Am I Too Loud For You?

A re-post for Marshall Mathers’ birthday, which is today. So psyched I finally got to see him perform.

WARNING: If, by some amazing circumstance, you have never heard “Kim” before, please know that it is completely unsafe for work, frankly psychotic, brutal from beginning to end, containing more triggers than a police force’s gun-range. Not for the faint-hearted.

Eminem gives one of the great (what do I call it? vocal performances? No. I see it as an acting performance, end-stop) acting performances of all time in his blistering screed named after his wife, “Kim”. It’s one of the most honest love songs ever written/performed.

Eminem creates the fantasy and then throws himself into all aspects of it, which is what makes the song unique and terrifying. He does not just fantasize about anger and violence (which would make him look tough, it would be self-congratulatory), but other emotional elements that would also be present in such a situation, elements like grief and adrenaline and insecurity, the wild mood swings (“I hate you! I swear to God, I hate you!” (starting to sob) “Oh my God, I love you …”). “Kim” feels, actually, like this is how such events often go. That’s why it’s so tough to listen to.

Listen to how he screams, “You can’t run from me, Kim!” A million things are going on in that moment. But more than the emotion, what I hear is his objective. I see that moment unfurling before me, because of the strength of his belief in that objective. All good acting has an objective as its engine. That’s why that moment is so bone-chilling: not because of what he is feeling, but because of what his OBJECTIVE is. Eminem is creating that, all by himself, in a studio before a microphone. It’s phenomenal acting.

Other people writing/performing such a song would have chosen to highlight the rage, because then you seem like a tough guy, you’re getting imaginary revenge, you’re really “showing her”, aren’t you.

Eminem doesn’t go that route. Throughout the course of the song, he sobs, he pleads, he pulls himself together again, he shows a pathetic side (“You think I’m ugly, don’t you?”), he feverishly reminisces, trying to call back the good times, and then snaps again. The rage hides a panic-filled sorrow.

In the midst of the emotional maelstrom, he keeps it specific, it’s not just one-note constant screaming. There’s a lot of subtlety in what he is doing (believe it or not!). The way he yells at the other car on the highway, for example, is completely different from how he yells at his wife. What he does with his voice there is perfectly evocative of free-floating road rage. Again: this is how such things often go … in real life. He also plays his wife Kim in the song, screaming for her life, giving the entire performance a psychotic glee that is difficult to escape.

There’s never been anything else like this performance. (Thank God, some people would say.)

I think what many people mostly remember about “Kim” is the rage (and, perhaps, how “inappropriate” the song is in the first place. I know it’s rude but my response to that is, seriously, “Whatever.”) There is a hell of a lot more going on in the song than rage, or anger at women, or whatever else. People call it misogynistic. Don’t start with me. Or you can start, go ahead, but you better have something more substantial to say than “It’s a misogynistic song.” Also, it is important to remember: Kim Mathers is still alive and well.

The song is a fantasy. Fantasies aren’t just unicorns and rainbows. Fantasies are often ugly and pathetic, which is why we hesitate to share them. We will be judged for our inner lives, our private dreamspaces. A lot of great art involves the artist attempting to live out a personal fantasy. And if you’re GONNA live out a fantasy, you might as well REALLY live it, in all its complexity, like MM does here. Who wants to fantasize about sobbing “I love you, God, I love you …” at your wife as you careen your car along a highway? Why would you willingly put yourself into a position where you imagine yourself in such circumstances and then decide to share it? Well, that’s art. That’s Eminem. That’s what it’s about. This is not just a wish-fulfillment song. If it were only about wish-fulfillment it would involve a little bit more self-righteousness, a little bit more “Watch how I show this bitch who’s boss.” That is NOT what is happening in “Kim” at all.

Eminem is interested in how this would go if he were to actually do it. It’s a work of imagination, a perfect example of Stanislavsky’s “magic What if”. What IF this were true, what IF something like this happened … Asking “what if” is the start of all imaginative work. And so Eminem’s imagination takes him into the personal, the traumatic, his pathos and sense of whiny victimization, his course-corrections of ugly rage, his begging/pleading … why why why would you do this to me? Whyyy would you do this to meeeee?

I can’t listen to “Kim” that much because the song insists that I go where he goes. The song leaves you in a tiny box with nowhere to escape. Cramped, trapped, forced to listen to this man lose his fucking mind.

Is “Kim” sick? Yes. Is it deranged? Yes.

It is also a work of art.

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9 Responses to Am I Too Loud For You?

  1. David Steece says:

    It’s so great that you wrote about this song. I can still remember how blown away I was when I first heard it. It’s so sad and crazy; I haven’t listened to it in years for the same reason I’ve never seen Larry Clark’s “Kids” a second time.

    Great post.

  2. JessicaR says:

    And I think he’s got the chops to be a good dramatic actor too. 8 Mile might have been autobiographical, but he was no Cool As Ice embarassment. I can see with the right parts and right directors making good use of that tightly coiled rage.

  3. sheila says:

    Jessica – I thought he was great in 8 Mile. I remember there being some surprise back then at how good he was, and I thought to myself, “Well these people have clearly not listened to ‘Kim’.” He goes to places in that song that well-established experienced major movie stars have never gone to.

    But I think his “chops” are better served in music. We would have lost so much if he had gone the movie route.

  4. sheila says:

    David – Glad you liked! I know he brings up strong feelings in people – but I love him, even his freakiest stuff.

    I would love to see a clip of him actually recording Kim – I’d like to see where he went – because it seems like he is actually lIVING that crazy night – it’s so real. So he’s in a recording studio, but he’s so private with his fantasy – it’s just insane.

    I used to sing the chorus of the song – the creepy sing-song – with an old roommate of mine, when we were feeling particularly silly. It’s so creepy, but also kind of heartfelt (despite the “bitch” part). “SO LONG. BITCH, YOU DID ME SO WRONG. I DON’T WANT TO GO ON LIVING IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT YOU.” It’s so messed up. Awesome.

    I feel about Requiem for a Dream the way you feel about Kids. Saw it once and thought, “okay, well I never need to see THAT again.”

  5. sheila says:

    He has a similar moment at the end of “My Fault” (link here) – a song about a girl he did mushrooms with, and she reacts terribly. She takes too many and convulses on the floor. The song is typical early Marshall – totally iffy situation, obnoxious (“Shut up, slut, chew up this mushroom”) – yadda yadda – and then at the end, as it is obvious that she is in bad bad shape, he falls APART. Sobbing “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” – and again, he goes there. The song, at the very end, goes to some other realm – totally real.

  6. alli says:

    So THATS why I liked that song when I heard it. I could never really put my finger on it other than the fact that it felt real. Real emotions are hardly ever only 1 thing at a time. Especially when they’re strong emotions.

    i’m so glad MM is back.

  7. sheila says:

    alli – yeah, his latest album is growing on me. Wasn’t sure about it at first. Doesn’t pack the wallop that Eminem Show did, but for me that’s nearly impossible.

  8. Daiana Gómez says:

    Wow,i came upon this.. I´ve always love that song,and yeah I used to think it was psychotic and probably thought more about the anger as well,but lately I´ve being paying more attention to the “you think im ugly,dont you?” parts and there´s no more accurate way to consider this song than as an acting performance.. seriously ,especially since I was thinking which singer could make a good cover of this,and now I see why no name came to my mind,it must be an actor XD…by the way,when I was little I didn´t want people to know that I loved this song,what would they think of my mental state? haha.

    • sheila says:

      Daiana – I know what you mean about people not understanding why ANYONE would love this song. Aside from the content – it’s just a hell of a performance. Nothing else quite like it.

      And I agree – “you think I’m ugly don’t you?” – that shows what he’s really interested in – which is not killing his wife but showing the helplessness/rage he feels – the self-loathing that COULD make him go to this level – Another artist would have left all of that self-loathing stuff out, because it’s embarrassing to share that with people. He is not embarrassed.

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