about how music can certainly influence children, but the parents should be the most important influence: "When a dude's gettin bullied and shoots up his school/and they blame it on Marilyn (on Marilyn).. and the heroin/Where were the parents at?" This, also, is a recurring theme in his music.

One of the fascinating things about Eminem is his many alter egos, his fierce performances on the microphone. He takes on voices: the low, serious toned “Marshall,” the bratty, high-pitched, satirist “Slim Shady,” and “Em” on the tracks where he’s chatting up the ladies or with his boys. We hear Marshall in songs like “Stan,” which is perhaps his most famous and popular single. It’s the track he performed at the Grammys with Elton John, singing the Dido sample and playing piano…watch it here. (This version of the single is also on the album.) “Stan” touches upon what Eminem seems to fear the most, being taken too seriously. The plot of the track hinges on an obsessed fan writing desperate letters to Eminem, who, when he doesn’t hear back from him, drives his truck off a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk. It ends with Eminem’s response, also in letter form, assuring him that what he performs is all an act; it’s not how he lives his life. The lyrics in this song are unforgettable, cutting, serious, and haunting: “You ruined it now, I hope you can't sleep and you dream about it/And when you dream I hope you can't sleep and you SCREAM about it/I hope your conscience EATS AT YOU and you can't BREATHE without me.” They leave a lasting impression, especially when the rapper Eminem realizes that the person who's been writing to him is probably dead.

Marshall is also the voice on the single from 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself,” which won Eminem the Oscar for Best Song. It’s a song like a train, trucking along endlessly and powerfully, an apparently autobiographical song about a struggling rapper who’s waiting and working towards his big break. It’s about seizing the opportunities that reveal themselves to us, and the lyrics are so apt that Jodie Foster quoted them in her speech at the Penn commencement last year. Personally, I think the Oscar was deserved, if only for these lyrics: “Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity/Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked/He's so mad, but he won't give up that/Easy, no.” Who else could rhyme “gravity” with “Rabbit, he”?

Eminem, the satirist, can’t be ignored. This is what made him famous in the first place, with “My Name Is…” in which he manages to mention (and insult) the Spice Girls, Pamela Lee, and any fan who wants an autograph. I think the charm and genius in this track is in the interludes between lyrics: “I lay awake and strap myself in the bed/Put a bulletproof vest on and shoot myself in the head (BANG!)/I'm steaming mad (Arrrggghhh!)/And by the way when you see my dad? (Yeah?)/Tell him that I slit his throat, in this dream I had.” It’s the catchiness that keeps me coming back, the hook that I think he must know is impossible for his audience to get away from. This voice comes back in “Without Me” and “The Real Slim Shady.” In fact, as I was listening to the album again for this post, I noticed how similar these three tracks are. He consistently makes fun of the president and his colleagues, pop stars (particularly boy bands and Moby, “And Moby, you can get stomped by Obie,/You 36 year old bald headed fag blow me/You don't know me, you're too old/Let go, it's over, nobody listens to techno”), and his mother.

Apparently, Eminem has officially retired to spend more time with his family. It’s evident from this album how much he seems to be regretful. “Mockingbird,” “When I’m Gone, and “Like Toy Soldiers” are all songs about how he understands how he does influence his fans and his children (a biological and adopted daughter), even though that's not what he initially expected. He knows he needs to be a leader and can't be tempted into feuds by other artists. He is striving for reconciliation with his family, wondering how his daughter can trust how much he loves her when he's insulting her mother in his songs.

Still, the last track, “I Just Don’t Give a F*ck,” probably sums it up best. (There are far too many tracks on this album to write about each one.) I think Eminem’s lasting message is that he, like the rest of us, uses his music as a way of expressing himself. And that’s really the end of the story. He doesn’t care too much about what we think of it: “So put my tape back on the rack/Go run and tell your friends my sh*t is wack/I just don't give a f*ck!!” Despite this, or maybe because of it, he still has plenty of fans.

1 comment:

Rachiewrites said...

You ALMOST make even ME want to listen to his music. };>)) Great piece, my dear.