Songplaces

Detroit, Michigan

Amityville by Eminem

Share this post

Did I just hear somebody say
They wanna challenge me here?
While I'm holding a pistol
With this many calibers here?
112 Ocean Avenue
The name “Detroit” brings to mind wisps of KISS hit “Detroit Rock City” mingled with half-imagined memories of snippets from Motown, The Jackson Five with miniature Michael’s afro bobbing as he sings “ABC, one, two, three, baby, you and me, girl!” With these pictures in mind, it’s difficult to imagine Detroit as the second most dangerous city in America, by current estimations. However, when Eminem wrote the lyrics for the song “Amityville,” appearing on his third album, Grammy winning The Marshall Mathers LP, in 2001, Detroit still held the title of “murder capital of the U.S.A.,” a title which ill-fated New Orleans has since inherited.

In the book Mentally Ill in Amityville: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem at 112 Ocean Ave., investigative journalist Will Savive relates the twisted tale of Ronnie “Butch” DeFeo, who murdered six of his slumbering family members one dark night in 1974, supposedly on the instructions of a demonic voice. So it was hardly surprising when the new family occupying 112 Ocean Avenue began to see and hear things of an occult nature in the house. The Lutz family allegedly witnessed a crucifix turning upside-down and producing a sour stench, levitation, winter swarms of flies, and discovered a bizarrely foreboding secret room behind some shelves in the basement, which they called the “Red Room." Meanwhile, Mr. Lutz started to wake up at 3:15 every morning, the exact time the massacre occurred. He also began to realize how similar he looked to Butch DeFeo…

Whether the Lutz family’s account can be trusted, or if they were simply capitalizing on the pain and tragedy of their predecessors at number 112, we can be sure that in either regard there was great evil at work in the hearts and minds of these people. Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s writing may find some of these events reminiscent, and would be right in assuming that King drew heavily on this story for the plot of The Shining. For example, “Red Room” becomes “Red Rum” in the movie, “murder” spelt backwards, which the strangely haunted little Johnny scrawls on the wall with his mother’s scarlet lipstick during one of his manic episodes.

The title of Savive’s 2009 book Mentally Ill in Amityville is a quote from the first line of Eminem’s song “Amityville.” Despite this song actually being about Detroit and not Long Island (where the actual murders occurred), Savive’s reference to Mathers is not simply literary. Eminem’s narrative describes Detroit as Amityville, and he draws us a picture of himself as DeFeo. In this image, he is both a product of his social circumstances (“You can get capped after just having a cavity filled”) and a homicidal sociopath (“Cause once I snap I can’t be held accountable for my actions”). Because this song is without Mathers’ usual comic spark and wit, it is difficult to ignore the more serious undertone of the lyrics. Either this is a signal of Mathers' intent to define himself as a gangster, or to draw attention to the plight of his home-city, or both. Mathers often plays his audience from both ends, portraying himself simultaneously as comedian, loony, gangster and victim. One of these three personas certainly is the true Mathers, but which one?
~ Douglas MacCutcheon

Comments

Be the first to comment...