Friday, 29 January 2010

2000 Eminem: Stan

"Children have never fallen for my nonsense": Boris Karloff

Following the playful call to arms of ‘The Real Slim Shady’, Eminem's second number one flips the coin to show the darker side of both his own psyche and the consequences of taking his more outré antics too seriously via a tale recounted in the main through the eyes of uber fan/stalker Stan, a man who doesn’t know when to let go.

"My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I got out of bed at all. The morning rain clouds up my window and I can't see at all"

Ah yes - before we start though, a word about his ‘co-star’ here; Eminem’s name might be there solo on the cover, but a large part of 'Stan's success is down to the atmosphere setting vocal sample from British singer Dido’s ‘Thank You’, albeit after filtering her voice through what sounds like a black sheet of rain until it’s ghostly. By itself, a ballad of introspective mope, Eminem selectively ‘borrows’ her first verse only and, by ignoring the positive affirmation of that song's chorus, effectively re-writes Dido by turning its repetition into the dread of dead end routine and casts her Greek chorus as a thousand yard stare overture to a life where each and every day is the same as the last with her relentlessness taking on ever desperate overtones as Eminem's protagonist loses grip on reality.

"My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I got out of bed at all. The morning rain clouds up my window and I can't see at all"

That process is gradual. On first sighting Stan could be any fan writing an appreciative letter to his idol, though from the off Eminem sets up the one-sided delusion of Stan regarding this as a two way process ("Dear Slim, I wrote you but still ain't callin'.I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom"). It's lighthearted and fun in a 'look at the geek' kinda way, but the light dims when Stan’s growing impatience starts up a rant that reveals more and more about himself, his life and his attempt to reach out and make contact ("Dear Slim, you still ain't called or wrote, I hope you have a chance. I ain't mad, I just think it's fucked up you don't answer fans") only to be frustrated by the lack of the response he feels is due. I can just picture Stan, alone in his room getting angrier and angrier, knuckles getting whiter and whiter ("We waited in the blistering cold for you") until a tipping point comes at 2:52 and his "I even got a tattoo of your name across my chest", a confession startlingly punctuated by a sampled aside from Dido that plays out as a gasp of realisation that things are taking a turn for the worse and that joke isn't funny anymore.

"My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I got out of bed at all. The morning rain clouds up my window and I can't see at all"

And worse it gets - with no access to Eminem, and in taking out his anger on his pregnant girlfriend, Stan emulates him instead . After kidnapping her (a call back reference to Eminem's "Kim," a song that ends in him slitting his wife’s throat and throwing her in the boot of his car, though Stan changes his MO slightly: "But I didn't slit her throat, I just tied her up, see I ain't like you. Cause if she suffocates she'll suffer more, and then she'll die too"), locks her in his car boot then drives off with a boast of "Hey Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?" (itself a reference to the "Am I coming or going? I can barely decide. I just drank a fifth of vodka, dare me to drive?" from Eminem’s ‘My Name Is’) before hurtling off the road in a squeal of brakes and splash of water, killing all three in the process. Then, after the violence peaks and ends, Dido starts up again for the last time:

"My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I got out of bed at all. The morning rain clouds up my window and I can't see at all".

Life goes on, with or without Stan.

Eminem's coda, a response to Stan that comes weeks too late ("Dear Stan, I meant to write you sooner but I just been busy ") could have been a schlocky let-down of hand wringing appeasement (and the sudden "And in the car they found a tape, but they didn't say who it was to. Come to think about, his name was, it was you" ending is a bit 'Tales Of The Totally Expected' for comfort), but Eminem doesn't fumble the ball and uses the opportunity to not just address Stan in the context of song, but also the fans and critics in the 'real world' in a fourth wall breaking monologue of self awareness to explain why we shouldn't be falling for his nonsense and certainly not taking him as a role model ("I say that shit just clownin' dog. Come on, how fucked up is you? You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counselling").

Such denial was hardly new ground for Eminem; he'd done it before and would again, but never with such an absence of anger or sarcasm and his open honesty renders it drama rather than the usual pantomime. Through his own experience, Eminem knows that, no matter how he qualifies it, people do take him seriously and that Stan's do exist; he’s too intelligent to try and deny it. Though the hockey masked, chainsaw wielding rapper of past (and future) revelled in rebellion and violence, here he’s keen to distance himself from Stan’s over-zealous interpretation of his lyrics, not just by his usual ‘I’m only joking’ line, but by counterpointing them with Stan’s own misinterpretation (and mis-quoting) of Phil Collins’ hitherto harmless ‘In The Air Tonight’, a marriage break-up song that speaks to Stan's confusion in terms of actual violence ("You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night" About that guy who could a saved that other guy from drowning But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?") in where in fact it’s only metaphorical. In Eminem’s parlance, somebody with the latent capacity for violence can be triggered by anything and probably will; Eminem and his ilk are just a convenient scapegoat for wider social ills.

Regardless of any analysis or interpretation, ‘Stan’ can be enjoyed as a simple short story in song with a central character fully fleshed out by Eminem’s rhymes and increasingly agitated (and believably acted) persona. On that level alone it’s quite the creepiest single we’ve come across since ‘Every Breath You Take’s tale of obsession, and on its own merits such a creeping monolith of black dread would have struggled to climb to such popular heights. I'm happy to acknowldge that it probably sits at number one by virtue of that relationship – i.e. a post adolescent fan base getting off on his swearing and cartoon rebellion, but there clearly is more going on here than Gothic melodrama - is Stan in fact the Real Slim Shady, a mirror image of the person Eminem could have been had success not come knocking?

Certainly Stan’s life in song mirrors Eminem’s pre-fame in reality (a rap fan with absent father and a daughter) and would explain his reluctance to meet himself/Stan in the song ("And what's this shit about us meant to be together? That type of shit'll make me not want us to meet each other"). I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to claim any inside knowledge on this so suffice it to say 'Stan' is a complex, multi-dimensional, semi-autobiographical proposition that highlights the popular artist/fan relationship and the extent of the mutual need of both to function. All of which goes toward making 'Stan' as perfect a single as you’re ever likely to hear.

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