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Bag Lady #2

Posted on: Friday, June 14, 2019

Eminem proceeds by rhythm and rhyme, concept subservient, although there’s a scenario in mind, and a store of semantic formulae that he can draw on, especially when freestyling.(1)

I’m still thinking of bag ladies when my playlist segues to “Bagpipes from Baghdad.” The intro is an unlikely mingle of bagpipes and traditional Arabic music, which wed very well and, with the beat, have quite a seductive swell. The lyrics [naturally?] pick up on the word “bag” [mixed bag, wandering be-bagged, outcast] in the chorus.(2)  

Here’s the formulaic beginning—perhaps something akin to Beowulf’s “Hwæt,” that Seamus Heaney translated as “So;” Irish “Ní deacair a rá;” folk “As I went a walking,” etc.

Oh! It's music to my ears, oh man!
How can I describe the way I feel?
Fuckin' great man! Okay, let me see,
How could I begin . . .

Then into his experience, conflated with ideas by free association. How does the song’s title herald an invective against a former or desired lover [Mariah Carey denies that they were ever lovers] and her paramours? What is the connection?

Moving from imprisonment in a wine cellar and wine for lunch, the “u” vowel takes the lyrics from comestibles through a statement of musical style and the formulaic rap challenge, to reach a crescendo with “cunt” “fun” “junk” “blood” (oblique), and culminate in “vernacular” and “acupuncture” in the last line of the first stanza. Position clear.

I mean I really want you bad, you cunt.
Nick you’ve had your fun.
I've come to kick you in your sack of junk.
Man I could use a fresh batch of blood,
So prepare your vernacular for Dracula acupuncture.

Note the “sack of junk.” A hint of what’s to come in the chorus, which projects the persona of the rapper as a character in this mise en scène constructed by rap itself. A dramatic self-deprecation. Who is this? He’s a madman (Sweeney astray). See how he walks. What kind of load is be carrying? Bag him (if you can).

Somebody turn the vacancy sign on, 'cause I'm gone, blowing on my
Bagpipes from Baghdad.
I run the streets and act like a madman, holding a Glad bag.

There follows a vicious stanza in which, I think, the rapper is trying to re-sex and then de-sex Mariah’s lover [or both of them]. It seems appallingly violent, but this is the staged aggression on which street rap depends. The use of the word “tickles” seems oddly gentle for the general thrust, until you remember this is mostly about rhyme. Meaning arises randomly. That said, why would you think “brain dead” for a “bed” rhyme? “Dead,” yes. “Half dead”? Too tame I suppose. “Undead?” If there were method here, you might equally argue that the rhyme of “vegetables” and “heterosexual” is a subtle de-boning of the punch. “Titty fucking you” is not mitigated by this reasoning, and one may surmise that there’s some fear and loathing of women-loving-women in the mix.

In the bed with two brain dead lesbian vegetables,
I bet you they become heterosexual.
Nothing will stop me from molesting you,
Titty fucking you 'til your breast nipple
Flesh tickles my testicles.
Is what they said to the two conjoined twins—
How's it going girlfriends, you need a boyfriend?
You need some ointment, just make an appointment.

With regard to bag ladies, I don’t think anyone whose fortunes have veered so badly as to leave them homeless would be of the nature to withstand abuse of this kind levelled at them, formulaic or not. But the target was the home-full Mariah Carey, who responded with a defiant song and a video where she flaunts herself in a “You’re never going to get near me, so suffer,” sense.(3)

The rapper’s persona is constructed as transient and somewhat lost. He’s the person with the refuse sack for a travel case who yells at shadows. The Scottish-Persian cultural collision may have sent the lyrics in this direction, if that’s the way it began. His dis-sing makes a nomad of him, and in the travelling he switches from aggression to self-deprecation. This is all very interesting because Eminem was once poor and has been troubled by instability.

In an essay from “The Night Sky” series in 1995, Ann Lauterbach wrote: “Our world—late twentieth America—is relentless in its desire to dictate to us what we desire . . . It wants us to believe that only Wealth, Fame, and Power (WFP), in some combination or another, are worthwhile goals, because only WFP can confer—what?—celebrity. Celebrity: the modern, secular form of martyrdom, where individuals are cast into the riotous blast of an eviscerating, obliterating light. How many personal disasters of every conceivable kind—suicide, homicide, divorce, addiction—before it is understood that celebrities are victims?”(4)

I admire Ann Lauterbach greatly, but I think this statement is far too extreme. Eminem may have been saved by celebrity, or more correctly, saved by his talent and surviving celebrity pretty well. Crucial to his artistic survival is the street component. I have no idea whether that’s a difficulty for him now that he’s successful. Ice-T changed when he got comfortable. I don’t follow rappers but I do enjoy some of what I consider the better ones. The harder ones. There’s an honesty that reminds me of what’s only a few blocks away.

I thought this rumination was going to talk about reducing object possession and increasing possession of self but the rhythm seemed to take over. Truthfully, the rhythm often takes over. They say schizophrenics hear the words and not the music. What is the condition of hearing the music and not the words?

Why do I walk this parching ground
pulse drumming the rhythm of an order I can’t fathom
gasping from oasis to mirage
lost as the unexamining sky?

– Máighréad Medbh(5)

But at the end of the day, it's a line I said – it's a song. What I actually meant to say is, I wish them the best. That's what I meant to say. That's the whole message of the record.

– Eminem(6)


(1) Eminem freestyling on Tim Westwood TV.
(2) "Bagpipes from Baghdad."
(3) Mariah Carey. “Obsessed.” 
(4) The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience. New York: Penguin, 2005, 56.
(5) From “Breathing.” Published in Shine On. Dublin: Dedalus, 2011.
(6) Complete Music Update. 19 May 2009.

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