Friday, June 25, 2010

Who Do You Want To Be?


Is anybody out there?
It feels like I’m talking to myself
No one seems to know my struggle
And everything I’ve come from
Can anybody hear me?
I guess I keep talking to myself
It feels like I’m going insane
Am I the one who’s crazy?

-Eminem “Talking To Myself featuring Kobe

And with that moving chorus, Eminem’s new album Recovery explains the running theme of his latest album that hit stores this week and now has my mind spinning about this journey I’ve been on for past 11 years since I left home.  

I’ve often wondered why white kids like myself have fallen for the rapper from Detroit's talents and have bought his albums for years. There are other artists who put out similar sounding tracks without us paying them any mind. In my opinion, I think it’s because Em has the ability to connect with something most white males have inside of them - a desire to have our feelings of struggle understood by someone without the warm and fuzzy feminizing of the emotion.

Em said it is “cause he looks like us”, which is probably very true, but his lyrics are different than most rappers. His storytelling allows fans to see a deeper meaning and draws from experiences that many of us white bread suburban kids can easily relate to because of our own childhood memories. 

I just came back from a five-day stay in Boston with my family, which probably should be called my second family. My first family was as dysfunctional as any rap song that Em could put out. More on that in a second, but I grew up with a crystal clear understanding of the burden that my existence put on my parents. That caused a lot of anger in me growing up in the upper middle class, white town of Andover, MA.

Mercedes in my hometown are as common as Nissans in others but I lived in nothing but apartments well into my teenage years. My mom’s second family started while I was in middle school and turned into a happy marriage of nearly 20 years with three great kids who are 17, 15, and 10 and a house at the end of a cull de sac. My story has had a very happy ending.

And that’s where artists like Eminem bond with people like me. After the storm, you want to reflect on what the hell happened to you before you knew who you were.  

It’s amazing how your first 12 years of life can be such a source of pain and anger for your adult years. Like a blistering sunburn on my memory, my youth taught me a lot about how tough life can be if you make poor choices early on. I’ve vowed to be different and smarter than the people who gave me the chance to exist.

My parents knew each other for a grand total of 6 weeks before they got pregnant with me in the summer of 1976. I’ve lived with that knowledge my whole childhood. There was no courting or falling in love story to tell at the dinner table and I used to think it was something to be kinda proud of.


I guess the reason was because my mother’s best friend got pregnant at the same time and had an abortion. My mom had me. I have no idea what my father wanted to do but I’ve always suspected that he wanted my mother to do what her friend did and relieve him of the 18-year commitment that he would never fully take responsibility for (even though he did have a second child with my mom – my 30-year-old brother). My father required that my brother and I call my mom and dad by their given names – Mark and Donna. It screws with a kid’s mind I can tell you that.

I’m not writing this on a blog to make people feel bad for me but I feel like there are a lot of kids out there (one of my brothers) that are going through some tough issues and need to know that they can do whatever they want to do in the world. A lot of the kids that buy Eminem records have a dream of being more than the names your dad used to call you at the dinner table while drunk.

So let me say this; you are alive and since you are alive, why not carve out a slice of life for yourself the world will remember you for?

There are many sad stories I could tell about my father and mother during those first 12 years of my life. Plates being thrown like Frisbees at my mom’s head, cops dragging my father down flights of steps leaving a trail of blood all the way to backseat of the cruiser, drunken fights between my body and his fists, or as I later learned, illegal acts that should have put my father in jail for what he did to us.

I can’t rap about what happened but I can share my experiences with others to tell them that they aren’t alone if they are struggling to get through the dark tunnel. I’m evidence that there is a light at the end if you are willing to push through.

The black clouds of those times have been a part of me as much as the hair on my head and I will admit that I was looking for a way out of it all when I walked into WMUA’s studios on the campus of UMass in 2000. I needed to find a way to experience the world in my own way and radio provided that for me. I never traveled as a child. No family vacations or trips to see colleges. We were luckly to be able to keep the car running and pay the rent.

I wanted a lot more out of my life and I was determined to get it for myself.  

If you believe that everything happens for a reason than you will see a clear line from my job in Virginia falling apart after little over a year to getting hired in Alabama in 2002 a few months later.

Moving to the Deep South felt like I was as far away from Andover as I could get but it was the equivalent of enrolling in radio boot camp. The same man who educated Sean Hannity taught me the talk game everyday in a variety of confusing ways. It was like being on Dagobah with Yoda for 4 years with the lessons and riddles he challenged me with every morning before sun came up. It gave me the tools to go forward in this business and the belief that I was born to do this. Some don’t understand how much I study talk radio but it’s the most important thing in my life outside of my family and friends.

I was born to be a talk show host and I learned that while in Alabama, working for a man I never thought I would ever get along with, let alone owe my career to.  

So if you are going to pick up Eminem’s new CD and a song like “Not Afraid” speaks to you – do something with that feeling. Dream. Ask the best question ever invented – why? Why am I here? What can I do while I have air in my lungs? And who do I want to be before they throw dirt on me? Who can I help? Where should I be?  What was I born to do?

Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional. Don’t be afraid to listen to your heart and follow it, no matter where it leads you. There is no wrong answer in life if you listen to your heart. It’s what you were meant to be and people who really love you will understand that fact.  

Like Em said during the song “Lose Yourself”:

“Look, if you had, one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?

You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. You better lose yourself in the moment”

There is no better time than today to get after it.

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