Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Freewheelin' Eminem

I am lucky. 

My commute to work is about as short as it can be while still requiring shoes to be worn. This is particularly good for someone like me who has no patience whatsoever, and is temperamentally wired for road rage, even when there is no pavement in sight.

Although I am a total news junkie, I admit to having virtually no interest in my local news. I am woefully ignorant of anything going on within a 50-mile radius of my home, unless it shows up on my Yahoo news home page, the Rachel Maddow Show, or MLB-TV's Intentional Talk. Which, interestingly, happens with a surprising degree of regularity. The 10-minute drive to and from work is the one time I get stuck hearing about corruption in local government (as opposed to my nightly updates on MSNBC about corruption in national government), thwarted Amber alerts, and union strikes. 

The radio is set to the local CBS affiliate for my quickie jaunt to and from work. Why this particular station? I don't think I have watched a show on CBS-TV since the mid 1970s (loved The Jeffersons!). But when I bought my car in 2002, this station was apparently already programmed in the factory-installed radio settings. I was mostly listening to baby-oriented CDs in the car anyway. Why complicate life?

Well, this all changed after a recent visit with my brother. We both have kids who are now old enough to listen to music beyond Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner. Well, he has a toddler too, but that kid has a rock n' roll brother, so I am guessing that kid is not listening to Music for Aardvarks. Although my brother was once the unfortunate recipient of a Spandau Ballet-themed birthday present (Cassette! Calendar! Pictures!) from yours truly, he has managed to cultivate pretty decent taste in music. 

We were talking about recent iTunes downloads, and thrown in with Adele, White Stripes, Jay-Z, was Eminem. Huh? And maybe some Vanilla Ice too? No, just an Eminem song that is pretty violent, but not gang-violent, more domestic violent. Sounded like a winner. But I was desperate for some new tunes, so download I did. 

Who knew how awesome Eminem is? OK, I know I am about a decade behind. But for those of us who only listen to music for the words, MM is a barrage of lyrical denseness--but in a good way. Yes, I was reared on classical music and piano lessons but the former was torture for a fidgety kids and the latter was fun only because each piano piece was a puzzle to master and then forget. I have never been one for instrumental interludes. Sure, Freebird rocks because the extended guitar solo provided not only a respite from the awkwardness of 10th grade dances, but an awesome opportunity to show off air-guitar skills perfected in front of the bathroom mirror. Stairway to Heaven was better because it let us do a gut-wrenching Robert Plant into our hand/mike, while a BFF did a Jimmy Page air-guitar riff. Parallel play for tweens. 

But even for a lyric-focused gal like myself, words alone don't cut it. I abhor poetry. I spent years pretending to be enthralled by Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. But all the howling, loafing and not stopping for death bored me to tears. Any verse of Shakespeare's sonnets makes me want to hurl myself off a Verona balcony. Yes, I was an English major, but not that kind of English major. 

The interplay of music and lyrics, however, is infinitely more engaging. Music is a pattern. Often a mind-numbing, synthesized or percussive pattern, while lyrics are a puzzle. Puzzles alone are not as challenging as when they are superimposed on the structure of a pattern. The beat, intonation, message of the words needs to be worked and reworked until it meets the specifications of the parameters of the music. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are masters. Carole King and James Taylor get it. Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 even have their moments. Even Taylor Swift. Joni Mitchell, too, but better when others cover her songs. 

And I will add Eminem to this mix. At least the two songs I downloaded that didn't blare incoherently at me during my 30-second iTunes preview. Both songs that made the my-frazzled-nerves-can-only-handle-so-much download cut are syncopated insights into complex human situations. Every line is filled with deliberately chosen words that are so jammed into the beat that it takes dozens of listens before you figure out where to take a breath when chanting along. My poor children are getting freaked out at my shrieking: "DON'T YOU HEAR SINCERITY IN MY VOICE WHEN I TALK?" at them, a line from "Love the Way You  Lie." The songs are only slightly marred by faux-British pronounciations of words to make a rhyme work, but isn't Eminem from Detroit like Madonna, so maybe Michigan residents have a Continental intonation? And by the inclusion of "guest" singers, like Rihanna, to add a repetitive riff. Rappers: No need to be so insecure that you need to "feature" others on your songs. 

Luckily, my two token downloads of Eminem brilliance are each short enough to get multiple plays on the way home before picking up the kids from school. I now know absolutely nothing about what is going on in my city but, frankly, if it doesn't make it to Rachel in the evening, it probably wasn't that important anyway. But, I must admit, I am becoming a pretty darn good white old lady rapper. 

1 comment:

  1. I can never pronounce his name and just call him M&Ms and he bored me to death when he was blaming his mother for all his problems but you've convinced me I should give him a listen.