HM's take on the Eels

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I had a friend back a long time ago who sort of drifted away. No rift or specific disagreement, just one of those things that happened in a pre-Facebook/Tweet world. Like so many of my friends, present and past, he was a big music collector and he introduced me to a lot of new sounds. I remember being blown away hearing Pat Metheny's As Falls Wichita, so Falls Wichita Falls) one late summer evening at the cottage lying on the rug by the fire awash in the swirling sea of Metheny's unique guitar and Lyle Mays' synth, riding waves of reefer and blood-red Cabernet. Or the story he told me about listening to Norwegian saxophonist, Jan Garbarek's album Dis with aNorwegian friend; he asked what Dis meant. The friend quietly got up and left the room. He thought he had offended in some way because he didn't return for a full fifteen minutes. When he re-entered the room he said, “the closest translation I could come up with is, desolation.” (Dis is a 1976 lp on the icy jazz label ECM, naturally produced by Manfred Eicher and featuring the solo sax of Garbarek and some sparse, but haunting guitar from Ralph Towner played over an Aeolian harp, a harp played by the wind, that Garberek had placed atop an isolated blustery fjord. Jan Garberek: Vandrere  ) He also told me about the time, feeling alone and desperate in Vancouver he resolved to jump from Lions Gate Bridge. He said, I never felt better, more at peace in my life as he watched the sun set over the shimmering waters, and crash slowly into the mountains. And he decided, this is too beautiful, maybe tomorrow. I hope he kept on making that decision about the intrinsic beauty of life and the promises of tomorrow.

Mark Oliver Everett who uses the alias E (I think it started as a way to diminish, foreshorten his ego as he entered a music business brimming with a contagious infestation of megalomaniacs. Everett says the only reason he got into music was it seemed like a good way to meet girls.) and fronts the band Eels, understands solitude, the depths of emptiness as well as beauty and the anxiety and anticipation of  the transcendent, unknowable future.

When I listen to The Eels it evokes images.... wheat fields, rippled, oscillating gold viewed from the fluid warp of old windows.... sheets of seamless black ice over bottomless lakes booming in the night, the shifting sound of sand-dunes creeping cross the desert while you stare into an infinitely star-studded blackness... personal visions for me but it also invokes images of isolationist art, like Christina's World  by Andrew Wyeth. Anna Christina Olson, the subject Wyeth's painting, was born in 1893 and died in in 1968. She had polio which had paralysed her from the waste down. The painting is disquieting even if you don't know the back-story; to know it and be unmoved misses out on the exquisite essence of being human. It's possible to know greater hardship but seldom without understanding the excruciating and mundane demands of life. Some people think resignation is to give in, crumble....  the resolute are tough, stand tall; I think the difference between determination and resignation is (determined) saying you will do this, and accepting (resignation), you will do this, forever. Once you can make that distinction, you will never be the same again.          

Mark Rothko used to stand in front of blank canvases weeping over the art he was “going to” to commit to the empty space, the image inside his head painstakingly and indelibly reproduced but taking with it portions of his soul while it shaved years from his life, like a rising sun whittling shadows from a sleeping world. But he kept painting and weeping until he committed suicide at age 66 with a razor and an overdose of anti-depressants. Rothko epitomized solitude..... Black on Gray... was his last painting.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story about spacemen falling through outer-space (trust me, you've heard the story... Sandra Bullock & George Clooney right? Wrong!) in 1951. They are falling to their death from a failed space craft and as the protagonist bitterly burns up on re-entry, a child makes a wish upon a falling star. To put this in perspective, on 12 April 1961, the USSR put the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin in orbit. The Americans immediately launched the space race.

So, you're thinking, what the hell has this got to do with a semi-obscure rock band, Eels, with a weird front-man, E/Everett got to do with anything? Mark Everett’s father was Hugh Everett, the quantum theory physicist who proposed the theory of multiple universes or MWI, many-worlds interpretation. Initially the theory was mocked by the quantum physics community and was particularly opposed by Niels Bohr, the founding fathers of quantum mechanics and next to Einstein, the most famous physicist of the modern era. Hugh Everett gave up his quantum research and went to work for the Pentagon to do computer modelling of nuclear war game theory. Hugh Everett, by all accounts was not a pleasant man. Mark Everett reflects and discusses their relationship after his father's death in his insightful 2007  documentary, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives. Mark refers to his father as “a lump of furniture sitting at the dining room table, cigarette in hand.” Everett Sr. Was an alcoholic who chain-smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day and had allowed himself to become grossly obese. He died at 51. Mark found the cold body and checking for a pulse realized  he had no memory of ever touching his father before. He says, “I didn't know how to feel about the fact that my father just died. I didn’t really have any relationship with him.”When Everett's schizophrenic sister, Elizabeth attempted her first suicide, her father's only comment to Mark was, “I didn’t know she was that sad.” Mark Everett had found his sister unconscious in the bathroom and was the one who took her to the hospital. The song Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor leads off the scathingly, raw and naked cd, Electro-Shock Blues which Everett released in the aftermath of his sister's successful suicide and the lung cancer death of his mother. Everett was married in 2000 however the marriage dissolved after 5 years which he chronicles in the cd, End Times. It's easy to see the roots of Everett's bleak, remorseful music; his past is the black well from which it flows. Death, mental illness, unrequited love and loneliness is its apothic effluvium.

My favourite Eels album among the many, (14 releases between 1996 – 2014 as well as 6 compilations and 2 solo records from the early 1990s recorded under E, A Man Called E, 1992 andBroken Toy Shop from 1993) is Eels With Strings: Live at Town Hall. This cd followed the excellent 2005 release, Blinking Lights and is kind of the supporting promotional tour with some addition “hits” and a few choice covers thrown in. But instrumentally this wholly different than anything he had done before. He dropped the drums; the percussion is done on an upright string bass, the string sections instrument suitcases and trash cans. Tom Waits has always been one of Everett's mentors and inspirational heroes and it shows here. Beside regular keyboards, he employs melodicas, celestas, and pump organs. Everett has a fascination with idiosyncratic sounds and will use toy pianos and hammers pounded on on a radiator to achieve the auditory sensation he is looking for. Tom Waits created a welded iron instrument he pounded with with steel mallets. When someone can  make a musical saw blend in, you know you are in for something special. This is that sound, equal parts Bertolt Brecht, Captain Beefheart, and Tom Waits combined with the melodious verve of The Beatles and the poetics of Leonard Cohen.

In retrospect, early Tom Waits can often strike one as maudlin and early Nick Cave is petulant, posed insincerity. Everett is the real deal. When you probe subjects this dark you cannot afford to grate abrasively. If Elton John were smarter and hadn't sold his soul for an image and cash, he would have sounded like this. This will take you to the place where where Rothko went to weep before he committed it to canvas, without having to pay the ultimate stipend. This is special. 5 Stars. 

Blinking Lights:

Blinking lights on the airplane wings

 Up above the trees

 Blinking down a morse code signal

 Especially for me


 Ain't no rainbow in the sky

 In the middle of the night

 But the signal's coming through

 One day i will be alright again


 Blinking lights on the highway cars

 Stopping one by one

 Get a look at the accident

 Didn't see that one coming


 And the doctor in the sky

 Gonna bring his chopper down

 Gonna bring me out alive

 And set me on the ground

 Once more again


Eels - Things The Grandchildren Should Know (Live with strings)


I go to bed real early

 Everybody thinks it's strange

 I get up early in the morning

 No matter how disappointed i was

 With the day before

 It feels new


 I don't leave the house much

 I don't like being around people

 Makes me nervous and weird

 I don't like going to shows either

 It's better for me to stay home

 Some might think it means i hate people

 But that's not quite right


 I do some stupid things

 But my heart's in the right place

 And this i know


 I got a dog

 I take him for a walk

 And all the people like to say hello

 I'm used to staring down at the sidewalk cracks

 I'm learning how to say hello

 Without too much trouble


 I'm turning out just like my father

 Though i swore i never would

 Now i can say that i have a love for him

 I never really understood

 What it must have been like for him

 Living inside his head


 I feel like he's here with me now

 Even though he's dead


 It's not all good and it's not all bad

 Don't believe everything you read

 I'm the only one who knows what it's like

 So i though i'd better tell you

 Before i leave


 So in the end i'd like to say

 That i'm a very thankful man

 I tried to make the most of my situations

 And enjoy what i had

 I knew true love and i knew passion

 And the difference between the two

 And i had some regrets

 But if i had to do it all again

 Well, it's something i'd like to do 




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