Sunday, June 02, 2002

"The Eminem Show" (Act One, Scene One)
by Wayne Robins

Last Tuesday I went to Target my favorite big store for recreational shopping, to pick up two items on day of release: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on DVD, and "The Eminem Show." One was for the kids; the other was for me. The pricing was, as it so often is at Target, a bargain: $11.99 for the Eminem CD--it's actually two discs, with a second bonus DVD included; and $14.99 or $15.99 for the Potter movie, another two-DVD set. I haven't gotten deep into the "The Eminem Show." I just keep listening to "White America," the first full track, over and over. A heart thumping, butt-bumping, rhetorical masterpiece, Eminem knows what he's got, groove-wise: "Straight through your radio waves, it plays and plays/'til it's stuck in your head for days and days."

What wipes me out, however, is the wordcraft. This rap's not about rhymes or crimes: It's a State of the Youth Culture Union address, and like those humorous slice-of-life Budweiser commercials, it's True. It is, simultaneously, a grand seizure of the the right to free speech; wonderment at the magnitude of his own success; a mocking of the medium that helped make him that made him a star: "I go to TRL look how many hugs I get," he sings. Elvis Costello once sang: "I want to bite the hand that feeds me." Eminem bites the hand, the wrist, the arm, right to the shoulder, and goes for the jugular.

He plays the hand he's been dealt expertly, especially the race card, knowing, like Sun Records' Sam Phillips in the segregated south of the 1950s, shrewdly anticipating the miracle that would be Elvis Presley, that if there existed a white man who could authentically perform black music, the payoff could be incalculable. Eminem clears the table: "Look at these eyes, baby blue...if they were brown Shady lose." Well, maybe not lose, but not do as well: "Look at my sales, let's do the math, If I was black, I would've sold half."

He seizes the free speech mantle, reopening some old wounds by confronting with four-letter alacrity "Ms. Cheney" and "Tipper Gore," the wives of the current and former Vice-Presidents and longtime advocates of less explicit pop lyrics. He assaults them with "the freest of speech this divided states of embarrassment will allow me to have." Then, after another middle-finger salute, Eminem blows everyone a kiss, a gesture worthy of Sammy Davis Jr. after some racial kibitzing with his white Rat Pack buddies: "I'm just kiddin' America, you know I love you."

Did I mention that some of the cadence and the content reminds me of Allen Ginsberg's once-banned, now-revered poem masterpiece "Howl"? (Ginsberg would've loved Eminem). Or that Dr. Dre is again piloting this mothership of a pleasure craft from the control room? And that I've yet to get much beyond this one brilliant track, cause it's stuck in my head for days and days, much less check out the bonus DVD? Or that "Harry Potter" was for the kids, but Eminem is for me? The Show has just begun.

(c) 2002, Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Comments?

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