There have been very few moments in my life where an experience has left me so deliriously entranced that I couldn’t write anything even semi-coherent to reflect upon it. I’ve been in this state after watching some very special movies. I’ve also felt this way when I stood in front of the majestic Temple of Poseidon in Greece and rode through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. But never did I think that a rap concert could leave me in a state of complete emotional and physical shock that has been unmatched by almost any other feeling in my eighteen years of existence.
I guess that’s what happens when you go through surreal moments that shatter and redefine your outlook on just what life can surprise you with. I knew that seeing Eminem (who, in my opinion, is the greatest rapper to ever charge through the music scene) at Lollapalooza- a three-day music concert set against the Chicago skyline in Grant Park- would be one heck of a music experience. But I didn’t know the extent to which that night in the Windy City would transform my perceptions of the power of music in helping and healing the human soul.
Less than a year before I saw Eminem at Lollapalooza, I “hated” rap. Anytime I heard any sort of rap or hip-hop on the radio, I immediately changed the station, as if I had developed some kind of an irrationally instinctual reflux against a genre that I had barely given a chance. I was a self-proclaimed classic and indie rock fanatic and didn’t listen to anything else. The online music tracking service Last FM kept track of the music I listened to and displayed it in weekly charts. The Beatles, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire would dominate the numbers for months on end. The kid who “hated’ rap had probably listened to a total of four full rap songs in her life, and those four probably came out a necessity to beat Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
A couple of friends kept telling me to listen to Eminem. I didn’t care. It was rap, which I “hated”. Finally, something- whatever it was- compelled me to download his 2010 album Recovery. I was just starting to come off a major knee dislocation which had taken me out of sports for two years. The transition back into even basic athletics was a rough one, motivationally and physically. But when I put Eminem on, I was suddenly just a little more inspired to keep going. When I was mentally drained after long days at school, I was a little more determined to stick it out and get to the finish line. When I was angry, upset, annoyed, or fed up, I was a little more willing to endure. The trend continued, and within a few months of listening to those Recovery tunes, it became obvious that Eminem wasn’t just a standout artist for me, he was literally an emotional necessity, a staple. I listened to him endlessly, downloaded every song from his Slim Shady origins and Relapse letdowns to top ten iTunes songs (which I generally have minimal tolerance for) just to hear him rap, even if he was only featured for a few verses. From the September I was introduced to the healing powers of Eminem to the August when my plane scraped the runway in Chicago, from hours of Eminem on runs and bike rides and work sessions, from old rap magazine interviews to autobiographies, from tracking his personal life step by step down to his rocky Detroit beginnings, Eminem had become one of my biggest inspirations.
And that’s why that night in Grant Park was such a surreal experience. If you are familiar with the way music festivals work, especially those with big name headliners like 2010 Lolla had (Coldplay, Muse, The Foo Fighters, etc.), you know that any hopes of seeing your favorite artist up close entails a whole lot of resolve. My single goal on that blistering summer day was to get to the Unlimited Stage five hours before Eminem played so I could get as close to the front as possible. The heat killed, and the overwhelming smell of beer and smoke made the humidity even less tolerable in our limited breathing space as our bodies stuck to the thousands of others around us in every direction.
After seeing a horrible performance by Cee Lo Green, the last half an hour leading up to the 8:30 concert was the longest wait of my life. My sister and I were so excited we were jumping maniacally in the nonexistent space we were in. She had made it to the railing in front of the stage and had the best view you could get. When the lights dimmed, my heart rate was soaring. An epic video played with flashing text on the screen of how Eminem canceled his sold out European tour, checked into rehab, stopped performing, turned his life around, and was now back. Those two minutes of vibrant screen images brought me the most excitement I had ever remembered feeling. And then, Slim Shady himself came on stage and blew me away with the greatest musical experience I have ever, ever witnessed.One that drew in the biggest crowd Lollapalooza has ever seen: 60,000 fans.
He literally played every good song he’s ever written that fit the mood of the evening (leaving out classics like “Beautiful”, “Mockingbird”, “Hailie’s Song”, etc. because they were too personal and off-atmosphere for a Lolla night). He kicked off with some Recovery, did a little of his Bad vs. Evil material, went back into Relapse (he joked around about actually relapsing and taking a drink for Chicago for the first time since his sobriety, and then his suit exploded with water as a sign of his commitment to never going back into that world). He finally graced us with the best of Slim Shady. Every minute of the night was incredible. But the real surprise was “Lighters”. Bruno Mars made a surprise appearance, which blew everyone away because nobody was expecting that. Before the concert started the stage hands threw lighters into the audience, so during the actual song, the crowd looked wicked as thousands of people held lighters and cellphones in the air and jammed along with the King of Rap. The entire experience was just brilliantly executed in every sense. It was visceral on every level. And it was also pretty awesome that my mom was rocking out next to me. That is something that will be impossible to forget.
But what meant the most to me was the fact that the passion, anger, and love on Eminem’s face and veins as he rapped reminded me of what this music had done for me. The rage had, paradoxically enough, brought me peace when I needed it most. It had made the toughness I faced less intimidating. And most of all, the music had stuck with me through thick and thin. Being enveloped by that medicine in a two hour set was more than just healing. It was a message that has endured with me since. If this man was able to turn his life around the way he did and simultaneously inspire millions of people, then absolutely nothing I faced in life couldn’t be overcome.
That night in Grant Park made me feel invincible.