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The ill-advised memoir from Eminem's mom

November 21, 2008 |  4:06 pm


To hear Debbie Nelson tell it, none of what Eminem said about her was true. They were never on welfare, she didn't pop pills, she wasn't an alcoholic. She has written "My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem" to, as the subtitle says, set the record straight.

To hear Eminem tell it, things were the other way around. From two 1999 interviews:

"I kid you not, my family is ... Jerry Springer, the epitome of white trash."

"My mother's a .... My mother never had a job. My mother never had nothing. We didn't have ...."

I didn't have to go digging for those quotes — they're on the back cover of Nelson's book, in large type. Which seems counter to Nelson's goal. Wouldn't she want to include quotes from her son saying how wrong he was? That he made all that stuff up to fit his street persona?

Such quotes may be hard to find. Nelson once sued her son for $10 million for defamation, and while she now claims the lawsuit wasn't her idea, that hasn't seemed to warm their relationship. "So many years have passed since we really talked," she writes at the end of the book.

People have accused me of writing this book for the money, but that's the last reason for doing it. I wanted to set the record straight to let both of my sons know how much they are loved, despite my many struggles in life.... I want so much to reconcile with Marshall before it's too late.

Whatever happened to letters and phone calls? Is a book really the best way to tell your celebrity child you love him?

As if this weren't a sad enough state of affairs, as if the cover photo of the two of them together didn't have a strange awkwardness, Nelson writes, in the book, of her own experiences of abuse and neglect. "I'd climbed a big old apple tree to escape my drunken stepfather," she writes on the first page. "It didn't matter what went wrong at home; it was always my fault.... I heard Mom scream from inside, 'Find the kid and beat her!' "

In the song "Cleanin' Out My Closet (I'm Sorry Mama)," Eminem turned a seeming apology into an attack against Nelson, accusing her of wishing him dead, of saying, after his uncle died, that it should have been him. "I had said I wished Marshall were dead," she admits. "But I'd apologized immediately.... The words just tumbled out of my mouth. I thought Marshall had accepted that I didn't mean it. But here he was, ten years later, throwing it back in my face, telling the world what I'd done."

It's hard not to see "My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem: Setting the Record Straight on My Life as Eminem's Mother" as Nelson taking her turn to tell the world. She may have a harder time with that reconciliation because of it.

—Carolyn Kellogg