Book Review: The EELS Guy Speaks Out
We sure miss the innocent days of 2000, before we went to war and the economy tanked, when song lyrics were what people worried about. Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E or A Man Called E – his band is the EELS – had the surreal experience of his work being used as a political prop.
“The campaign to elect the tragically inept Republican candidate George W. Bush to the White House used the Daisies of the Galaxy album as an example of the entertainment industry marketing smut to children,” he writes in his memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know. “I know. Pretty hilarious. I was thrilled by it, of course.”
The album has a “storybooklike” cover and features songs such as “It’s a Motherfucker,” so of course E had made it to corrupt the children. One of the offending lyrics held up by the geniuses in the campaign was from a song called “Tiger in My Tank”: "When I grow up I’ll be/An Angry Little Whore." What the song’s really about is selling out, a major theme of the book.
E is constantly battling record companies to release his music the way he wants to. He works with people he likes even if it means less money. He refuses to let VW feature a hit song in a commercial: “I didn’t write the song ‘Beautiful Freak’ about a car. I wrote it about someone who is truly different, not fashionably different or ‘edgy’ as the advertising executives love to say.” As a result he gets a reputation as a “difficult” artist. At one point, he gives in to his record company’s demands and lets the song “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” be featured in the hideous movie Road Trip, a decision he still regrets.
Everett takes a pretty direct approach to telling his story – he starts with the beginning and moves through to the present. Luckily, he’s had a pretty interesting life, so the method works fine.
He and his big sister Liz grow up in a home with parents who are physically present, but not there. His dad is depressed, his mom childlike. He and Liz are extremely close, and she’s a cool sister, one who lets him hang out with her and get in trouble with the older kids. E rebels out of boredom, but he does it in style. He writes that in high school, “I got caught in the bushes outside the school, drinking gin that I had stolen from my dad’s liquor cabinet and going down on my girlfriend. All before 10 a.m. on a Monday.”
Dabbling in drugs doesn’t affect E long-term, but Liz becomes an addict. She also has mental problems. Everett posits that while music is how he’s dealt with his difficult upbringing, Liz’s drug use is her attempt to “fill the bottomless pit inside her heart.” She eventually commits suicide, and both parents die as well.
Like all artists, E is self-absorbed. He gets that writing a memoir has an “inherent ME, I’M SO IMPORTANT thing” to it. But he’s also humble, which is what makes this book readable. He comes off as a guy simply trying to deal with a painful life, who happened to find some success in the process. “Luckily for me, I found a way to deal with myself and my family by treating it all like a constant and ongoing art project,” he writes, “for you all to enjoy. Enjoy!” Thanks, E.
– Cathy Matusow