The InsiderOne Daily Report
Thursday, January 18, 2001
Conflicting Takes On Eminem
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: After my recent rant against Eminem and irresponsible record companies (such as Interscope, which released both Eminem albums) and the subsequent publication of SonicNet music news editor Matty Karas' defense of the rap star, a number of Insiderone.net contributors, as well as faithful readers, emailed their thoughts. "I'm an Eminem fan even after seeing him live twice and being disappointed," writes critic Randy Reiss. "The boy really is more of a lyricist than a pop performer. Which leads to what I wanted to say. I view Eminem's lyrics/performances the way I do a Bukowski novel or something written by Iceberg Slim. Namely, Eminem does rap about lifestyles and thoughts that I don't endorse, aspire to or wish on my worst enemy. But, goddamn, the boy can write. And rap. I'm not a fan of his homophobia and sexism, but it's the anger behind those words which interests me. We know he feels wronged by the cards life dealt him early in life, and it's the expression of that anger which intrigues me, not his gay-bashing and women-hating." A few days later Reiss continued: "To further the point: As gifted a lyricist as I think Eminem is, I don't think he has the words to rage against the socio-economic, political and personal things which resulted in his bad childhood. He hits the targets he does know with such venom that it caused me to wonder what he might do with that energy if he decided to devote it to drug education instead of drug abuse, or education for high school dropouts instead of complaining about how stupid his mother is, and so on and so forth. While the targets of his anger are indeed troublesome (it's never been easy being a gay- and woman-positive hip-hop fan), I don't find it difficult to look beyond that to see the things that Eminem is really angry about. Hope that clears things up a little bit." Designer/artist Emme Stone writes: "I think it's hard to respect the artworks made by an artist you disrespect. I have difficulty separating the two. When the artworks themselves contain a message that is offensive to the listener, the term 'listening pleasure' becomes no longer valid. What then? There is also a difference between Springsteen's non-gender specific mass murder, and Eminem's singling out women (and/or homosexuals) and attacking them specifically. The motives are called into question. The former implies hate against the whole of humanity. The latter implies hate against certain minority groups and thus fuels a belief in the inequality of the sexes and suchlike." Reader Phil Wise comments: "The answer to the 'does the artist matter' question is, of course, yes and no. If we like someone's music we will, quite naturally I think, hope that they share at least some of the values we have, if only to allay any guilt we feel humming joyfully along to the lyrics. And meaning is still sought very much in the intentions of the artists we can discern. On the other hand, the author is dead: no matter what Eminem thinks or intends, the fact that the persona he's created (whether it is Shady, Mathers or Eminem, who on the album sometimes have discernibly different identities and sometimes seem to merge) is so blatantly self-defeating means that the album may read as a celebration of the failure of the nihilist attitude. That's certainly the moral of 'Stan,' where Eminem is totally reasonable, specifically not misogynist, and only a very grumpy jury would convict him of gay-baiting. But I think the total impression the album could leave, in between all the suicide references, the emotional trauma, and the genuine unhappiness, is that (believe it or not) some moral or ethical or personal anchor is necessary to escape the traps he delights so much in setting for himself. (Perhaps I haven't thought this through hate and aggression is the best he can do to center his identity.)" Finally, leave the last word to professor/ critic John Walker: "As for Eminem, all I can say is, if you're going to be anti-censorship, you have to be anti-censorship even if the message is one you don't like I always have that argument with my students. Now, if Eminem was advocating something against women or gays, then he'd be getting into hate speech and that's a legal question. But as long as it's in the form of an opinion, he's got a right to hate whoever he wants. Nobody said rap or rock has to be full of role models: was Kurt Cobain a role model? Jim Morrison? Maybe role models of a kind, but not ones most people would see as such. I mean, 'Mother, I want to fuck you!' is still pretty incendiary! I really do find it interesting, though, that Eminem never disses blacks. Have you noticed that? Me too." I responded: "I agree that artists need to be able to say whatever they want to say -- but my feeling is that some things are over the line, and that record companies have to decide what they want to be associated with. If I had a label, I'd have had no problem releasing the Doors' albums; I wouldn't sign Eminem... To me there's a difference between the Doors and Eminem. For me, the Doors are one of the great rock bands of all time. Eminem is another rapper, just like I feel that the Foo Fighters are another rock band. I may like the Foo Fighters, but do I think they are as great as The Doors, or Sleater-Kinney or Nirvana or Spoon? No way. And I don't think Eminem is up there on my list of great artists. But that's my opinion." A few days later, Walker responded: "I like the album and his shit-disturbing attitude, and he does write some good Lenny Bruce type stuff, but I'm not yet ready to declare him a great artist either. But I think the anti-censorship question must apply to him as well, regardless of whether he's as artistically worthy in our eyes as Morrison or not. Kids today don't have much to choose from, and it's the principle that counts. If we shut him up, we open the door to shutting up a lot other people we may want to hear from down the road. Others would like to shut Marilyn Manson up, etc." If you've got something to add to the discussion, please use the handy "Contact" link on the nav bar at the top of the insiderone.net home page to send in your comments.
Datastream: Guided By Voices' new album will be titled Isolation Drills, not Broadcaster House, according to www.gbv.com. The album is expected in the spring. Bandleader Robert Pollard changed the album title so it would be "more representative of [the album's] tone," spin.com quotes a TVT Records source as saying. The 16-song album, produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith), is a glorious pop-rock affair featuring such stunners as "Skills Like This," "Driving Heather Crazy" and the mind-blowing "Sister I Need Wine." The group will do a mini-tour in February, playing the Empty Bottle in Chicago Feb. 1112, the Bowery Ballroom in New York Feb. 14, the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia Feb. 16 and the Black Cat in Washington D.C. Feb. 17.
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.