Saturday 16 February 2019

Heaney's Eminem praise a bum rap

THE news that Seamus Heaney spoke out last week at a summer school in praise of Eminem, describing him as having "created a sense of what is possible - not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy", makes one worry if Seamus has spent too long on the US college circuit tour.

When he starts telling his audiences that Eminem has sent "a voltage around a generation" can we be far from him allowing MTV in to show us his Crib?

I like Heaney, and he may well be right about Eminem - he is, after all, a Nobel Laureate and knows a thing or two about words, whatever the Dunph might think - but the moment a poet starts trying to be deliberately relevant (or worse, "modern") it is time to start preparing the professional obituaries. Seamus would do well to remember that a fair proportion of his readership never forgave Dylan for going electric and they certainly aren't going to stand for it from him.

The standard practice on these (surprisingly regular) occasions when eminent poet lauds tearaway musical phenomenon is to quote some of aforementioned phenomenon's choicer lyrics to highlight the unspoken suggestion that eminent poet may be a line short of a sonnet. Heaney deserves better, but in a sense that he would perhaps understand, this is one writer who finds it difficult to leave behind that oldest of all journalistic habits - the dig.

Perhaps we might start with an extract from Eminem's anthemic and highly autobiographical work, I'm Shady:

"Well, I do take pills, don't do speed,

Don't do crack, don't do coke, I do smoke weed

Don't do smack, I do do 'shrooms,

Do drink beer, I just wanna make a few things clear,

My baby's mama's not dead (nuh-uh), she's alive and bitching (yup)."

There is more but I'll stop there.

All things considered, it's probably something of a wonder that the Real Slim Shady can stand up.

Of course he does have more reflective pieces - Bitch Please II and Cum on Everybody spring to mind - but if, as Heaney seems to be suggest, Eminem speaks for the current generation, you can take it that your young sonny is currently upstairs pondering the likelihood of getting himself some hos, offing a couple of queers and very possibly popping a cap in yo' ass for asking him to tidy up his room.

In the last few years, Eminem has made a point of denying he is anti-women, anti-gay and pro-violence, but a perusal of his lyrics suggests that the only way you could take some sort of positive, benign message from his songs would be to play them backwards - itself something of a twist on traditional bad-boy rock mythology.

What with the unfortunate demise of Tupac (gunfire) and Biggie Smalls (gunfire) he is undoubtedly the biggest rap star in the world - good going for a man whose skin colour would not at first glance have suggested that a glittering career in black music beckoned - but it must still be nice to get praised by the world's greatest living poet.

The World's Greatest Living Poet on the other hand might be (gently) reminded that it was Mid-Term Break and the lough shore which deservedly earned him that title, not Spring Break and hot tubs. As they don't say in Sligo, remember Yeats and the monkey gland injections.

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