Saturday, February 9, 2013

Writing Crush

I have a bad writing crush on Eminem. I know, what the? I didn't pay much attention to him back in the day. I knew he was a rapper from Detroit who hated women and gay people, but he loved his daughter so he didn't really hate women, and there was that one time he performed with Elton John so he didn't really hate gay people. 

It’s not like I didn't listen to Eminem because his lyrics were offensive; I listened to NWA as a teenager. Snoop went to my high school. (That one’s for Bionic Woman, who loves it when the white people she went to high school with namedrop Snoop . . . she ESPECIALLY loves it when I tell white people we never met that Snoopy was her elementary school boyfriend and called her on the day of our 20-year high school reunion. She claims black people we went to school with don’t need to talk about Snoop. Well, us white people do. We need to and we like to.)

When Eminem was first really big, I was listening to bluegrass, reggae, and anything jam band. Eminem’s music harshed my mellow. I was gradually introduced to Marshall Mathers by my students at the alternative high school, in the late 90s and early 00s. Those were prime years for adolescent Eminem love.

The newfound writing crush came out of nowhere 15ish years later, after MCA, my favorite Beastie Boy, died of cancer. Before my jamming bluegrass phase, I was a huge Beastie fan. Paul’s Boutique hit me hard, and I was obsessed with the instrumentals MCA contributed later. In sounds from way out is all I’m saying. When I heard the sad news that MCA had died, I made my tribute Beastie Pandora station, leading me to the realization that my Beastie Boy listening days are really over. Strangely, Eminem was sounding pretty good, and before I knew it, I was giving the thumbs up all over the place.

I’m startled by Eminem’s talent. He reminds me of one of my OG writing crushes: Robert Browning. I thought I had invented the idea of Eminem as a modern day Browning, until I googled it yesterday. Apparently, that idea was invented in 2001 by a British man named Giles Fodden.

Indeed (man clearing his throat sound),

. . . but just how good are Eminem's lyrics? Is all the fuss about him justified, or is it a case of hype over substance? In fact, a brief examination of Stan reveals it to have all the depth and texture of the greatest examples of English verse. To use the singer's own language, it's as "fat" as Robert Browning - and it is with the Victorian master of sly irony that Eminem's true "underground" work is done, just as much as with Scam and Ruckus, the bands noticed in the song.

Not that all the smart British people were on the same page . . .

I assume the Guardian will be advertising for a new deputy literary editor once the men in white coats have taken poor Giles Foden into secure accommodation. Comparing the ravings of Eminem with those of poets like Browning and Eliot is preposterous.

Still, who can argue with:

Giles Foden may be right or wrong on Eminem being a modern day Robert Browning. However I'll wager his lyrics will generate far more intelligent discussion over the coming years than those of the so-called Popstars who have plagued our television screens over the past weeks. 

I relate most to this assessment:

Eminem is, above all, a storyteller, says Marjorie Liu, 32, best-selling author of 15 paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels, as well as comic books.

"He is unflinching in the stories he tells and the dark places he goes," says Liu, a fan since 2002's Lose Yourself. "Not everyone has the courage to do that."

Liu often listens to Eminem when she writes, particularly if her characters are facing overwhelming odds. "His music instills a sense of stubbornness and determination."

She shrugs off the accusation that some of Eminem's lyrics are misogynistic. "Sometimes what people feel is ugly. ... Just because I don't want to hear the story he's telling, that doesn't make it any less interesting."

The boys who taught me about Marshall Mathers were gentle souls in hard exteriors. They were often in foster care, owning one good pair of sneakers and a few articles of clothing, most always ironed and spotless. Sagging pants. Oversized white t-shirt. Puffy jacket. 

I offered students credit for their own writing in reading/writing/speaking workshops. Every once in a while, I was handed a worn spiral-bound notebook containing pages and pages of lyrics, a communion of pain and art, by a kid who did almost no homework. Some of these kids were brave enough to perform their lyrics in front of the class.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite poet kids, who I knew for many years. That story next post.

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