Friday, February 26, 2010

starting with E: Things The Granchildren Should Know

Things The Grandchildren Should Know
- Mark Oliver Everett

This is not your standard rock autobiography. But then again, Eels and its enigmatic frontman, Mark Oliver Everett, is not your standard rock band.

Like his music, Everett's book is written in simple yet eloquent language, which,
as a literary work, is both its weakness and its greatest strength.

Everett's life story is a study in pathos; his upbringing was unstable, peppered with madness and mired in tragedy. Still a young man, he lost his entire family - a withdrawn physics genius father, a confused child-like mother, a sister who was his biggest fan but who was unable to deal with her personal demons of addiction. That Everett managed to battle the mental illnesses that also constituted his psyche is a testament to both his obsession and to the healing power of creativity.

This book seems to fall naturally into two camps, one in which Everett tells of the often heartbreaking circumstances of his upbringing, the other in which he focuses on the creativity that ultimately gave him an outlet and the strength to fight his genetic demons.

Particularly in the early chapters of the book, I sometimes found Everett's simple and straightforward recounting of events to be somewhat abrupt. He tells of one event and then simply heads in to the next, without explanations, without summation. At first I found it a little offsetting; I kept looking for the punchline or the take-home message in each episode, but then I gradually realised that this was simply Mark Everett telling me the unembellished truth of his life. It was up to me to decide what the message was.

About halfway through Things the Grandchildren Should Know, something changed for me. As Everett began writing more about his struggles to live by his belief in the way he wanted to make his music, I began to find his life story to be more and more inspirational. Everett's life still had more than its share of tragedy, and he still divulged the details in his straightforward and unapologetic fashion, but I began to understand the power that music had to quite literally save this man's life. And I began to appreciate the simple beauty of the language that Everett uses to tell his autobiography.

Mark Oliver Everett does not need flowery and overly-descriptive words to give us the powerful and starkly honest music that Eels makes, and nor does he need purple prose to tell us the often heartbreaking but always inspiring story of his life so far.

Things the Grandchildren Should Know is a rock autobiography for thinking people. I think you should read it.

This being Friday and all, and Friday being Playlist Random Ten day, I shamelessly admit that I kick-started my random playlist with an Eels song today. And then let itunes handle the rest:

1. On My Feet - Eels
2. I Know that my Redeemer Liveth - London Philharmonic Orchestra
3. I was a Daughter - Basia Bulat
4. We Could be Looking for the Same Thing - Silver Jews
5. Girls in Their Summer Clothes - Bruce Springsteen
6. Sun Up Running for Home - Matthew Good Band
7. Polaroids - Slaraffenland
8. Plans - Bloc Party
9. Warm - Vic Chestnutt
10. Pass This On - the Knife

What's rocking your playlist?


Beth said...

Great, wonderful post, BTZ. I think I'll pick up the book this weekend.

Allison said...

I loved this book. I read it in a single sitting; on the place back home from Toronto. Courtesy of favourite music blogger, Sean.

I enjoyed his abrupt style, and felt it was very similar to his music - there is always a lot more going on in the lyrics, but it's up to the listener to draw his/her own message. I've found since reading his music speaks to me on a different level, too.

Great post!

John Mutford said...

Abrupt, simple and eloquent. Sounds like haiku. I think I'd like this.

mister anchovy said...

Sounds like an interesting and curious book.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks, Beth. I think you'll really enjoy it. It gives real insight into Eels' music, as well as Everett's life.

It is a fast read, isn't it, Al?
There are a lot of similarities in style between his music writing and his book writing, you are so correct. I listen to his music with much more open ears now as well.

A very long haiku perhaps, John. I would be really interested to hear your take on this book. Are you an Eels fan?

It's at once heartbreaking and uplifting, Mr Anchovy.