by Chuck Eddy, December the 25th 2002.
So when you’re born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas Day, and then suddenly your daddy’s not a pawn and you’re not a pauper anymore, do you get more presents on your birthday, or less, or what? Hard to say, but Hailie Jade Mathers, who turns seven December 25, already has a whole Toys “R” Us worth of stuff, not to mention an indoor pool to swim in (at least that’s what her great-grandma, Betty Kresin of St. Joseph, Missouri, who hereby wishes Hailie happy birthday and Hailie’s dad Merry Christmas, says), so she’ll probably do OK. Word is that her daddy maybe spoils her a little, and why not?
“If Hailie wanted a hamburger at one o’clock in the morning, he’d go get it,” Great-Grandma Kresin says. “If Hailie wanted to go to a movie, Marshall (her dad, born in St. Joseph himself) goes with her; he doesn’t have a nanny do it. They just have to sneak in through the service door.” He even has her name and picture tattooed near his right shoulder.
“He lets her play with the neighbors, and has cookouts,” Kresin continues. “He loves children. I think if he had his way, he’d have a lot of children. He always wanted to have a family.” As a matter of fact, she says, Hailie’s dad has also been taking care of another little girl lately. “Marshall adopted one of Kim’s sister’s kids,” Kresin explains.
Kimberley Anne Scott is Hailie’s mom; her relationship with Marshall has been a little rocky, seeing as how he pulled an unloaded gun on her once when he caught her playing tonsil hockey with some doofus ex-nightclub bouncer. Plus he has this habit of enlisting Hailie to help him record hilarious and obnoxious and highly moving songs where he murders Kim and stuff, but the couple seem to be back together now. “I think it’s for Hailie,” says Kresin, who won’t absolutely confirm that the pair have reunited. Kim’s sister’s daughter is two years older than Hailie, Kresin explains. So is the adoption legally binding? “She’s got his last name,” Kresin answers. “What would you call it?”
Marshall and Kim and Hailie and Hailie’s cousin’plus Marshall’s aunt Betty and uncle Jack, who help out with child care’are all said to live together in a great big house in Clinton Township, Michigan, a lovely suburb situated around three branches of the Clinton River. Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker live in town, too, as do about 95,600 other people, according to the 2000 Census. (92.8 percent of them are white; 4.7 percent are black.) Marshall, who is just 30 years old (and contrary to his previous predictions isn’t yet in the nursing home pinchin’ nurses’ asses while jackin’ off with Jergens), reportedly paid more than a million and a half for the mansion.
It’s part of a gated yuppie community called Manchester Estates; the subdivision is located near Cass Avenue (named for onetime slave-owning Michigan governor Lewis Cass), more or less in between 18 and 19 Mile roads’i.e., about 10 miles north of where Marshall grew up. The title song from his new movie goes like this: “I’m free as a bird/And I turn and cross over the median curb/Hit the burbs and all you see is a blur.”
He moved from his last house because the city of Sterling Heights wouldn’t let him build a 12-foot fence to keep kids from littering his lawn with M&M wrappers. But Manchester Estates is working out better. Marshall’s neighbors like him a lot. “I personally have dealt with Marshall. I know Marshall. We live right next door, so we see him all the time,” says Cathy Roberts. “He is a wonderful performer, he is a wonderful father, he is an awesome neighbor’you can imagine’and he is a great person.”
“He’s normal, down-to-earth, and puts his pants on the same way everyone else does,” Roberts continues. “A very, very good father.”
“Couldn’t ask for a better neighbor, that’s all,” agrees Mary Russo, who has grandkids. “He’s been really good around here. Sorry, I know you guys don’t want to hear that.”
“He’s introduced himself to my husband and we see him around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. He always waves when he goes by. They’re real friendly,” says yet another neighbor. “He plays with his little girl. He never lets her out by herself. He scooters around the block with her on her bike. Now he’s teaching her to ride her bike without training wheels.”
At Halloween, according to the Detroit News, Marshall’s lawn was decorated with haystacks, yellow chrysanthemums, and three smiling scarecrows. Neighborhood kids come over and shoot hoops with him.
But at the center of his universe, there’s his little girl, who likes watching The Powerpuff Girls with her dad and jumping on the trampoline. She started making friends in town not too long ago, thus reportedly squelching any plans the family might have had to move to California. Pretty much every afternoon when Marshall’s not on tour, he heads over to the school where Hailie attends first grade, and brings her back home. (Word is that Marshall’s leasing a Benz, but foreign cars in Metro Detroit are ill-advised, of course. Around town, he opts for Fords.) Though Hailie’s dad could no doubt afford to send her to Cranbrook, he makes fun of the famous Bloomfield Hills private school toward the end of his movie; no hypocrite, he sends her to a public elementary’albeit one located at the end of a quiet, secure, secluded little street, where paparazzi or stalkers or anyone else out of the ordinary would stick out.
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 polite’he 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-Briggs’Betty’s daughter and Marshall’s estranged mom’was 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 Marshall’who was born the same year as her son, his uncle Ronnie, who first introduced him to rap music’when 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.
“She put my poor little grandson on such a guilt trip,” Kresin remembers. “She told him that Ronnie was trying to call and call when Marshall was out rapping. Which isn’t true, because I was with Ronnie the entire time! She said, ‘I have some bad news for you’Ronnie’s dead, and he wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for you,’ ” Kresin says. Marshall wound up taking an overdose of Tylenol on the day of the funeral and couldn’t go. (Debbie’who Kresin says is “in hiding, up north”‘could not be reached, and Eminem himself was unavailable for comment.)
Deborah Mathers-Briggs, for her part, has insisted she never abused drugs, that she actually spoiled Marshall and never raised her voice to him when he was growing up, and that she sacrificed to support him and his 16-year-old brother Nathan (who still lives with her). She told the BBC that her relationship with Marshall started imploding when she also took in his girlfriend Kim, who was 12 at the time; she said Marshall, who is two years older than Kim, didn’t move out until he was 25. A couple years ago, she even sued him for defamation and put out a CD single called “Set the Record Straight.” The case was settled before trial by Marshall paying $25,000.
“He was an excellent son,” counters Kresin. “He never said anything bad about Debbie, and it’s coming out now. It’s his way of healing.” (Possible examples: lyrics about how he doubted his mom’s breast-feeding abilities due to her lack of tits, how his mom took his bike away ’cause he stuck his guinea pig in the microwave, how his mom always taught him the important lesson of “goddammit, you little motherfucker, if you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say then don’t say nothin’,” how all bitches is ‘hos even his stinkin’-ass mom, and how he never meant to hit her over the head with that shovel.) “I love that boy,” Kresin says. “I’ll defend him till the day I die.”
And if his relationship with Kim is any indication, he seems to be reliving part of his grandma’s life. Starting at age 15, Kresin was married to, but repeatedly split up then reunited with, the same man. “He was the boss of me, and he was cruel to me,” she says. “And I’d never heard the word divorce.” Kim and Marshall were married in St. Joseph in June 1999; Eminem filed divorce paperwork in August 2000; they made up in December 2000; Kim filed for divorce in March 2001; and now they’re apparently back together. Last time around, they wound up agreeing on joint legal custody of Hailie after a months-long battle, and a Macomb County court recommended Eminem pay $2740 a week in child support, $156 a week in health insurance, and 90 percent of health care costs.