Eminem; drawing by David Levine

In government, honored spouses used to busy themselves opening garden fetes and visiting homes for the needy, but nowadays, especially in America, they are apt to assume immodest and thankless tasks, such as cleansing the entire culture of obscenity. Before their husbands took office, the last two vice-presidential wives, Tipper Gore and Lynne Cheney, made personal crusades of washing the music industry’s mouth out with soap. Every kid is familiar with the Parental Advisory Sticker, sometimes known as the “Tipper Sticker,” which warns parents of explicit lyrics contained in music products. Tipper Gore’s cofounding in 1985 of the Parents’ Music Resource Center, the lobby responsible for the sticker, caught the imagination of the American right in their general disgust with what Christians often call “verbal pornography.” A few years on from that, Lynne Cheney took Tipper’s homespun outrage and turned it into a form of censorship metaphysics: at a time when hate is something to be experienced and opposed at the glo-bal level, she found herself disgusted by rock lyrics which sell hatred to listeners.

The Vice President’s wife has experience in such matters, though not simply of the obvious kind. She is a former head of the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the author of a book, Telling the Truth (1995), which expressed what might tenderly be called a dislike of certain influential thinkers and movements—Michel Fou- cault, for instance, and feminism—which set themselves against “reason and reality.” Mrs. Cheney would seem, like so many of us, to yearn for a world free of excessive brutality, hatred, and unreason, and she made the cartoon antics of those in the music industry the prime target of her expletive-seeking missiles.

“So here’s a name,” said Mrs. Cheney, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on the subject of marketing “violent entertainment” to children, in September 2000:

Marshall Mathers. It is truly astonishing to me that a man whose work is so filled with hate would be so honored by his peers…. This isn’t the first time, but Eminem is certainly, I think, the most extreme example of rock lyrics used to demean women, advocate violence against women and violence against gay people.

Lynne Cheney has been true to her bipartisan energies, at one and the same time mistrusting the meaning of free speech while striking a blow for liberal causes, but she is not entirely right about the details. Eminem is not more extreme than the rap artists from whom he learned his trade—he is merely extremely white. “The problem is I speak to suburban kids,” the singer has said. “They connected with me too because I look like them.”

Eminem is someone who can sell seven million albums and dominate the mainstream of American youth culture, that’s to say white middle America, therefore discussions of this young man from Detroit come with alarm bells tied onto them in a way that discussions of black rappers from the Bronx never quite do. If Mrs. Cheney listened closer to those offensive lyrics, she would hear the ghetto culture of America—the traditional nature of which her assumptions hold in trust—satirized and objected to and characterized as a coat of many colors.

This is from his first official release, The Slim Shady LP, an album of music that tosses assumptions about American poverty high into the air:

I’m tired of being white trash, broke and always poor
Tired of taking pop bottles back to the party store
I’m tired of not having a phone
Tired of not having a home to have one in if I did have it on
Tired of not driving a BM
Tired of not working at GM, tired of wanting to be him
Tired of not sleeping without a Tylenol PM
Tired of not performing in a packed coliseum
Tired of not being on tour
Tired of fucking the same blond whore after work
In the back of a Contour
I’m tired of taking knots with a stack of ones
Having a lack of funds and resorting back to guns

—“If I Had”

Another song, “My Name Is,” Eminem’s anthem for zonked youth, was the hit single from that album, a song energized by the notion that there was nothing under the sun that couldn’t be said:

Hi kids, do you like violence
Wanna see me stick nine inch nails through each one of my eyelids?
Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did?
Try ‘cid and get fucked up worse than my life is?
My brain’s dead weight, I’m trying to get my head straight
But I can’t figure out which Spice Girl I wanna impregnate.

The music is immediate and vivid, the lines declarative and clear: “God sent me to piss the world off,” he sings; “My English teacher wanted to flunk me in Junior High. Thanks. The next semester I’ll be thirty-five.” Eminem seemed to arrive through the speakers fully formed: he had taken the verbal felicities of his rap heroes (Erik B and Rakim, KRS-One) and married them to a fund of modern American caricature. The music sounded friendly, but it was informed by a white rock sensibility too, much as the white rappers the Beastie Boys had tried to do a decade earlier. The difference with Eminem was that his sound seemed to synthesize everything: he married a perfect style to a perverse content, and the songs have a catchy, celebratory feeling about them, as well as a narrative force that seemed new. Here was a man with a ghetto sound, but it wasn’t the sound of the ghetto as previously understood: instead there were blasts of rock guitar mingling with funny voices and break-beats; sometimes a movie soundtrack of atmospheric, ambient pop sounds broken up with scratches and cartoon exclamations, the whole thing drawn together by the unstoppable flow of Eminem’s rapping and sealed in a bubble of unforgettable melody. The sound is potent and funny and it masticates outrage the same way kids chew gum:


So if I said I never did drugs
That would mean I lie AND get fucked more than the president does
Hillary Clinton tried to slap me and call me a pervert
I ripped her fuckin’ tonsils out and fed her sherbet
My nerves hurt, and lately I’m on edge
Grabbed Vanilla Ice and ripped out his blond dreads
(Fuck you!)
Every girl I ever went out with has gone lez
Follow me and do exactly what the song says:
Smoke weed, take pills, drop outta school,
Kill people and drink
Then jump behind the wheel like it was still legal
I’m dumb enough to walk into a store and steal
So I’m dumb enough to ask for a date with Lauryn Hill
Some people only see that I’m white, ignoring skill
‘Cause I stand out like a green hat with a orange bill
But I don’t get pissed, y’all don’t even see through the mist
How the fuck can I be white, I don’t even exist.

These are the lyrics of a smart speaker in an evil mask. They may play with advocacy but their true force is descriptive: to hear the music is to listen to an American voice having fun while having its say. It seems to me there is little point in arguing about whether a style is appropriate or not appropriate. Eminem’s sound is here, and it is darkness audible.

Perhaps the white children of America have better ears than the Vice President’s wife; that’s no crime on her part. But Eminem did not invent pill-popping, hooky-playing, misogynistic, gun-toting, gay-bashing, dope-smoking, incarceration-friendly, potty-mouthing, gangland America, he merely makes music about it, songs that appear to connect with millions of people’s sense of truth.

Eminem is like a cartoon character, like Bart Simpson or Dick Tracy: not so much a self-invention as someone drawn into life by the power of the surrounding culture. He is a personality ripe for its own performance—white trailer-trash getting angry and making millions—and from the beginning he has been aware of the fact that his life and his career are not only his story, but are increasingly the story of a society and a language. As a creator of lyrics, Eminem is confessional, luridly so, and his life is dramatized by his own words to an extent that, on a good day, could make John Berryman’s work look impersonal. It is strange to imagine, but every fact about this Marshall Mathers alias Slim Shady alias Eminem, every complaint against him, appears just now like something deeply invested in the question of America itself. Who is he? What kind of American is described by his rage and attracted in such numbers to his voice?

In 8 Mile, the recent movie starring Eminem and Kim Basinger, there’s a particular scene set in a trailer home. The Eminem character, nicknamed B. Rabbit, has just returned from a day working in a local factory. His mother is watching a movie; we only see the movie for a few seconds, but it is Imitation of Life, Douglas Sirk’s drama about a black girl who tries to pass for white in late-Forties America. The moment is fleeting but the message is resonant in 8 Mile, which is basically a biopic of Mathers’s early days living in black neighborhoods in Detroit, and more resonant still in the whole career of Eminem, an all-American kid living out a drama of black brotherhood, a white Negro struggling to become himself in a culture riven with definitions. Like the character in 8 Mile, Eminem grew up at the center of poor, dysfunctional lives: single mother, absent father, living in a trailer besieged by debts, and meager opportunities. Anthony Bozza, in his tough manifesto for Eminem, takes a drive around Detroit with the young rapper, looking at “the places that formed and malformed him.” In 1999, when the first interview takes place, Eminem, who has already had considerable success, is still living in the trailer park, and—like so many of the people he’d soon be taken to represent—he is a young father to a young child, surrounded by threats and blame and chaos. Bozza catches his worries:


“My mother moved back to Kansas City, so I bought this trailer from her…. Hailie [his daughter] feels really comfortable here, so I took over the payments. I’m paying rent for no reason because I’m not here anymore. But when I am, I need a place to stay.”

Kim Scott [his wife, whom he later divorced] lifts their daughter from her nest and takes her into the second bedroom. Hailie’s bed is dwarfed by a mountain of toys, clothes, and boxes. Kim soothes her in hushed tones. It has been a long day…a driving tour… through the Detroit streets and neighborhoods where Marshall Mathers spent the better part of the past twenty-six years.

“Man, driving through town tonight brought back a lot of memories,” Marshall says, lowering his voice. “I’ve been through a lot of shit, man. If I sit and think back on it, it’s really fucked up. I mean, all my life has been fucked up.”

…He has only known flux for the past twenty years, moving from home to home, living in different cities, changing schools and working more than he didn’t, at one job or another, since he was fifteen. His anchors in this world are here in his mother’s double-wide: his daughter, Detroit, Kim, and the pen and pad on the counter. There are no mementos of Marshall’s childhood here; they exist in his mind, caught in the chaos he churns into words. Those mental pictures have sold 500,000 albums in just two weeks.

In a manner that would make most novelists gasp for air, Eminem served the mess of his family entanglements into the public domain without a name change or a flinch. His mother, his wife, his father, his child, his friends: they are all roped into a display of dizzying honesty and self-revelation in his songs, both the tone and the content of which seem cranked up to bring maximum discomfort to himself and his detractors, and optimum thrills to his fans. Eminem is impatient to tell, and his audience very quickly became impatient to listen:

My mother had a different boyfriend every day of the week. She used to get her fuckin’ boyfriends to move in with her and bring all their shit. Then she’d kick them out and keep all their shit—couches, TVs, beds, everything. Hardly anything we ever had in our house was ours, ever. My mother never had a job. The only one I can remember her having was at some candy store when I was a little boy. And she was a nursing assistant for a week and a half. She said it hurt her fucking back too much. My mother was lawsuit-happy. She would say she slipped and fell in Kmart, then fake a neck injury and shit. She did whatever she could do to get money that way without fucking working. My mother never had a job, that’s why we was always on welfare, ever since I can fucking remember. I’d hide the welfare cheese under some lettuce or shit when friends would come over.

The music of dispossession was an invention of black America—jazz, the blues, spirituals, the rudiments of rock- and-roll—and the whole history of popular music is really an account of white boys stealing the noise of blacks and making it commercial. What was Elvis if not a hip-swiveling version of Chuck Berry? And what were the Rolling Stones when they first appeared if not Muddy Waters with bangs and bangles? But Eminem is something else again, not just a kid with the talent to appropriate an African-American style and make it appealing to millions of whites, but someone whose life and material are authentic in themselves, giving the old style new meaning. Eminem turned up to do his thing in nightclubs filled with black rappers; it was their tradition and their language, but suddenly, when people saw how good and how gifted he was, they realized it was his language too, and his life as much as theirs. In a way that hadn’t quite happened before, Eminem was taken as much for an innovator as an imitator, and he was lionized by the most credible black producers on the scene. “Eminem is hip-hop’s signpost artist,” writes Anthony Bozza,

the one gifted enough to blend black and white musical and culture elements without compromising the integrity of the music. We are at a time in America in which blacks and whites and all races have met on a wide patch of shared ground, where white rock acts freely appropriate rap and where black artists front an image of capitalism reminiscent of Donald Trump. Eminem stands squarely in the middle: accepted—and debated—by both sides…. His achievement is doubly significant in spite of the cultural overlap of the times, because of the ingrained race identity inherent in hip-hop. In the thirty years of the music’s history…hip-hop remained uniquely black in image until Eminem.

So how did it happen? Eminem seemed to come out of nowhere, but nowhere turned out to a bigger and more detailed American place than anyone knew. His first demo album, Infinite, was produced by some friendly neighborhood producers, Mark and Jeff Bass, who borrowed $1,500 from their mother to press five hundred copies. The album was never commercially released, though Eminem would carry copies around with him, handing it out to people who might help him. Though he was gaining respect and attention with his rapping, Infinite brought more bafflement than anything else: people felt the songs were derivative, and wondered why a white boy would want to sound like that. The singer grew angry. He later said the aggression in his lyrics can be sourced to this point in his career, when people were only half-interested in him. “There were a whole slew of [record] labels flirting with it,” says Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenburg, “but nobody was biting because he was white…. There really hadn’t been a successful, credible white rapper.” Things began to fire up with the appearance of Dr. Dre, a hip-hop legend, record producer, and former member of the group NWA (Niggaz With Attitude), who saw something in Eminem that was totally right. Where other rappers speak of “keeping it real,” Eminem manifestly was real, and the very personal, scorching, cinematic quality of his lyrics and their stories brought the new multiplicity of underclass America all at once into view.

Despite what the theorists like to say, popular culture isn’t always the barometer we would like it to be: its adherents are fickle and its reliability as social news is questionable, as might be expected from a species of culture so reliant on marketing, fashion, and the nebulous thrust of the short attention span. But now and again it throws up something that is absolutely dead center: people felt that very strongly when Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published, when Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was released, or when the rock group Nirvana suddenly came blasting out of every radio in America singing about the likes of rape and alienation. Nastiness is a good subject for a songwriter; it always has been. What Dr. Dre saw in Eminem was an instant classic, “a young white misanthrope,” as Bozza writes, “who rejoices in the freedom of his uselessness.” Eminem had the na-

tive guile (and the sense of timing) to present himself as the nation’s subconscious. “We were on welfare,” he says in Eminem Talking, Chuck Weiner’s collection of his talk.

I was poor white trash, no glitter, no glamour, but I’m not ashamed of anything…. My album is so autobiographical that there shouldn’t really be any more questions to answer. It’s just the story of a white kid who grew up in a black neighborhood and had a pretty shitty life—not the worst life in the world, but still a fairly shitty life.

The album he was talking about is his first, The Slim Shady LP, an album that jokes and lacerates with equal aggression. The character who speaks in the music, Slim Shady, is a sort of alibi for Marshall Mathers, a man giving full vent to his suburban imaginings, his zeal for destruction and revenge. The LP is movie-style graphic, a universe in which dark comedy shares the limelight with abject horror: it tells stories about a rape, about our hero being beaten unconscious, about people who work in gas stations or in jobs that start at $5.50 an hour. “If you see my dad/Tell him I slit his throat in this dream I had,” is heard early on the record, followed by a song, “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” which imagines the speaker and his daughter joining forces to kill the child’s mother. (“When Hailie gets old enough,” said Eminem in an interview later, “I’m going to explain it to her. I’ll let her know that mommy and daddy weren’t getting on at the time. None of it was to be taken literally. Although, at the time, I wanted to fuckin’ do it.”)

Another song, “As the World Turns”—after the popular daytime soap opera—is about trying to shoot a girl and then (not to put too fine a point on it) screwing her to death. The worst of all this (or the best, depending on who you are) can be found in the song “Kim” on The Marshall Mathers LP. The song is a furious blast in the direction of the singer’s former wife and is an evocation of psychosis more searing than anything in the whole of American music. Eminem was arrested for allegedly pistol-whipping a man he caught kissing Kim in a parking lot, and the song captures the very meaning of unhinged. It is part of Eminem’s style that he thought the song was a normal piece of imagining. “I asked her to tell me what she thought of it,” he says. “I remember my dumb-ass saying ‘I know this is a fucked-up song, but it shows how much I care about you. To even think about you this much. To even put you on a song like this.'” Kim didn’t entirely enjoy the compliment. The song opens up a miasma of emotional distress—it is powered by rage, not only in the lyrics, but in the music itself, which is like a slasher-movie soundtrack punctuated with screams:

You think I give a fuck!
Come on we’re going for a ride bitch
Sit up front
(We can’t just leave Hailie alone, what if she wakes up?)
We’ll be right back
Well, I will—you’ll be in the trunk

So long, bitch you did me so wrong
I don’t wanna go on
Living in this world without you
You really fucked me, Kim
You really did a number on me
I never knew cheating on you would come back to haunt me
But we was kids then, Kim, I was only eighteen
That was years ago
I thought we wiped the slate clean
That’s fucked up!
(I love you!)
Oh God my brain is racing

He continues:

Ha! Go ahead, yell! Here, I’ll scream with you!
Don’t you get it, bitch, no one can hear you?
Now shut the fuck up and get what’s comin’ to you
You were supposed to love me
[Kim choking]

This song was “a media favorite” according to Eminem. It seemed beyond the pale. Yet fans find the song funny, rather in the way young people find professional wrestling funny, as if the brutality was a form of showmanship. At Eminem concerts, when he sang “Kim” he used to beat up a large, inflatable doll onstage, while the audience jumped up and down, screaming “Kill Kim! Kill Kim!” Are the lyrics a provocation or are they merely lines of drama? (He is now living with Kim and their daughter outside Detroit.)

All the lyrics are transcribed and commented on in Angry Blonde, Eminem’s own book of ruminations, but quoting the lyrics here on the page won’t convince you of anything: you have to listen to how the songs work, how the voicings and play-acting make them more than just appalling. He turns everything he describes into its own absurd little drama, part The Simpsons, part The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part reality TV, part Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sin is evoked and borne out, but not celebrated, as it seems to be to the Washington wives. The chief victim in this stuff is always the speaker: self-parodied, self-loathing, bent double, shattered. The album says everything about living the nothing life: one minute he’s accusing his mother of taking more dope than he does,1 the next he’s threatening to destroy everything and becoming gleeful about the offense he is causing with his wordplay. “Slim Shady is just the evil thoughts that come into my head,” said Eminem. “I got a warped sense of humor I guess.”

The next album, The Marshall Mathers LP, and the most recent, The Eminem Show, were released to a huge audience of believers: young people were leaping with mirth and recognition. Burger King, Rubik’s Cubes, Ecstasy tablets, bank robberies, Bill Gates, slasher movies, drive-by shootings, Clint Eastwood, Tylenol, terrible TV—the songs are full of the familiar detritus of what passes through normal life in the American suburbs. It was a projected nightmare from which kids woke up laughing. Eminem still plays the part of the moral criminal, but one who is increasingly sure of his enemies, those who have deplored him as an unsightly role model and feared his reality and his influence. “White America, I could be one of your kids,” he sings in one song. “My whole life I was made to think I was sick when I wasn’t,” he jabs in another. And fame has given Eminem a new subject: the latest lyrics are about the madness of fame and people exploiting the singer’s new-found riches. There is no end to the urgency of his confessional; he insists on his humor, on his alibis, and he has a seemingly instinctive addiction to the drama of his own talent, to the spectacle of his reception.

The world Eminem sings about is certainly profane and terrifying. It is part of the mentality of his generation, so overdescribed on national television and so underdescribed in literature, a world of hostility and desperation we take as given when it appears on Jerry Springer, but that we find inexcusable when given full imaginative life in the verses of an instinctive songwriter. Eminem knows about a suburban America where blacks and whites lie dispossessed together, and he has become that country’s sharpest and most savage chronicler. He has been an amazing witness to that new, multiethnic underclass in America, and also a manifestation of that class’s way of talking and thinking, wanting and hating.

I have no interest in claiming Eminem to be a poet, or a genius, or an ethical leader, but he is surely one of the best reporters in America: no other writer I can think of has made such a penetrating contemporary subject of himself, and few have shown such resilience in driving that self into an entanglement with morality and the modern media, laying himself so open to the peculiar American vagaries of love and revulsion. The songs are little powerhouses of invention, generating their own answers to stock objections. Eminem is a berserker, and the music curls and drums, races and swells to meet the sharpness of his reportorial eye, the spring of his rhymes. “He has sent a voltage around a generation,” said Seamus Heaney this past summer, admiring him for his “verbal energy” and for creating a “sense of what is possible.”

So who’s bringin’ the guns into this country? (Hmm?)
I couldn’t sneak a plastic pellet gun through customs over in London
And last week, I see a Schwarzenegger movie
Where he’s shootin’ all sorts of these motherfuckers with an Uzi
I see these three little kids, up in the front row,
Screaming “Go,” with their seventeen-year-old uncle
I’m like, “Guidance—ain’t they got the same moms and dads
Who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?”
And told me that my tape taught ’em to swear
What about the make-up you allow your twelve-year-old daughter to wear?
(Hmm:) So tell me that your son doesn’t know any cusswords
When his bus driver’s screamin’ at him, fuckin’ him up worse
(“Go sit the fuck down, you little fuckin’ prick!”)
And fuck
was the first word I ever learned
Up in the third grade, flippin’ the gym teacher the bird (Look!)
So read up about how I used to get beat up
Peed on, be on free lunch, and change school every three months.

Anthony Bozza has been shadowing Eminem for a few years, and he has the typical popular music writer’s mixture of protectiveness and piety toward his subject. He wants to show us the inside of Eminem’s head, which he more or less does, though this in itself couldn’t have been an uphill struggle, given the way the rap star has never proved shy of exorcising the terrors that seem to live constantly behind his eyes. We hear about a young Marshall Mathers “beaten right out of his clothes” by local gangs; someone who was tramped from school to school, and who landed in a series of dishwashing dead-ends. Bozza had conversations with Debbie Mathers-Briggs, Eminem’s estranged, almost hyperventilatingly troubled mother (“some of the saddest speeches I’ve heard from anyone,”) and he is able to track his hero’s journey into early fatherhood, international fame, numerous lawsuits, and media censure. Bozza’s book is higher on surmise than pavement-pounding research—you hear nothing from Eminem’s teachers, childhood friends, film co-stars—but nevertheless he manages to lay out the reasons why Eminem might be understood to be “a whole new paradigm of the white male.”

The best rock biographies are a combination of searching reportage, understanding, and sheer fandom. When Greil Marcus writes about Elvis you feel the relationship between the star and the scribe is elemental: you feel the writer somehow lives inside the performer’s style and catches his breath at a very personal-seeming eruption of meaning in the life and the work. Stanley Booth’s book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones is a terrific act of participatory witnessing; Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, on the Sex Pistols, is a tremendous sociological screech masquerading as a love letter. Occasionally, as with the new book on Bob Dylan by Christopher Ricks,2 the book is a spirited attempt to raise some scruffy material into the higher pantheons of art: Ricks is half-drained with worship, and he wants, good-naturedly, his readers to think of Eliot and Tennyson when aiming to understand the work of his favorite songwriter. Eminem would hardly be ripe for that treatment, and if he was, Anthony Bozza would be the wrong biographer: he has written an engaging book about a new and highly buzzing cultural manifestation, and yet, not unlike the music itself, the book seeks throughout to stick close to the place where it started, loud and chaotic, mixed up and cruel, managing to be both blaring and subtle at the same time.

Marshall Mathers is an inspired watcher and a perfect listener. The black rappers he watched in the Detroit clubs took on personae in their act, “rapping,” as Bozza says, “a cocktail of serial killer-ology, black comedy, and ultra-violence.” And comedy is the key to all this: any true reckoning of Eminem’s forebears would include Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and Richard Pryor, American comedians who were apt to make people’s stomachs turn while they laughed up a storm. “Slim Shady,” the character Eminem invented to speak filth and revenge on his behalf, is a dark-hearted comic: his pathology and nihilism is taken seriously by politicians, who have their own reasons for taking such things seriously. But I doubt the millions of people listening to the hell-bent ravings of Slim Shady are taking it the same way: they are loving the sound of it, admiring its smartness, its relevance. Eminem’s fans enjoy the simple-seeming spectacle of someone manufacturing the common trash and giving the finger to his mother. As for homophobia and misogyny: I think he has fun using the words he uses, and he reflects a world in which people do speak like that. I don’t think music fans listen to records in order to confirm their hatreds, any more than fans of Edgar Allan Poe or Patricia Highsmith read those books to indulge an ambition to murder.

Eminem’s violent jokes and crudity are based on an understood distance between words and deeds that fans take for granted. He plays with those distances, for sure, and he puts pressure on the boundaries, but I’m all for that, given his skill with the microphone. Eminem can make the language dance and he can summon a wealth of true moments. You might not favor those moments yourself—you might even imagine they have no place in The New York Review of Books—but that could be a rather conservative thing to think, a treasured anxiety mimicking a bold certainty, and a view which prides itself on taking no interest at all in the imaginative lives of millions in America and beyond.

Someone described Eminem’s music as being “a strange hybrid of happy and twisted.” He has bought a big house, but unlike the rap artists you can see on MTV every day, he is not dripping in gold and living out a 1980s dream of fast cars and slinky women.3 He is staying close to his material, which now includes a mammoth fame, a different kind of dispossession from the one he’s used to. It would be a pity if Eminem were turned into a wind-up monkey dancing to the tune of public outrage, for he has turned his social station into a platform, and made his native experience, his amazing journey out, part of a riveting and demanding investigation into the mental condition of America. It sometimes takes a bad boy to make a good moral. “My music is my psychiatrist,” said Marshall Mathers. “My microphone is my psychiatrist, it listens to me talk. Once I’ve got it out, I’m not mad any more.”

This Issue

November 6, 2003