restricted access Eminem in 2002
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351 L ast year, the great basketball player and famed uncensored mouth Charles Barkley addressed himself to the Eminem question. “You know this world is fucked up when the best rapper’s white and the best golfer’s black,” he said. Unless he said, as another of the countless printed versions of his statement had it,“America is crazy.The best . . .”You could just as well claim that if lines meant to keep certain people in their places have not only been crossed but erased,it’s proof that America is anything but crazy—and it’s intresting that Eminem, another famed uncensored mouth, has never made a claim like Barkley’s. In The Eminem Show, his solipsistic extravaganza of this year,you can find him comparing himself to Elvis Presley—not to proclaim himself the new king of anything but to denigrate both Elvis and himself. He’s the “fake” king, Eminem says, just like Elvis: no matter what the talent or drive,without that white skin, forget it. Eminem may have made a fool of himself with his Eminem Show hit “Without Me”—the world very nearly dried up and blew away from boredom in the time between The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, he says (as we all know, it’s not as if anything else happened between the summer of 2000 and the summer of 2002)—but no one as smart as he is plays with Elvis Presley casually. Elvis is a bomb. By defusing it, Eminem gets to inhabit that fabled body without, perhaps, catching its disease. Eminem in 2002 Greil Marcus Photo by Doug Coombe. 352 Hıp-Hop, GheTToTech, DonuTs, and Techno Dreams Much separates Eminem from Elvis. Eminem, as Charles Barkley says, can rap, and Elvis probably could not have. Elvis could sing, and Eminem, as he proves conclusively on The Eminem Show,cannot. Elvis was beautiful. Eminem is not. Elvis is dead, and Eminem is alive. Most of all, Eminem has the example—the disaster—of Elvis behind him, and Elvis didn’t. In her story “Nineteen Fifty-five,”Alice Walker tells the tale of an Elvis-like singer and the song that made his career—the song of a black woman much like Willie Mae Thornton who first recorded a song much like Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”The Elvis figure’s guilty knowledge that the song can never be his, and that, worse, he can never truly understand it, destroys him. Eminem’s first movie, 8 Mile, directed by Curtis Hanson—who has already made two movies, L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, better than the good books they were based on— opens this month, and the picture 8 Mile is alive to Eminem’s presence, and he is alive to the picture, seeming to withdraw from the camera even as he pulls its eye toward him.Taking the viewer through a few days in the life of a white Detroit rapper in a black milieu—a young man in a world where rhyming is ordinary language, the way everybody talks; a young man whose attempts to step out of oblivion are at best wary and at worst, and most believably, terrified—Eminem gives a performance that is all gravity. When the movie ends, there is a sense that it has, in fact, ended—that the movie has caught its own story. But then “Lose Yourself” begins to play under the closing credits, and in an instant it blows the film away. The music dissolves the movie, reveals it as a lie, a cheat, as if it were made not to reveal but to cover up the seemingly bottomless pit of resentment and desire that is the story’s true source. Again and again the song all but blows up in the face of the man who’s chanting it, Eminem is lost in his rhymes until suddenly people are shouting at him from every direction and the music jerks him down into the chorus, where he escapes in turn. The piece builds into crescendos of power, climbing ladders of refusal and willfulness step by step, rushing nothing, never reaching the top because it is the music itself that has put the top so high. As with Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),” the Miracles’ “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone...


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