By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Though no one will divulge whether he cooks up brownies for the school's bake sale, sources say that Marshall's been known to show up for PTO meetings. The school's Web site, in fact, boasts that 99 percent of parents attended fall conferences. "Parent involvement is directly associated with student success," the Web page says; parents are asked to read with their children for 15 minutes every evening, and to "also please work on math facts." ("Everywhere I go, a hat, a sweater hood, or mask," Marshall rapped this year. "What about math, how come I wasn't ever good at that?" But sometimes parents learn from their kids.)
"The Elementary Schools Student-Parent Handbook" for Chippewa Valley Schools prohibits weapons and unauthorized medication and "boom-boxes," as well as tank tops, halters, and "pants not worn at the waistline." "Verbal threats or assault may result in suspension and expulsion," the handbook informs. "Any behavior or language, which in the judgment of the staff or administration, is considered to be obscene, disrespectful, profane and/or violates community held standards of good taste will be subject to disciplinary action."
"With the right of expression comes the responsibility to use it appropriately," the student-parent handbook concludes. Which might sound familiar to Hailie's dad, given the words concluding this Hartford Courant review by Eric Danton: "He raps on The Eminem Show about freedom of speech as an inalienable right, but Eminem seems unwilling or unable to accept the accompanying responsibility."
Eminem, of course, is Marshall's alter ego. And sometimes Eminem goes by the name Slim Shady. And sometimes he plays a movie character who shares a name with the protagonist of John Updike novels about suburban midlife crises. In 8 Mile, when Rabbit's buddies are doing their ceremonial Devil's Night-style arson on the eyesore shell of an abandoned Motor City crack house, he salvages a torn, burnt snapshot of a happy (black) nuclear family, gets all choked up, and says, "When I was little, I used to want to live in a house like this."
When Marshall Bruce Mathers III was tiny, his maternal grandma Betty remembers, "The little boy would give me letters, and say, 'Could you give them to my daddy?' " He never met his dad, who left when he was six months old. And he hates him for it, says so in his songs, and imagines kids who listen to him feeling the same way: "He's a problem child, and what bothers him all comes out/When he talks about his fuckin' dad walkin' out/'Cuz he just hates him so bad that it blocks him out/If he ever saw him again he'd probably knock him out."
Marshall didn't call his grandma on Thanksgiving, she says, but that's OK; she heard he was in the studio till 4 a.m. Besides, she's got 12 other grandchildren, and she didn't hear from all of them, either. "He's an excellent grandson. I'm very proud of him," she says. "You get him offstage, and he's so politehe says, 'Yes, Grandma, no, Grandma.' And he never talks bad around his little child. He's still kind of shy." Betty's doctor recently asked her for an Eminem T-shirt.
She's met other fans, too. "I had a person who was abused growing up tell me not too long ago, ' "Cleanin Out My Closet," he wrote that for me,' " Kresin says. "He's not just making up words. I can relate to the songs, too. When my grandmother [who raised her] wasn't switching me till I was black and blue, she used to put me in a spooky closet full of mothballs, and lock me in it." She says she's been looking for a ghostwriter to help her finish a book about all this.
Deborah Mathers-BriggsBetty's daughter and Marshall's estranged momwas due to be born on what would eventually be Hailie's birthday, Kresin says. Instead, she wound up being born on January 6, just like Kresin's grandmother. "Debbie was born on her birthday, and I feel she was under a curse. My grandmother is shoveling coal now; God doesn't want her, and Satan won't have her."
In 1972, Debbie gave birth to Marshall. And Kresin wound up raising Marshallwho was born the same year as her son, his uncle Ronnie, who first introduced him to rap musicwhen Debbie couldn't, or wouldn't. "I had a baby and a grandson at the same time," she recalls. "It was like having twins." Sometimes when they were acting up in the backseat of the car, she'd scold them; Marshall would "start chanting, 'If we don't stop, we're gonna have to walk! If we don't stop, we're gonna have to walk!' "When Debbie would take him up to Michigan and leave Ronnie in Missouri, Kresin says, both boys would feel empty and beg to see each other at Christmastime.
Kresin says she thinks Debbie took her "hurt and bitterness" out on Marshall. "When you have verbal and mental instead of abuse that's physical, you can't really see it," she says of the boy's upbringing. "If it's snowing in New York, and your mom tells you again and again that it's 80 degrees out, you'll believe it." In the early '90s, Ronnie committed suicide, and Kresin says Debbie blamed it on Marshall.