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Eminem’s mom Debbie Nelson hasn’t seen her son since last July, but even then, she didn’t really see him. He’d returned to his birthplace of St. Joseph, Missouri, looking for the grave of his uncle Ronnie, who’d committed suicide in 1991 and was later famously mentioned in The Marshall Mathers LP‘s stalker-fan screed “Stan.” Debbie had been alerted to the pair of SUVs seeking out her younger brother’s headstone, went down to make sure the visitors weren’t miscreant vandals, and discovered that Marshall was behind one of those tinted windows. She went to say hello, but the vehicle took off. “I was kinda hurt,” the 53-year-old admits. “It would have been good.”
Eminem has rather memorably called his mother a “crazy” “fucking bitch” who “does more dope than I do” and has “no tits.” He has also publicly joked about matricide and said, “I hope you fuckin’ burn in hell” in the giant fuck-you-mama of a rap song “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” For her part, Nelson once told Marshall that she wished he’d died instead of Ronnie (“Of course, I didn’t mean it,” she has written, “It’s something I will regret to my dying day”) and sued him for defamation and emotional distress, a move she now describes as an accidental crusade waged by a predictably opportunistic lawyer.
All things considered, Debbie Nelson’s new ghostwritten memoir, My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem: Setting the Record Straight on My Life is not a backbiting retort, but rather a long, rocky explanation-by-way-of-defense of her admittedly naïve decisions and lifetime of catastrophe: four failed marriages, four lawsuits (including the one against Marshall), various familial deaths, child-protective-services fights, and one truly horrendous relationship with Slim Shady’s ex-wife and baby mama Kim Scott, who supposedly once mailed Em’s mom a live tarantula. The book’s tone is far more sad than angry–exactly how Debbie Nelson sounded when I recently spoke with her on the phone from Sarasota, Florida, where she was temporarily staying with a friend. An edited transcription of our conversation follows.
I’m surprised you’re doing interviews.
I had already said for a while I wasn’t going to do any, and I wasn’t up to it, my health has really taken a toll on me. And I don’t want to upset anybody, and I don’t want to upset, per se, the apple cart. [coughs] My son’s book [The Way I Am] is out too, I’ve never read it, but I applaud him for anything he does, I’m behind him 101 percent.
Have you read his book?
I’ve heard bits and pieces about it and I was told, well, it doesn’t give that many details, and it’s mostly has lyric sheets and pictures.
Why haven’t you seen his book yet?
I’ve not got it. I have not gotten a chance to get it, honey.
Oh. It’s out.
Oh no no. My friends had went out and got it–you know, I always encourage everybody to contribute to him.
Have you heard the first song that’s supposed to be on his new record? It’s called, “I’m Having a Relapse“?
No, I haven’t. I’m hoping to. But not yet. I don’t use the computer right now. Where I’m at [in Sarasota], they don’t have a computer hook up.
He adopts this silly Jamaican dialect in it, but it’s a great song.
He’s very, very creative. You gotta give him credit. He’s borderline genius. He always was. And I can remember getting into so many arguments in school with teachers, saying “This kid is retarded.” Because he’s always like to bounce around his desk or a chair and home and maybe tap a pencil. And a lot of people would be like, “Oh, no he’s got something wrong.” And I’d be like, “No, leave him alone. Don’t ever say that.” I would never allow anybody to say one unkind word about him. I’m very overprotective.
That definitely comes through in the book. Why else did you write it?
The main reason for writing this was to let people know that I’m not this evil monster that’s drugged out and strung out on booze and pot and all that stuff. It’s like, no, they’ve got a big misconception. Nothing [in the book] is mean to hurt anybody. I do idolize my boys. They’re my world, just like my grandchildren. Anything that they do, I applaud them.
But it’s basically, to know me as a person as far as what’s the media’s put out there, as far as being this horrible evil monster that hates everybody and I abandoned my child and he had no shoes and he walked to school uphill both ways without shoes on. I have heard so many [supposed] horror stories. He was beaten everyday, locked in a closet with no door, left in an English orphanage. It’s been crazy.
Do you think your book is helping Eminem’s career?
I hope so. I think he could do anything, he’s basically his own person, I can’t really speak for him.
It’s just basically, he needs to get out there and really get on the ball and start doing things. I know he’s been dormant for a long time.
When’s the last time you heard from Marshall?
He was in St. Joseph [Missouri, his birthplace]. And he went to the cemetery there, back in, like, June–no, it was in July. [His bodyguard] was in one SUV, and then Marshall was in another one behind him, with Tracy.
You sound a lot like Tracy.
Yes, McNew, his assistant. But they called me at the cemetery because there were all these people who showed up there. They weren’t sure who they were, and they were looking for my little brother [Ronnie]’s grave. The [cemetery] had a lot of people tearing up gravesites and they wanted to make sure the [visitors] were authentic and things like that.
[Eminem’s bodyguard] told me, he got out of the van and gave me his phone number and said, “Mom, you should call me sometime. Your son’s in the next vehicle, you need to say hey to him.” And I went to, but Tracy floored it and went around.
I was kinda hurt. It would have been good. I didn’t even see him sitting there. The windows were tinted, but I could see through them a little bit, but I didn’t even see him sitting in the back seat. So he must’ve been, like, kneeling down or in the floorboard.
Wow. With the situation like this, do you have any regrets?
No, I don’t have, actually, if I had to do it over, if it wasn’t Kim [in his life], it would’ve been somebody else. And they could have been worse than her. That’s the only way I look at it.
What could have been worse?
I don’t know, just somebody who was probably bringing a lot of guys home all the time. We went through enough with her. There was probably even a lot more to go through. Some of it’s even left out.
Everybody says, ‘Oh it sounds like [from the book] you hate Kim.’ I don’t hate anybody, it’s just supposed to kind of show that what we went through with Kim was a living hell. And I think Marshall sees that now, is what I was told, that he doesn’t really have too much communication with her.
Now that she’s not in his life as much, does that give you more hope for reconciliation?
You know what, honey? It’s up to God. It’s in his timing.
It’s just like when my son was hurt in school [after a severe beating by bully DeAngelo Bailey, who Marshall would later call out in The Slim Shady LP‘s “Brain Damage”] and the doctors gave up on him, I’m not ever gonna give up on my kids. I won’t give up on anybody. There’s hope for everybody. It’s a matter of just basically swallowing your pride. It’s like a cashed check. It’s over, it’s done. You need to move on. But when you get people persuading you and telling you what to do all the time, it makes it hard.
[Marshall] doesn’t even go on the Internet, I was told. He never goes on. He doesn’t know how to use a computer, so he doesn’t want to know. If they see something that is maybe definitive or upsetting or something, they might call him over to show him that, which I don’t think is right either.
So how are you finding out about him?
I’ve got a lot of people who work for Marshall off-and-on that know and keep me posted.
What’s the last present you’ve sent Marshall or [his daughter, the well-documented center of his life] Hailie?
Oh goodness, I’ve sent them checks, I’ve sent them little juicer-type things. Recently, it was a plaque. And then I sent Hailie a couple of pictures, I sent Marshall pictures, I sent him cards, checks, I’ve sent letters. Actually it’s hard to buy for them because you don’t know, really, what they want. But little, cute girly things. Little desk plaques.
Why are you sending him checks?
Well, for the holidays, and for his birthday and things. Because he doesn’t really buy himself that much. It doesn’t matter how much the check is for, it’s just the principle of letting him know I’m thinking of him and to go buy himself something nice and, actually, that he needs to stop buying for everybody else.
Does he cash them?
I’m sure he does. Even if he doesn’t use them himself, I’m sure it helps the girls [Hailie and her cousin Alaina, whom Eminem legally adopted] and they probably use it.
Do you have confirmation that he’s getting your gifts?
I’m just hoping that he does. I know somebody is signing [the delivery forms]. You can’t make the signature up. But I know the mail goes through three or four people.
So what was the plaque you sent him?
Just a “son” plaque.
Do you still talk about him everyday?
No, no, no, no.
So if the media calls you to talk about Marshall . . .
I don’t talk to them.
Well, you’re talking with me, now. Does it help in moments like this to talk about Marshall since you’re not in contact with him–or does it make it worse?
Well, I think this interview has been very strange.
Well, okay. If my questions are strange, what are other interviewers asking you?
They just talk about the book, what they read in the book. And why there’s so much Marshall in there. And [Marshall’s younger brother] Nathan’s in there too, but they feel like it’s kind of boosting [Marshall’s] ego, helping his career.
Are there things that you wish you hadn’t included in the book?
No, honey, I did tell [my ghostwriter, Annette Witheridge] a lot of things. But it doesn’t matter, my cards are on the table, and this is the way things were, this is the way things happen. It’s not meant to offend anybody or hurt anybody–and God knows, I hate no one. I’m not gonna hate on anybody. I dislike Kim very badly for what she put my son and myself through and people who were close to her. But I can’t change it. When it’s over, it’s done, and now you move on.
[But] it’s very strange that our books came out at the same time. [Eminem’s representatives] knew that I was writing a book long before they decided to jump in to write one.
That’s probably very deliberate.
Anything my son does, I applaud him. And I feel a little bit sorry that in there that whoever wrote his book, they got my little brother [Ronnie]’s last name wrong [it’s Polkingham], they got his date of birth wrong, they got a lot of things wrong that were told to me on the phone when a couple of my really good friends were reading me the book.
Do you know if Marshall has read your book?
I was told that he had.
Did you think that he would?
I’m not sure. I kinda thought that he might be curious. And then when his one friend told me that his bodyguard got the UK version out of a bookstore in New York, a couple years ago, it’s like, “You gotta be kidding me.” They were bootlegged, I guess.
I think he wanted to make sure I wasn’t in there dogging him or saying horrible, bad things about him. I’m not going to do that.
Was working on this book a way of communicating with him?
No. It’s just basically to jog his memory about the happy times. For him to go back, even if he briefed it, if he didn’t read the whole thing. Maybe it even helped him with his book, as far as with [dressing up as a child as] Batman and Robin. I still remember those days and that’s something I’m going to cherish. Nobody can take those from me. I was a single parent.
[The book is also] showing too a pattern that I’m a very proud mother. I don’t think there’s anything he can do to me that he hasn’t already done through the media. I think the media has taken and ran with a lot of things. I don’t blame [Marshall] for not reading a lot of magazines because the media has gotten it all wrong all the time.
But somebody had to get behind him, honey, to get him where he is today. I know there was many times when he felt defeated and wanted to give up. Somebody had to get behind him to push him. And it sure as hell wasn’t anybody else except me. He had no father in the picture. His dad comes out, 27-28 years later. I say, ‘Go after him for the child support he owes you, son.’
So what’s the future for you?
For me? Basically, to sit back and chill out. It’s not about money, had there been any in for me, it was just basically, I was wanting to write a book about my life.
You mentioned your health isn’t good now. In the book, you said your breast-cancer diagnosis was wrong.
The second time, it wasn’t.
Oh, wow. I’m sorry. How are you?
I’m still under doctor’s care. Which I probably will be for a while. Basically a lot of the stuff is hereditary, but that happens. Cancers and heart disease and all that, and all the genetic things. I worry about my boys, having high-blood pressure and things.
I have doctors who’ve played a lot of games with me, then told me they have shrines to my son in their homes. Then call me aside and tell me, “I heard that little brat beat you everyday.” And it’s like, “What? What does that have with me being here?” It’s really sad.
It’s bad enough that the police officer in Southern states call me “Eight Mile.” Eight Mile? I’m just thinking, “Ignorance is bliss, it’s not a true story.”
Have you ever thought about not speaking to another reporter for the rest of your life?
Yes, and I didn’t for many years. But then I had somebody impersonating me, even on the Internet. And they were pretending to be me since 1999.
So that made you want to start talking to the media again?
No, no, no. There won’t be that many interviews.