That’s right, kids! Eminem! And he’ sober this time and boy, he looks a lot better than he did a year or two ago when he was kind of doughy and put out that last shitty record. And he seems to know all about it, too.
His first video for “I’m not afraid” features him with a lot of makeup on, flying like superman and pointing out that his last record wasn’t that good, but this new one is awesome because now he’s clean and sober and he’s better than ever. And in the song he sounds pretty good.
Now, this is a somewhat unique thing, because almost without fail when an artist gets sober or cleans up their act they come back and say the same thing “I’m back and I’m better than ever! This new clean living has cleared my mind and I’m doing the best work of my life!” However, we all know what the results usually are, don’t we? Terrible. Time and time again, the newly sober musician’s triumphant return kind of sucks.
The difference is always the same thing: what was once effortless sounding and dangerous and easy is now approximated fairly well in a calculated and mercenary manner that’s in no way awesome. Underwhelming. Think about guns n roses. They were AWESOME when they did Appetite and Lies. Then they got rich and did two bombastic disasters that were wildly entertaining (then they shit out the contractual obligation album “the Spaghetti Incident” which totally blew [but is kind of beside the point here]) then they broke up, got sober and returned to the scene as Velvet Revolver. And Velvet Revolver is a highly competent, almost never entertaining bar band. They’re not even in the same league as Stone Temple Pilots, which is saying something, since that band was terrible.
So what’s the deal? Do you really need drugs and/or booze to be good at making music? Of course you do, silly! It’s a simple universal truth!
Nah, I’m kidding. The fact is, being drunk or high may cause you to take some chances that you wouldn’t otherwise take. This is true in life (where you might bang someone unprotected, or stage dive or tell your boss that she’s a cunt) and it’s true in songwriting. When you take weird chances writing songs, it either turns out great or terrible. Now, being drunk or high also makes you a bit dumber and slower, so while you’re taking more chances, most of them will be stupid choices. Whereas, when you’re sober, the chances you take will probably be more calculated and wind up serving you better.
My point is that while drug and alcohol use may have their place in songwriting, they’re not by any means a tool, and they’re not by any means what makes anyone good ever. They may make you fat, or stupid or supremely gross looking, but they’re not gonna ever make you better at anything. That’s a promise. So what’s the deal then? Why do these rockers sober up and then become terrible? If it’s not the cocaine and jack daniels, what is it?
Well, it’s a lot of stuff. For one thing, as you get older, your brain starts to decay. For the average male, 25 is the peak age of synapses and quick response in the brain. That means that after that, you’re decaying mentally. I don’t think this is a huge and noticeable deal, but it’s worth noting that by the time the average rock and roller needs to reinvent themselves, they’re getting sober with a brain that’s nowhere near as sharp as the one they started polluting. Couple that with the fact that any given human being only has so many songs inside of them and no matter how good they are, eventually they’re gonna run out of material, ESPECIALLY if they spend their lives on a bus surrounded by sycophants. There’s no life experience to draw on there.
Now, this just all adds up to the same thing: writing songs gets harder as you get older. No matter what. You’ve written all these songs, you don’t want to repeat yourself, your brain slows down, you’ve no longer got that desperate need to prove to everyone that you’re awesome and stuff your success up the ass of all the nonbelievers. You’re established and you’re sitting on top of a large catalog and people either like you or hate you and it’s almost impossible to shake who you are, and your songwriting becomes its own worst enemy (what I mean is this: there was a time when Jon Bon Jovi could hope to write a song that would be hailed as ‘the next Glory Road’ but now, he’ll never write a song that’s not just compared to Livin’ on a Prayer. To his fans and his critics, he’s insulated within his own cannon, whether he likes it or not) and generally the shit’s just less interesting. Oh, what? You’re drunk all the time too? Well, good luck not totally sucking at this eventually. There’s only one answer: You get sober.
SO, there you are, sober and with a clarity that you’ve not had in years, and suddenly, shit’s changed and you can write songs again! And it seems easy and enjoyable and it’s tempting to say that you’re back and “better than ever” because that’s how it feels, but you’re not. You’re just better than you were when you were so bad that you had to give up your best friend, Oxycontin just to be able to quit sucking.
Back when you were young, Steven Tyler of Areosmith, you may have been doing a ton of cocaine and drinking booze, but you were also sharp in a way that only exceptional people in their early years can be, and you were hungry and angry and eager to make a name for yourself. The booze and the drugs were sort of an irrelevant part of the whole thing. Now you’re a bloated millionaire with absolutely no reason to do anything except to try to prove to yourself that you’re as good as ever (which you aren’t. You’re an old man now, bro. Ask ten thousand people if they’d rather be you now or you thirty years ago. You’re gonna be disappointed in ten thousand answers).
If you were drunk or high now, you’d be fucking TERRIBLE at doing what you do. And you’re not that good sober. And you know this, and I know you know this because your songs are now written by teams of little mom-like jewish ladies. And that makes sense. Because you’re not better than ever. You’re just doing okay, which is good. Most people’s career in the music industry lasts three months. You’ve got an astin Martin. Good on ya. Just quit with the bullshit.
So anyway, we’re talking about Eminem, right? Well, he’s back and he’s still pretty good, which is surprising and kind of unheard of. In fact, his verse on the track Airplanes part 2 from the B.O.B. album is one of the best verses he’s ever done. I listened to that a few times last night and I think it’s absolutely mindblowing. No shit. And yes, that is the ‘reboot’ or whatever of that dumb song with the rectangle faced harpy from Paramore singng the chorus. Don’t be such a dick, kids. She’s got some pipes, and once she starts getting loaded, she’s really gonna be going places. Heard it here first, folks.