As last year progressed, I began to hear bits and pieces of news about some guy named Eminem. I heard he was a white rapper in his 20's. That he had a catchy hit song called "The Real Slim Shady." That he had issues with his mother. That he had issues with his wife, Kim. That he had issues with homosexual men. That his mother sued him for defamation of character, then released her own three-song CD to tell her side of the story. That Kim tried to kill herself, separated from Eminem, then reunited with him. That his hit CD, The Marshall Mathers LP, was filled with hateful, misogynistic, homophobic lyrics, but (according to many critics) that it was one of the best albums of the year. What this all added up to for me was that Eminem is Vanilla Ice with Issues, but this time the critics like him.
I had not actually heard any of Eminem's songs, but after The Marshall Mathers LP was nominated for a Grammy award for album of the year, I felt like I needed to hear just a little bit of it. I managed to do that thanks to my nephew Brian, so I can now say I've listened to three of the key tracks on the CD, "Stan," "Kim," and "The Real Slim Shady." Here is what I discovered:
"The Real Slim Shady" is catchy and kind of funny, although Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are mentioned in ways that aren't particularly nice.
In "Stan," the title character is an obsessed fan of Eminem who writes him a series of increasingly disturbing letters. When it appears that Em isn't going to answer the letters, good ole Stan stuffs his own pregnant girlfriend in the trunk of his car and proceeds to drive the three of them off a bridge, while taping one last message to Em.
In "Kim," our "hero" kills his wife in front of their baby and then drives off to dump the body out in the woods. I'm told that this song, which features both Kim's screams and the baby's cries, is supposed to be a joke.
Here's my bottom line: I don't care how amazing the production is or how clever Em's rhymes are. This stuff is just vile and I think it's a sad state of affairs that it's being praised by a host of music critics and being nominated for Grammys, not that I have any respect for an award that currently weighs down the trophy shelves of people like Christopher Cross and Toto. Of course, I'm no believer in censorship, so I don't believe Em should be banned. I just wish he wasn't being so lavishly praised by people who think that defending Eminem might up their hipness quotient.
However, the day after I heard the Eminem tracks, I had an epiphany in Tower Records. I was listening to a CD of Aretha Franklin love songs and looking at the soundtrack to Ken Burns' Jazz documentary, the Beatles' 1 collection and several other excellent CDs. What I realized is that there is so much great, beautiful, relevant, interesting music in the world, that I no longer want to spend any more time thinking about Eminem. I may not have come to that conclusion without first hearing his songs (I hate it when people complain about pop culture phenomena they've never actually heard, seen or otherwise experienced), but now that I have heard the music of Eminem, I never have to hear it again.
Rather than complain anymore about Eminem, I'd now like to offer a list of 50 pieces of music, in completely random order, that are cooler than any Eminem song you can name, at least in my opinion. These are not necessarily my favorite songs, and some are actually pretty bad. But all of them are cooler than Eminem. Fifty songs might seem a bit excessive, but then again, don't you think writing a "joke" song about killing your wife in front of your baby is a little excessive?
1."Manteca"-Dizzy Gillespie. A bebop classic.
2. "4'33"-John Cage. The sheet music instructs the pianist (or other instrumentalist) to sit down at his or her instrument and not to touch it for 4 minutes, 33 seconds. That is the entire piece. Need I say more?
3."Be My Yoko Ono"-Barenaked Ladies. Personally, I don't think Yoko broke up the Beatles either.
4."Maroon"-Ken Nordine. The coolest track from Nordine's Colors series and the song that inspired the title of the latest Barenaked Ladies' CD.
5.Theme from Spiderman. "Is he strong? Listen, bud! He's got radioactive blood!"
6."Settin' The Woods On Fire"-Hank Williams. A farmer and his wife metaphorically set the woods on fire with their dancin' and lovin'. And get this! The farmer doesn't kill his wife at the end of the song!
7."Shades"-Iggy Pop. Iggy's girlfriend gives him a cool pair of shades. The shades make him happy. The end.
8."Neptune, the Mystic"-Gustav Holst. The last of the seven movements in The Planets. Everyone knows "Mars, the Bringer of War," but I love "Neptune," which ends with a mysterious and, yes, mystical, wordless vocal chorus drifting off into the endless universe.
9."Don't Stop Til You Get Enough"-Michael Jackson. Forget Thriller. This song, as well as the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body," is as exciting as MJ ever got.
10."Liquored Up and Lacquered Down"-Southern Culture On The Skids. "She's liquored up and lacquered down/She's got the biggest hair in town."
11."Mr. Tambourine Man"-William Shatner. Even now, after hearing it dozens of times, the end of this song still sends me into fits of convulsive laughter.
12."Church On Sunday"-Green Day. Pop punkers prove it's OK to grow up a little bit.
13."The House That Jack Built" or anything else by Aretha Franklin.
14."Fist City"-Loretta Lynn. Not as well-known as some of Lynn's other songs, but a genuine classic nonetheless.
15."The Potato Song"-Frampton Brothers. A song about the potato.
16. "The Sound of Your Noise"-Twang Bang. A cool song by a band I interviewed recently for an upcoming Cool and Strange Music! story.
17."Kung Fu Fighting"-Carl Douglas. If I have to explain why this song is so cool, then you've obviously never heard this song.
18."Hold On Loosely"-.38 Special. An advice song: "If you cling too tightly...you're gonna lose control."
19."Midnight Blue"-Lou Gramm. Another advice song: "It's either cherry red or midnight blue." Not sure what that means, exactly, but it works for me.
20."Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" or anything else by James Brown.
21.The theme song from Wonder Woman. "In her satin tights/Fighting for her rights/And the old red, white and blue." Wonder Woman could kick Eminem's butt up and down any street you'd care to name.
22. "How High The Moon"-Les Paul and Mary Ford. One of the greatest guitar solos, ever.
23. "Surrender"-Cheap Trick. Was cool in 1978. Is cool now. Will be cool in 2078.
24."Take Five"-Dave Brubeck. Simply a cool jazz tune.
25."So What"-Miles Davis. Another cool jazz tune.
26."West End Blues"-Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. According to the Ken Burns' Jazz documentary, this is a 20th Century work of art. You'll get no arguement from me.
27."Light My Fire"-Del Rubio Triplets. "FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE..."
28."Crazy Little Thing Called Love"-Queen. One of Freddie Mercury's finest moments and Dwight Yoakam does it up real nice too.
29."Walking On the Sun"-Smash Mouth. One of my favorite songs from the past decade.
30."Bring the Noise"-Public Enemy. A landmark track from the landmark It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back LP.
31."Rowboat"-Johnny Cash. Cash takes on the Beck songbook.
32."Tr La La Le Triangle"-Patsy Cline. A silly novelty song, and still cooler than Eminem.
33."Theme from Shaft"-Isaac Hayes. Well, duh...
34."What's Love Got To Do With It"-Tina Turner. Her stunning return to form, back in the early '80s.
35. Theme from Fat Albert. "Na na na gonna have a good time," indeed.
36."Kiss Me In The Rain"-Barbra Steisand. She doesn't even mind if she gets wet.
37."A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You"-The Monkees. For my money, the finest song Neil Diamond ever wrote.
38."Love On The Rocks"-Neil Diamond. Not 1/10 as good as "A Little Bit Me..." but still cooler than Eminem.
39."Tonight"-New Kids On The Block. My favorite ELO, er, I mean Beatles tribute song, by a boy group that could wipe the floor with the current crop of boy groups.
40."Dock of the Bay"-Otis Redding. My all-time favorite song.
41."Big Yellow Taxi"-Joni Mitchell. I don't know much of Mitchell's work, but you can't really deny "Big Yellow Taxi," especially when she laughs at the end of the song.
42."Mountain Jam"-Allman Brothers. You could listen to Eminem's entire album in the time it takes the Allmans to play this jam on a good night. But would you really want to?
43."Kiss Kiss Kiss"-Yoko Ono. Even at her poppiest, Yoko can still clear a room in record time. Personally, I love her for that.
44."That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" or anything else by Lyle Lovett.
45."All For Leyna"-Billy Joel. I don't care much about Joel these days, but WOW! what a song this one is.
46."Gangs In The Streets"-Loverboy. They're looking for me. They're looking for you.
47."Ray of Light"-Madonna. Another one of my favorites from the last ten years.
48."I've Got You Under My Skin"-Frank Sinatra and Bono. I may be the only person on this or any other planet who actually likes this duet.
49."Mambo No. 5"-Lou Bega. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Guilty Pleasure No. 743.
50."Clambake"-Elvis Presley. Can't forget The King. Even his cheesy movie songs are cooler than Eminem.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)