The Eminem Show: An Introduction
I wasn’t alive back in the 1960s or 1970s, so I have no idea what sort of excitement was generated by the release of a new Beatles album or by the next Led Zeppelin record. Everyone has seen clips of The Ed Sullivan Show, of fans lined up on dirty streets outside ticket booths and concert halls, of little girls pouring into stadiums, but I was born in 1980, and I grew up thinking that the “best music” was already a thing of the past. I never listened to Poison or to Def Leppard or to Journey, none of the ’80s rock that filled the daily MTV schedule, not until the 2000s when it was ironically hip to do so. My parents had stacks and stacks of old records, and somehow the hair metal and the suburb-friendly rap that my friends listened to (White Lion? DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince?) seemed–even to a 10-year-old–like a temporary amusement. There were cool and subversive things happening in the 1980s, no doubt, but for a kid living in Columbia, South Carolina (without cable television, for much of my time in that state, only three channels to choose from), there was no way to be aware of any of it.
Throughout the 1990s, after the death of hair metal and the rise of grunge/ alt rock, after the collapse of the corny mainstream rappers and the rise of gritty gangsta and street rap, my opinions slowly began to change. Maybe the “best music” was not behind us. Maybe Generation X was just getting started, just now revving its engine. Maybe I didn’t need to cling to Led Zeppelin like some deluded Republican clinging to the America of Leave it to Beaver. Maybe I’d someday look back on Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Bush and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (on sleek compact discs) and someday force my children to accept these musicians as the standard bearers.
The only problem, though, was that most of these musicians couldn’t duplicate the success and the excitement of their debut CDs. Nirvana? Yes, there was demand for their follow-up, and the Unplugged CD was incredible, but…well, we all know the tragic end to that story, right? And Pearl Jam? They had a nice run, and they’re still popular, but their war with Ticketmaster (and their refusal to create new videos on MTV) seemed to cut them off with a lot of casual listeners, myself included. I lost interest. And Dr. Dre? I remember listening to “Dre Day” when I was in the sixth grade…and I remember hearing “Still D.R.E.” and “Forgot About Dre” for the first time when I was a sophomore in college.Big gap, Dre.
Why do I say all of this? Why does it matter?
Because I’d never anticipated an album so ferociously as I anticipated The Eminem Show.The second album had built upon the first so well, momentum growing, and I…seriously…couldn’t…wait. It was a generational moment, too, an anticipation shared by an audience of millions.
I mentioned in my previous post that The Marshall Mathers LP felt like a cliffhanger, like The Empire Strikes Back. It took the story of Eminem/ Marshall Mathers/ Slim Shady (and the entire supporting cast of characters) to a new level, the complications in the narrative becoming more complicated, to the point where we simply had to have an answer to the question: How will it turn out? It was like seeing Han Solo frozen in carbonite, Luke Skywalker presented with the knowledge that Darth Vader was his father, and the entire rebellion on the brink of collapse. Return of the Jedi couldn’t come fast enough, and neither could The Eminem Show. Hell, I bought the CD from the little indie CD store where I used to buy punk rock CDs in high school…got the last copy, on the day it was released…and even the tatted-up punk-rock store clerk was like, “Gotta check out Song 13. ‘Superman.’ Freakin’ rocks.” It seemed like the whole world was on the edge of its seat, from hard-core rap fans to rock fans to parents to children to stuffy newspaper columnists and cable news commentators.
How would the story turn out? Satisfying finish, like Jedi, or would it fizzle out like The Matrix and The Pirates of the Caribbean and X-Men sequels (yes, there were released later, but you get my point).
Once you pushed play, you couldn’t deny it: The Eminem Show was brilliant, was indeed the satisfying culmination of all that had come before. Some would make half-hearted arguments that it wasn’t as gritty as the two previous albums, that it wasn’t as raw, that–like Return of the Jedi with its cuddly Ewoks, or like the final season of The Wire–it was a little too polished. But these arguments came only after agonizing scrutiny, after weeks and weeks of non-stop continuous play. The verdict was absolutely clear. The Eminem Show was the final amazing piece of a trilogy, Eminem’s characters and themes elevated and further tied-together, the crisis moment and the climax and the denouement all in one album. And the response was (for once) universal acceptance and praise. From everyone, Eminem lovers and haters alike.
Of course, you can see the problem developing already, right? You can see what this means for the next chapter in the story, how such sunny positivity can affect someone who was so accustomed to life in the dark?
But that comes later. We’ll worry about Encore and The Re-Up in another post. For now, we’ve got to take a look at the The Eminem Show. What actually happened, and how did it progress the story?
next: The Eminem Show Analysis