Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Axl Rose = Eminem
Re-Use Your Illusion
By Chuck Klosterman
(Originally published June 25, 2003)
Why is Axl Rose eating Eminem's soul?
Here's the thing about modern teenagers: They like rap. It speaks to them. Rap music (sometimes referred to as "hip-hop" by sociologists) offers today's youth a sense of urgency and desperation not seen since the "heyday" of late-'70s punk-rock artists like the Clash and Boston. This phenomenon is best illustrated through the work of a popular Caucasian known as Eminem, a man who spent much of 2002 as the unsmiling cover boy for youth-oriented magazines such as Spin, The Face, and The New York Times Magazine. It would seem that Eminem is a new kind of cultural Minotaur: the irrepressible cad who flouts society's conventions by candidly critiquing pop culture and sporadically threatening to murder people. It all seems quite innovative.
Yet this is not as you may suspect, true believers. This has been done before. In fact, this has completely been done before, because Eminem is Axl Rose. And I don't mean Eminem is like Axl Rose in a metaphorical sense or in a philosophical sense or in an allegorical sense; Eminem is literally reliving Rose's career in bizarre, hyper-specific ways. My proof:
Both hail from the Midwest and express violent anger toward their mothers (Rose on Guns N' Roses' "Bad Obsession," Eminem on pretty much every track he's ever recorded).
Both reappropriated their given names for reasons that were simultaneously personal and aesthetic (Rose renamed himself after discovering the identity of his "real" father; Eminem titled his most visceral album after his legal name to make it more "real" to listeners).
Both have been critically reviled as homophobic, yet both seem vaguely obsessed and/or connected with gay culture (Rose once sent flowers to the Pet Shop Boys, who later sang the song "The Night I Fell in Love," about a Shady-like character).
Both artists were also defended by Elton John, who performed with each at high-profile awards shows.
Both are fixated on burying women in the backyard (Rose in the GN'R song "Used to Love Her," Eminem in the video for "Cleanin' Out My Closet").
Both attacked seemingly innocuous enemies (Axl went after the likes of Vince Neil and Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr.; Em went after Moby and Chris Kirkpatrick).
Both sing about abusing "bitches" they were romantically involved with (Rose on "It's So Easy," Slim Shady on "Kim").
Both are diminutive white males who, after discovering weight training, suddenly wanted to appear shirtless in public.
So what do these "coincidences" tell us, beyond suggesting that Eminem soon will disappear into the Sedona desert for ten years before emerging with a band featuring some dude wearing a KFC bucket?
Perhaps they tell us this: What always survives the evolution of culture, and what tends to be replicated most closely by subsequent generations, is inexplicable--a manifestation of fucked-up alienation. Logic would dictate that commercial success comes from creating a product that people can relate to. But cultural success--the ability to exist as an idea, years after your tangible work has lost its relevance--derives from embodying a persona that almost nobody can relate to. Somehow, the marriage of weirdness and bad judgment is its own kind of eternal reality.
Case in point: Justin Timberlake.
When J.T. performed in that stupid detective's hat at last year's MTV Video Music Awards, everyone's reaction was the same: "Oh, how cute--he wants to be Michael Jackson." I can't believe that more people weren't aghast that someone actively wants to be Michael Jackson. At this point, Jackson is no different from Howard Hughes: His life's work has been completely dwarfed by his desire to lie in hyperbaric oxygen chambers and collect the bones of the Elephant Man (not to mention his being accused of child molestation and calling Sony racist for allowing him to sell only 58 million albums). No rational person views Jackson as anything except a freakish example of why profound celebrity is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Yet people like Timberlake (and like Eminem) still aspire to that kind of public self-destruction, because that kind of losing is actually how you win. And that's because profound celebrity is always less disposable than art.
posted 8:56 AM