Tag Archives: Mark Oliver Everett

Laughing through rock hard times: Stephen Colbert and Mark Oliver Everett

31 Aug

The stereotypical great artist is a tortured genius. He or she rages against the pain of life with art as the only means of survival. That screaming into the darkness has created swirls of starry nights, howls of poetry, scores of beautifully painful rock songs … and, sadly, way too much substance abuse and death by suicide. The bleakness overtook them.

Stephen Colbert GQYet there are many other great artists out there who, in the face of unfathomable tragedy, not only make great art but use it to illuminate how tragedy feeds grace and gratitude. As I recently caught up on my reading, I learned more about two such geniuses: Stephen Colbert and Mark Oliver Everett, who performs as Eels.

Colbert – one of the most talented, quick-witted comedians ever to hit television – is gearing up for his September 8 debut as host of The Late Show. Over the summer, he’s done a number of quirky videos to keep his hand in while he and his team develop his new style as the talk show host Stephen Colbert, as opposed to the vainglorious idiot “Stephen Colbert” he portrayed on Comedy Central for nine years. For instance, the world got to know the town of Monroe, Michigan just a little bit better thanks to Colbert taking over as host of the public access TV show, Only In Monroe. (Believe me when I tell you, not all Michiganders eat muskrat … although some most certainly do.)

Colbert also sat for an intensive cover story interview for GQ with writer Joel Lovell. Despite being a typical PR opportunity to promote the new show, it is one of the most moving pieces of journalism I’ve read. With Lovell as a guide, Colbert connects faith, comedy and humanity in a way few artists dare to in this cynical, agnostic age.

Colbert grew up in South Carolina as the youngest of eleven children in a devout Catholic family. When he was ten, his father and the two brothers closest to him in age died in a plane crash. The only child still living at home, he buried himself in books (particularly Tolkien, to the point where he speaks passable Elvish). A haphazard student, he transferred from Hampton-Sydney to Northwestern, found his way into Del Close’s improv sphere, joined Second City – and the rest is comedy history.

But Colbert never became an angry comic, or bitterly ironic, or one who used comedy to whistle past the graveyard and distract himself from despair. Instead, his mother, guided by their Catholic faith, helped him “recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity.”

Things the Grandchildren Should KnowI’ve talked about Everett before and have gotten more familiar with his Eels catalog; his Shootenanny is currently one of my favorites. He published his memoir in 2008 when he was 45 – and if anyone should write a memoir at such a relatively early point in life, it’s him. Otherwise, no one could comprehend how the poor guy survived so much relentless heartbreak.

When Everett was 18, his father died of a heart attack, and young Mark was the one who found the body. A few years later, his troubled sister committed suicide while he was touring for his first big album. Within a year of that loss, his mother died of cancer. Later on, he lost a first cousin who was a flight attendant on one of the planes that crashed on 9/11, and his roadie ODed. (When Everett mentions becoming friends with Elliott Smith, I nearly shouted out loud, “Don’t do it!”)

Like Colbert, Everett had an unbidden, compulsive attraction to making art (creating alternative rock music, in his case) – and though he’s far from religious, Everett shares Colbert’s optimism. As he writes,

I had an epiphany. While I was thinking about all these tragic circumstances, I pictured a blue sky in my head and I suddenly felt greatly inspired. I realized that I had to write about what was going on … And the blue sky told me that there was a way to do this that was something different. That it wasn’t all bad, that there was a bright side, even to this. For me, the bright side was knowing that I was going to learn things from all this, and also just the fact that I could be inspired and could do something positive with all of it …

Reading this book puts Everett’s music into a totally different light. When he sums up being in love with a beautiful girl in the same verse as falling on the floor crying your guts out by saying “Hey man, now you’re really living,” that’s exactly what he means. He’s not being sarcastic. He’s being truthful.

Read Colbert’s GQ interview – it’s gorgeous, and excerpting it doesn’t do it justice. Then read Everett’s memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know. Everett’s own story of finding hope existing in tandem with tragedy is surprisingly eloquent, too.

See you on the flip side …

Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living): Discovering EELS

15 Oct

Mark Oliver Everett 2014

E: Singer/songwriter/beard model

Having written this blog for four years (thanks for the virtual trophy, WordPress!) I know I could get a lot more readers if I wrote in a more timely manner. I don’t do my statistics any favors by waiting days after a concert, or weeks after a book comes out – or years after an album is released – to share my opinions. Life keeps getting in the way of my incipient success as a writer, I guess.

Even if I was a little more mindful about building my platform, there is so much rock and roll out there it’s a miracle if I get around to listening to something once, much less discover an artist who inspires me to consume his entire catalog.

A miracle just occurred: now, more than two decades after his first recording hit the alternate airwaves, I am officially obsessed with EELS.

Mark Oliver Everett, known as E, is the singer/songwriter/multifaceted musician who created EELS as a catch-all name for the work he does on his own and with various musicians. (I’ve seen it written “eels” and “EELS” on his albums, in case you’re wondering.) E has 13 studio albums to his credit, and his songs have appeared in movie soundtracks ranging from American Beauty to all three Shrek pictures. If you know any of his work, it is probably this tune and nifty video from the 1996 album, Beautiful Freak:

 

He even had a great scene – and song – that ended up on the cutting room floor from This Is 40 (with lots of NSFW language, just to warn you). The guy has seemingly been everywhere and hiding in plain sight at the same time.

As usual, my discovery started in the library stacks, checking out Blinking Lights on a whim after seeing a reference to EELS in some magazine article. Here’s the description of the two-disc album off of the EELS official website:

It’s the most personal eels album since 1998’s ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES. That album dealt with the nearly simultaneous suicide of Everett’s sister and terminal illness of his mother, from the subjects’ points of view. This album finds him a few years down the line, now battling some of the family demons himself, with the after effects of past tragedies becoming more of a personal issue in his adult life, sometimes fearlessly autobiographical, and other times built around the related stories of others.

Sounds like a total downer, right? Not really; well, not completely. While the material isn’t always a picnic, the music is consistently beautiful and original. E’s sandpaper voice conveys a great deal of warmth and humanity, and the varied arrangements include cameos from Tom Waits, Peter Buck, John Sebastian … and E’s dog. Listen to it with a strong cup of coffee or a stiff drink in hand.

I have barely scratched the surface of this artist. Lyrics are just beginning to get stuck in my memory, rhythms are resonating in my headphones. It’s that delightful stage of exploration where I know I’m onto something truly special and I can’t wait to see what I’ll find next.

To continue your own discovery, here’s a ramshackle version of one of his catchier tunes from Blinking Lights – enjoy!

See you on the flip side …

P.S. My very first Books & Authors event is Sunday, October 26 at Leon & Lulu’s in Clawson, Michigan. This is a great store for finding unique gifts, clothing, furniture and more – in a former roller rink, no less. See you there!

timeweleftthisworldtoday

This world's so mixed up everywhere you go

paulydeathwish

cinema dossier

keepsmealive

"No dress rehearsal, this is our life."

No Rhyme Or Reason

Positive/Thought Provoking Essays on One Fan's Love of Music

mikeladano.com

LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews

the EARL of SWIRL

"to be average scares the hell out of me"

KURT★BRINDLEY

WRITER★EDITER★PRODUCER★CONSULTANT

Every Hit Song Ever...from A to Z!

Talk about.........Pop Music!

All You Need Is The Beatles

Musical musings on all things...well...musical!

Publication Coach

Beating writer's block, writing faster, writing tips, better writing, editing, communications consulting

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

PLAY IT LOUD!

Heavy Metal & Hard Rock 1980-1990

Music And Arts Connection

SPECIALIZING in LIAISON AND SOCIAL MEDIA SERVICES for INDEPENDENT MUSICIANS.

Television Blues

A new online music channel

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

an ode to the songs (and radio stations) that shaped my life

Cave of Fame

Digging through relics while becoming one myself