Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I can't tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like...

One song has been increasingly stinging closer to my core since this summer. Driving... running... grading in my classroom before school... it doesn't matter where I am, I'll stop and listen with a mm-hmm in my heart like an Amenner in a southern church.

Last night, 60 Minutes profiled Eminem. I hesitated all day about posting this because Eminem is himself, so polarizing; even people who like him will have moved on from this particular mid-summer hit by now to something more upbeat and saccharine. The rest of the people I know, I don't see knowing his work anyway. He's been off-putting to many for years because of the language he uses. But as E and I have discussed multiple times, there's something about his ability to (forgive the English teacher language) slant rhyme that rings in my ear with a poetic artistry. Okay, I might not have said it like that to E, but there's just something about him and how he manipulates language.

His song, "Not Afraid' is refreshing in its honesty and the admissions of his struggle to get clean. I think listening to his recent stuff as I run has really given me a chance to think about why it speaks to so many people.

But his song "Love the Way You Lie" with Rhianna is the one that stops me in my tracks. I googled a bit this morning to see if there were other blog posts out there on the topic, and I didn't find much--a few MTV articles on the obvious domestic violence admissions of the song. One post on marriage and how loving someone who lies is not really loving. Lots of criticism for Rhianna for her afiliation with a project that, I believe MTV lamented "didn't glorify violence, but didn't dismiss it either." I remember lots of twitter chatter when it first came out asking how Rhianna's character could "love the way someone lies" and there was a lot of "why doesn't she just leave him?"

I feel like the pull of the song for me is that it isn't representative of a single-sided relationship. There's hurt and anger and bad behavior on both sides. There's a sense of being pulled back in to something--wanting to be better, saying the right words even when it's not clear it will be possible to maintain them. There's blind love and recklessness. I can't think of anything like it that I've heard recently. It hits me hard every single time because it speaks to a type of anger--a blind, reckless anger--that has been in my relationship with E at different times. The song is not neat and tidy. I'm fascinated by that. I suppose this is the same pull that people feel to read about how the marriage road has been rocky for the two of us. My hypothesis is that more people have seen or felt that kind of numb anger--or perhaps its inverse, Rhianna's position and the dichotomy that is the pull between loving someone and knowing that there's still a line--than not. I'm not speaking of violence (which I am also not suggesting is acceptable), but there are so many shades of anger between love and violence that the song shines a light into what I think is a dark corner most people would rather avoid. I think my own struggles in marriage make me understand exactly how a couple gets to that point where things would turn. Hopelessness, repeated failure at fixing things, inescapable old patterns make people behave in ways they know are not right. Maybe that's not something one should say out loud, I don't know. I think it's worth looking beyond the literal context of violence that the song explores because the message about anger and love making a home in the same relationship is powerful, compelling, and disturbing.

Is that so weird? That it's more common than we would admit, so we have a voyeuristic tendency when it comes to watching other people struggle? Like I said, the song bothers me. It's not comfortable. Eminem's use of the second person perspective--a "generic you" forces anyone listening to identify with at least some aspect of the "push/pull" out the door and back in again. I'm not saying everyone's story is his, or mine. But I find my own fascination and discomfort with the song to be endlessly interesting and thought-provoking, sometimes a little upsetting, and at the same time there's a comfort, an identification with the awful things he says. You should read the lyrics for yourself--or better yet, listen to the song (and know it uses some really angry, profane language). The line that grates the most against my heart is the "tie her to the bed and light the house on fire" line. I don't see Eminem advocating arson or murder, but the raw, uncensored emotion in that line is so embarrasingly honest. (And watching the video, Rhianna's open palms full of fire sent me into another symbol-searching think-fest). It's not a happy ending. She doesn't leave him like we think she should, things go up in flame. It's something that can't be framed into a song, a cliche ending, a finale. This is why the song won't leave me.

I don't believe the listener is supposed to know what all of it means anyway, but as E says, that's how Eminem's character feels in the (pun intended) heat of the argument. As one who has been to an awful place of anger, myself--one who felt for every second that this person who pushed her beyond her limit was still someone she loved, as someone who has been on the other side of the same rage--I find myself in that song in a way I'd probably like not to. I'm drawn to it. I feel like anything that gets people talking about the realities of relationships is powerful, though. Love isn't easy or rewarding or fixable on its own, at least not for all of us. My situation is different enough from the song that I'm not directing you to it for a parallel. I think it's worth giving it a careful listen, though.  It makes me thankful not to be there now.


  1. I know I'm WAY late, but congrats on the Urban Cow! You did fantastic!

    And I have to agree about Eminem - some may hate him for his lyrics, but I appreciate his ability to write lyrics that rhyme and that have some sort of emotion behind them. My hubs and I listen to his newest stuff all the time, and it is great for working out!

  2. I really enjoyed reading through this post and processing your thoughts on this song. Eminem, no matter how controversial, remains one of my favorite artists (along with Tupac). He has a way with words, the way he manipulates them you don't even realize what he has REALLY said until 2 or 3 lines after he's said it. He is an emotional guy, with a turbulent past and those things have created a diverse, non-conformist artist that speaks to the heart of the very issues most of us would rather not think about.

    Terrific post.