Listening to Gwar, the most gleefully hideous rock group on the planet (or off it), has reminded me of another time in my life that I got into the music of a sick yet humorous mind. It was late 2000, and even though I hadn’t cared for “The Real Slim Shady” (and didn’t even know “My Name Is” was by the same artist!), I’d enjoyed “Stan” enough to ask my mother to get me The Marshall Mathers LP for Christmas. And so it was that I listened to what I later discovered was Eminem’s second non-underground album…
I was horrified.
No, that’s not an April Fool, I genuinely found my blood curdled the first time I listened to that album, and I fervently hoped that my mother had kept the receipt so she could take it back… but don’t worry, even on that first run-through I detected the wisdom in some of his lyrics (berating parents for not taking care of their children and blaming society instead may seem trite now, but back in the day it was a novel concept). And, as time went by, I found myself desensitised to his songs, and even got my head around the idea that he’s, y’know, funny (as in ha-ha, though he is probably touched in the head too) — though it was a while before I could listen to “Kim” again…
Having successfully grown a pair, in early 2001 I bought his first proper album, The Slim Shady LP, and found it almost entirely inoffensive (I actually joked about taking it back to the shop on the grounds that my copy must be defective!) but funny, and rather less earnest than his second one — so if I’d encountered them in order, maybe I wouldn’t have been such a wuss? Anyway, it cheered me up after I got fired from a half-decent job in April that year: if Mr. Shady could bounce back after the horrible, soul-crushing life he had, what problems did I really have, considering I had a roof over my head, food on the table and a good relationship with my mother? I never got beaten up badly at school (certainly not to the point of going into a coma), and while I felt like a failure for being unemployed despite my university education (or because of it, this being Worthing, after all), I felt that if young Marshall Mathers could have kept going for all those years of misery, I could too.
(Aside: I still think “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” (aka “Just the Two of Us”) is more disturbing than its prequel: while in “Kim” the character of Marshall is screaming at his wife (also played by Eminem) for driving him to what is about to become a triple-homicide, his last gasp of humanity, by the time of the original song he’s passed through this madness into the sinister calm that lies beyond, and sings to his daughter (played by his real-life daughter Hailie) about disposing of his wife’s body in the lake — and then asks her to help him with two more things out of the trunk. The first time I heard it, I expected him to start screaming at any moment, and the fact that he didn’t made it seem all the more creepy… which, I’m sure, was his intention!)
I got into other rap artists as a result of Eminem, so you can blame him for everything. When he brought the rest of his Detroit rap collective into the limelight, D12’s Devil’s Night became the second album I ever bought while it was in the charts (after Gorillaz by, er, Gorillaz, which features a couple of raps by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien). Even though my social life at the time consisted of hanging out with a bunch of old men in a back garden looking at stars on Friday nights, I’d still hum D12 songs like “That’s How” and, er, “S*** Can Happen” as I cycled home, and would put some tracks on when my folks had gone to sleep (but obviously not loud enough to wake them!). I also recorded an Eminem concert (featuring the other members of D12) on Channel 4, though sadly this didn’t survive my recent VHS purge, and I’d definitely like to see it again. For Christmas 2001 I asked my folks for Dr. Dre’s 2001 (actually released in, er, 1999) and a 2Pac greatest hits compilation, and thus my love of rap music continued.
I even remember the day in 2002, when my job at the time let us have an extra-long lunch break due to some football match or other, and I used the time to walk clear across Worthing town centre to a little music shop, where I picked up Dr. Dre’s clasic 1992 album, The Chronic (admittedly it was a 2001 re-release, which I could have bought anywhere, but it’s the adventure that counts!). Previously at the same place I’d found what I assume to be a bootleg copy of Eminem’s original, original album Infinite, with some other tracks of his on it (and with a two-second gap between every track that makes me think it was burned in someone’s CD-R drive), and which even included the song “3hree6ix5ive”, better known as “the underground s*** you did with Skam” as mentioned in “Stan”… so, I’d come full circle!
My interest in rap, and indeed in music generally, declined a bit in the mid-noughties (due to living in a house instead of a student hall of residence, and thus legally being able to have a TV again), but in 2006 two things happened: Eminem’s best friend and fellow D12 member Proof was shot dead, and I bought my first MP3 player and started listening to music on the Tube (and later when walking to work). I felt like I’d been out of it for too long, taken my eye off the ball (so to speak), and got back into enjoying rap once again — because you never know, especially with Detroit still being the shooting capital of America, when you might lose someone…
I’ve got every Eminem album (with the possible exception of The Slim Shady EP, but I’ve got the tracks from it that he didn’t remake for the LP version on my weird copy of Infinite), and even though I’ve never met him or interacted with him in any way (including writing obsessive Stan-style letters to him!), I still regard him as having had a major influence on my life. I haven’t listened to him much in a while, but now I’ve copied all my Eminem, D12 and Dr. Dre albums onto my smartphone, as part of a campaign to listen to things purist-style instead of piecemeal… why, I almost hope the annoying woman makes noise at work tomorrow, because I’ve still got those noise-cancelling headphones!
And here’s the obligatory YouTube video, one of my favourite songs from his masterwork album, The Eminem Show. It’s the clean version, alas, but I’m sure you can find the dirty version with uncensored boobies and Eminem’s bare bum… (“ooh, Matron!”)