This was originally published in the short-lived Outcast magazine. As a result I was asked to contribute to a TV documentary on Eminem, which I haven't seen to this day...
Why Eminem is brilliant
So Peter Tatchell, dusting off the old metaphor he's been using for years, thinks Elton duetting with Eminem at the Grammys is like a Jew duetting with a Nazi.
Well, I thought, I'd better see what the fuss is about. So I bought the CD and slapped it on.
This is another public service announcement…Slim Shady does not give a fuck what you think…little do you know, on purchasing this album, you have just kissed his ass.
Yeah, right, I thought. Another small-dicked inadequate selling his insecurity to less adequate teenagers. It'll be bitches, cars, gold and guns from now on in.
But when the music kicked in I started getting that prickle round the back of my neck. It's the prickle that's never left me since I first walked into the Virgin shop in 1977 at the precise moment they put on The Clash's Janie Jones, and it says: great popular music here. This guy's anger felt a lot more real, a lot more pained and visceral than anything I remember hearing in rap before, at least since the days of Public Enemy and White Lines. There was a sense of psychodrama, of deeply fucked-up personal experience exorcised. It was smartingly raw and sophisticated at the same time, blurting out unsayable stuff and short-circuiting it with a wink.
And then the second track, "Stan", came on. And by the end of it I was in tears.
I had been expecting anger. I had been expecting sarcasm. I had been expecting violence and offence.
What I had never expected was compassion.
I don't think I've ever heard anything before like the tale of the obsessed fan who locks his girlfriend in the trunk of the car and drives them both off the bridge. Songs have dealt before with teenage suicide, and also of the burden of fame. But not like this.
It's partly Dido's haunting refrain circling round the narrative. It's partly the way Eminem plays both parts, both the increasingly desperate Stan trying to contact his idol and the star, too late, trying to comfort his devotee.
But it's mainly because I've never heard in popular music before a love letter from one heterosexual man to another, presented with respect, with no nudge-nudge. This is, incidentally, why the is-Eminem-queer schtick is so pathetic, so completely not the point being made, that it's more offensive than anything on the CD. 'Stan' is about loneliness, inadequacy, male desperation. The very least important detail of this picture is whether the fan might secretly want his idol's dick up his ass:
All I wanted was a lousy letter. I hope you know I've ripped all your pictures off the wall. I love you Slim, we could have been together…
And the response takes him seriously, and wants us to know it. This isn't a camp tale of death, like 'Leader of the Pack':
You've got some issues, Stan. I think you need some counselling to stop your ass from bouncing off the walls…
This is hate-king Eminem, and he's gone all Claire Rayner on us?
A lot of the CD is as sharp and nasty, as heartlessly funny, as I was expecting, and sure, a couple of things made me wince.
I can't wait till I catch all you faggots in public…claiming Detroit when they all live 20 miles away…
That's the beginning of the toughest anti-gay bit, and Tatchell duly prints it out in one of his endless e-mails. But what's actually going on? A protest against middle-class gays colonising the inner-city 'hood, that's what.
The UK black writer Delroy Constantine-Simms recently talked about seeing a group of young gay black New Yorkers taunting Greenwich Village white clones with yells of 'faggot'. In the US entire inner-city cores of towns like Orlando are now an Ellen fantasy-land of rainbow-flagged coffee shops and gay B'n'Bs, and black and poor whites have been shunted out the trailer-park hinterland. I hear a lot more class hatred in Eminem than I hear homophobia.
And what does Eminem and his gay-baiting buddies do to the faggots? They shoot paintballs at their jeeps, that's what. There's tough. Didn't you just want to do that to smug Stuart's shagwagon in Queer as Folk anyway?
Or take the other bit Tatchell quotes with glee, about Gianni Versace's murder -
You think I'm homophobic, you're heterophobic, staring at my jeans, watching my genitals bulging….that's my balls, you'll never get hold of them….hey, I'm Gianni Versace, whoops, somebody shot me, I was just out checkin' the mail, geddit, checkin' the male…
Yeah, it's juvenile. Though I don't think a man who poses in the nude wearing a dynamite stick as a phallus (it was on a poster all over Madrid last weekend, too rude for London) actually has a problem with men fancying him.
(Do I, you ask? Well, yeah, he's kinda cute. If you like what, in the UK, might be called Borstal Chic, the kind of appeal that goes with too many home tattoos and bad peroxide.)
But immediately after this bit Eminem switches to a Jim Bakker Southern preacher voice:
Oh Lord, please send me a brand new car and a prostitute while my wife's sick in the hospital…
Versace was shot by a prostitute, and I remember feeling more sympathy at the time for the crazy rent boy than the fashion designer. Just maybe what is being got at here is leery, hypocritical men of power, whatever their sexuality? Hmm?
Rich white gay men are not victims of anything these days. Some of the gay protestors have been so pathetically eager to be victims of nasty Eminem that they've swept every conceivable lyric into a bag named homophobia. Even stuff like this is cited by Tatchell:
It's a sick world we live in these days with guys trying to lure little kids into their beds…
Actually, Peter, he's just been talking about his daughter, to whom he's clearly devoted. And aren't you usually the first to criticise people who confuse gays with paedophiles? Sounds like you're doing it here.
Well, stuff the protestors. Listen to Tatchell:
“Eighty per cent of aggressively homophobic men are self-loathing,
Nyah, nyah…Don't you just want to slap the person that wrote that? I've admired Tatchell when he's taken on real bullies like Robert Mugabe. But isn't the tone so Softy-Walter, so much the pompous swot-kid who never learns that his superiority is why he's hated? The teenage Marshall Mathers was mercilessly bullied too. The Eminem he became discovered the other, better way of responding to bullies…becoming the witty, loopy kid who scared the bullies with his unpredicatbility.
And funny Eminem is, jaw-droppingly I-don’t-believe-he-said-that funny. The rudest bit on the record is where he's pretending two black pop stars, Shaggy and Jay, are sucking his dick. On the TV the other day we had Sebastian Sandys of Stonewall saying "Eminem is a coward because he wouldn't dare attack black people". If this isn't a white man calculatedly kicking black men exactly where it most hurts, in their nuts, then what is it? And what sense do you make of lines like this?
Not these niggers again - ignorant men with hair triggers again…
There is no denying, however, that Eminem does have a problem with women. The scariest track on the CD is "Kim", a counterweight to "Stan". A brilliantly soundtracked David Lynch film of a piece, this time it has the drunken star kidnapping his ex-wife and forcing her into his car. If it is a fantasy, it's clearly one he closely entertained. It's almost unlistenable in the way that bits of Blue Velvet are almost unwatchable. It ends with our rapper roaring "Now PLEAD bitch, PLEAD" to the accompaniment of throttling noises, trailing off into an ambiguous soundtrack of slamming car doors and country traffic. Has he just dumped her body? Yuck…
What makes it listenable, apart from the skill of its construction, is the way he's in tears throughout the track. This is no gangsta calmly disposing of his ho'. It's an unflinching self-portrait of a man driven mad by his own inadequacy:
Why don't you like me? You think I'm ugly don't you? I swear to God I hate you - Oh God I love you…
It's the sound of a straight man hurt to the point of madness, and when straight guys are hurt, some of them do bad, crazy things, and here's one saying it.
Which is really what the whole CD is about. A red, dripping fissure of male pain and uselessness runs through the whole of Eminem's work, and he tears at it head on. It doesn't excuse violence and gun culture, but it does get underneath it, shake it about, and serve to brilliant.explain it. I've never heard a straight man before so clearly saying: I'm fucked up, but I'm trying to deal with it. I think he's brilliant.