Staying in Tune With Eminem
Andrea Aguilar remembers the moment two years ago--it was one morning before school in the eighth grade--when she was watching MTV in her room and discovered Eminem. She had been listening to rap and hip-hop music since she was 7, and she knew instantly the blond Detroit rapper was different. “I’m like, oh, he’s white . . . and I’m like, but he’s really gooood.”
She was a little surprised by the strong language on his first CD, which she bought the first day it went on sale. “You know like how MTV edits it and stuff. They clean it up a lot. So when I heard it, I thought, ‘Oh. He’s a lot more different than I thought. . . .’ ”
While her parents, Porfirio, 45, and Patricia, 44, were attracted in their youth to the Beatles singing earnestly about holding hands, Andrea, like millions of other young people, is drawn to the catchy rhythms and rhymes of Eminem’s songs, which describe violent death, rape and torture in vulgar language. His detractors have denounced his lyrics as hateful and obscene, nauseating and vile. One song jokes about killing his wife to the sounds of laughter and chain saws. In another, he fantasizes about raping his mother. In another, he threatens to kill gays at knifepoint.
For 15-year-old Andrea, the discovery that Eminem, 28, was no bubble-gum rapper for teenyboppers only added to his appeal. She doesn’t care about the complaints--cries that have become even louder since last week when his album, “The Marshall Mathers LP,” was nominated for the prestigious album of the year Grammy. (Marshall Mathers is his real name. The CD has sold 8 million copies and was the second bestselling album of 2000.)
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences has logged thousands of e-mails and phone calls from angry people and groups--notably the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Andrea is an A-student at an all-girls parochial school in Chino Hills. Her dark hair is hennaed and crimped around multiply pierced ears and perfectly made-up eyes. When she’s not wearing the pleated skirts and polo shirts of her school uniform, she favors oversized pants and sweatshirts in black. Her perfectly groomed nails are long and lacquered in various crimson shades.
When she talks in the self-conscious, italicized rhythms of adolescence, she mostly looks down. But if it appears someone has a clue as to what she’s talking about, she lifts her lashes, her eyes a soft searchlight of hope.
Over the past two years, she’s become an amateur authority on Eminem. She buys every magazine with his picture on it. She owns both his autobiography “Angry Blonde” and biography “Crossing the Line.” She’s spent hundreds of dollars on Eminem paraphernalia--pens, folders, stickers, a sweatshirt, a calendar. Her room and her school locker are papered with his unsmiling images. For Christmas, her friends gave her a bag of M&Ms; with Eminem stickers in it.
She knows his general whereabouts at any given moment. She keeps abreast of his troubled family relationships. It’s stupid and greedy, she thinks, that his mother sued him for defamation then released her own rap CD; it’s cool that he has reconciled with his wife, Kim.
Last summer, Andrea figured out how to build a Web site devoted to Eminem, https://www.angelfire.com/music2/emzpage/index.html. It lists his awards and speeches, and little-known facts: he cuts his own hair; his favorite restaurant is Taco Bell; he used to study the dictionary to expand his vocabulary. It includes pictures of his wedding and Eminem and his wife with their baby. It enumerates his nine tattoos, including the one on his right wrist that says, “Slit here.” Out of hundreds of such sites, hers is one of the top noncommercial sites listed at https://www.eminemtopsites.com. She was one of five fans featured in a teen magazine (“Eminem--Unauthorized and Uncensored!”) published this winter.
Like other devotees, Andrea argues that his songs help him vent. Music is his therapy. She likes that he doesn’t care what anybody thinks, that he can say whatever he wants. He doesn’t really mean it when he calls women names, tells them to shut up and threatens to kill them on his songs, she says. “They’re just lyrics. He’s trying to be funny, in a kind of sick way, I guess. But I think he’s humorous. It’s not like he promotes violence as part of the songs.”
She distinguishes Eminem the entertainer from Eminem the person. He’s totally misunderstood, she says, and recites the dramatic facts of his life: “He didn’t have a dad. He almost killed himself. His best friend died. He used to get like in fights every day. Like bullies would pick on him. He was in a coma for 10 days because of a bully. It’s like so much.
“And then he got thrown out of his apartment, he had to like break in to sleep somewhere. He never had any money. He couldn’t even afford like diapers for his little girl and then his wife almost left him. There’s so much more. . . .
“I just think it’s really good to see him get famous after all he’s been through.”
Like many of his fans, Andrea can’t relate to Eminem’s real life at all--his dropping out of school, his arrest on weapons and assault charges, his wife’s suicide attempt. But she likes the way he writes about his life. “It’s really sad and like heartbreaking,” she says. Some of his stories are funny, she says.
“ ‘My Fault’ is pretty good. He goes to a rave party and meets this girl and gives her a bunch of mushrooms and then like he ends up killing her at the end, but it’s like funny. She eats too many, and she’s like cutting her hair with scissors. She’s drinking Lysol and he’s trying to get help. At the end, he’s like, ‘Oh man, she’s dead.’
“ ‘Brain Damage’ is pretty good, too. This bully beats him up at school and the principal comes and is hitting him too. And he goes home and starts reading a comic. And then like blood starts spilling out of his ear. And his mom is like, ‘You’re getting blood all over my rug!'--She doesn’t even care about him [laughs]--and then like his brain falls out of his skull and he sews it back up and that’s why he says he has brain damage.”
Andrea’s father, a systems analyst for Pinkerton, hasn’t paid that much attention to his daughter’s hobby. When he listens to the songs, he says, he can’t understand the lyrics anyway. Andrea’s mother, a paralegal for the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, allows Andrea to hear the unexpurgated songs. (Two versions are available.) She believes her daughter is mature and not at all likely to emulate him. Besides, she says, “I don’t want to shield my daughter totally from what is real in the world so when she goes out in the world, she’s totally naive.”
They once went together to see Eminem in a concert at the Pond in Anaheim. “It was July 1999,” Andrea recalls. “I saw him and I was all excited. I was screaming and stuff. I was singing along, of course.”
It was a highlight of her young life. “You know that he’s right there. Just like knowing that is so exciting.”
Some friends think it would be scary to meet him, but Andrea thinks it would be cool. To her, he seems like a down-to-earth kind of guy. If she ever actually met him, she doesn’t know what she’d say to him. She just wouldn’t want it to be anything stupid. Because then he might write about her in a song.