Over the course of last weekend I read ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’ an autobiography of sorts by Mark Oliver Everett, better known simply to his fans as ‘E’ of successful US cult band Eels. I’ve been a fan of his band since hearing the weird, looping sound of ‘Novocain For The Soul’ over ten years ago. It was a strange song. Something about it didn’t sit quite right with me and I think that was what I found fascinating about it. They were, and still are, impossible to pigeonhole. Not quite alternative. Not quite pop. Not really a rock-band. Hell, they’re not even a proper band per se. Eels is basically E and whatever musicians he chooses to work with at a given time. Everett would go on to write ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ and ‘It’s A Motherfucker’ which are, in my book, probably the two most exquisitely beautiful songs ever written. Songs that are perfect in every way, my desert island discs. You listen to them and everything is all right in the world.
So it’s quite incredible to think that such rare, flawless musical artifacts could come from the mind of someone who has experienced such horrendous personal loss in his life so far, loss he writes about in a disarmingly unpretentious manner in this remarkable book. Where do we begin? Well, his renowned American quantum physicist father Hugh Everett III died suddenly at the young age of 51 when Everett was still a teenager. His troubled, Neil Young-obsessed older sister Liz would go on to take her own life after several failed attempts and finally his mother Nancy would die of cancer. Death follows E everywhere. After he moved to LA, his kindly landlady would pass away, then a close female friend, his roadie, more friends and associates. Just as E believes the Grim Reaper has decided to leave his side for good, death returns in a rather spectacular and scarcely believable way. On September 11th, 2001, his cousin Jennifer and her husband were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. If a movie-script were to be written on E’s life, it would never get the green light – too implausible and far-fetched, they would say. But it’s all true. Nearly everyone important to him has died yet E writes so movingly and without self-pity that it never becomes too emotionally overwhelming, as it’s leavened by E’s self-deprecation and dry wit. There are even laugh-out loud moments, especially when he describes how, a few years before her death, his mother acquired a ‘boyfriend’ so old (85) that he actually knew one of the Wright brothers – ‘one of those guys that invented FLIGHT!’. Running concurrently with the story of E picking up the pieces of his life every few years as someone else close to him is dispatched to oblivion, is his struggle to be taken seriously as a musician and all the music-industry bullshit and false dawns that entails. Eventually, he succeeds and Eels are now are one of the most respected acts in the world right now. Against the odds, Everett succeeds and survives and has managed to stay sane and reasonably functional as a human being. He is one of very few people on the planet making money from doing what he loves. It seems like a reward for all the shit he has waded through. Now 46, Everett will release an eagerly awaited new album on June 2nd called ‘Hombre Lobo’. The story continues and is far from over. I hope Everett lives to 100.