Friday, February 10, 2006

My first words were bleep bleep and curse curse

Dean of Rock Critics Robert Christgau has a long, serious, big-think essay about Eminem in the new Believer, and it is essentially the piece I badly wanted someone to write around 2001 or 2002. (I tried writing one myself, in fact, but my unpublished piece was what some would call a "commercial and artistic failure.") Problem is, times done changed. Christgau writes:
[T]he moral panic Eminem set off has faded away. Either you accept the irony and multiple-persona defenses or you do not; either you believe the young suss his complexity or you do not; either you agree that he reflects more than inflects a racist, sexist, and homophobic America or you do not.
Yes, and perhaps that is why even a well-thought-out, fair-not-fawning piece like this one feels a bit tired in these waning days of Em's cultural influence.

It's interesting (or perhaps not) that although the "moral panic" is gone, we do not find ourselves left in a quiet room where we can evaluate Eminem's music qua music without the distraction of media noise. The music, the personae, and the moral panic are so entwined as to be inseparable. The Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LPs, while still and forever great, now feel utterly dated in a way that other rap albums released at the same time do not. Why would this be? One reason might be because they so dominated airwaves and discourse at that time; another might be because so many of his raps are rhyming stand-up routines, and repetition eventually makes all jokes unfunny. (Although I did laugh at this forgotten couplet, quoted by Christgau: "I get imaginative with a mouthful of adjectives / A brain full of adverbs and a box full of laxatives.") Yet another possible reason may be the short shelf-life of conceptual postmodernism.

What doesn't feel dated about Eminem is the mastery of verbal play and creative slant-rhyming, the ability to cull assonance and internal rhyme from every imaginable style of rhetoric. At the end of the piece, Christgau quotes the entirety of an old freestyle called "We're Still #1" (inexplicably Christgau's favorite single of 2005--though that's not the only inexplicable thing about his singles list) in which he comes up with 18 rhymes of the same "err/err" vowel pattern ("I'm just a nERd cURsed with badly distURbed nERves / You wanna be the one to step up and get sERved fIRst?" and so on). Or as the Dean puts it: "In the feverish mischief of its multisyllabic rhymes and trick enjambments, the music he makes out of the poetry he makes out of speech creates its own place in hip-hop tradition."


Rob said...

PS specifically for haahnster -- Also in this essay Christgau takes a swipe at a certain folk/rock singer-songwriter: "Eminem’s second excellent wife-murdering song ["Kim"] exposes, complexly but unmistakably, the shameful and indeed unmanly insanity of jealous rage. Go after something dumber—Neil Young’s 'Down by the River,' say."

haahnster said...

4 messages to Christgau in defense of Neil Young's "Down by the River":

#1) As the pre-"Law&Order-SVU" Ice-T once said (in song) to Tipper Gore & PMRC, "You can suck my dick while I take a shit all day".

#2) The pure shock value of the lyrics "Down by the river/I shot my baby" in 1969 was probably only about 10,000 times the shock value of ANYTHING that Eminem could've possibly said 25+ years later (Not that I presume to speak for Neil Young by implying that he was merely going for shock value).

#3) Who the f-ck cares about "dumb" when you've got 9+ minutes of dirty, nasty-@ss, proto-grunge guitar soloing in that very song?

#4) Repeat #1.

Rob said...

Well put.

AC said...

One badass guitar running throughout. I love that song.