Interview: Eminem's Mom Debbie Nelson on Her Son Marshall, Her New Book, Sending Slim Shady Holiday Checks
"I'm a very proud mother. I don't think there's anything [Marshall] can do to me that he hasn't already done through the media."
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.