Book Review: Things The Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver Everett

Written by: Julia Collins


Even at twice the length, this slim volume would still seem too short.

Quick readers will whizz through the text in a couple of hours but unless they have a heart of stone the story will resonate in their psyche for an awful lot longer.

Things The Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver EverettThe traditional music autobiography is either littered with tales of success and excess or earnestly ghostwritten to the point of erasing the true character of the subject.

But Eels leader Mark Oliver Everett’s autobiography, much like the music he creates, doesn’t fall into any of the lazy categories which can pigeonhole creative output.

Early on, Everett informs the reader that he’s not going to write in a flowery or poetic style but just be straight with them and that directness makes it feel that you’re sitting with a friend as they share the intimate details of their complicated life in a straightforward and unpretentious manner.

And Everett’s bone-dry humour, so often misinterpreted and misconstrued in interviews and casual assessments of his lyrics, really shines through.

His life has certainly been more dramatic than most, including an unsteady upbringing, teenage delinquency, finding his dead father’s body, the suicide of his beloved sister, the loss of his mother from cancer soon after, music stardom and the deaths of colleagues, neighbours and friends.

That’s a clumsy and simplistic round-up of just some of the experiences Everett has dealt with over the years and it’s the way he describes coping with the emotional bombshells that supplies the book with so much of its affecting core, in particular when he talks about how important making music has been to him and how it has saved his life during the bleakest of times.

But however honest the experiences he chooses to share with the reader are, there’s a curious dichotomy that runs through Everett’s career and his approach to this book.

Everett fiercely guards his private life yet he occasionally invites cameras right into his home for photo shoots, making-of documentaries and TV programmes such as the BBC investigation of his emotionally-remote quantum physicist father and his relationship with him.

And here there’s the sense that although he is brutally and painfully honest about so many of his experiences, there are a number of episodes in his life such as the breakdown of his marriage and the early changes of Eels personnel that are acknowledged with a few brief sentences which will leave the reader curious about the true circumstances.

But such is an autobiographer’s prerogative.

And when the rest of the book can make you laugh out loud one minute and on virtually the same page bring you to the verge of tears, it can easily be forgiven.

Plucking the right tales to tell from a life story that has moments of pathos, absurdity, nascent stardom, insecurity and pure joy along with harrowing and seemingly overwhelming lows is a task that Everett excels at, and it’s the smallest details of these anecdotes which offer telling insights into his world view and also can be the most quietly devastating.

He is at times utterly fearless in describing his emotional reactions to situations, often revealing immense vulnerability and compassion but at the same time a sense of quiet dignity and a definite lack of tolerance for stupidity.

For many years Everett has been a man at odds with the industry he works in and there are plenty of tales that reveal his efforts to maintain his artistic integrity and his dislike of the machinations of the music sellers in a constant search for radio-friendly fodder and the next quick buck.

This isn’t just a book for Eels fans, although they will find much to love in the descriptions of where the inspiration for Everett’s songs came from, especially those of Electro-Shock Blues, which many consider his masterpiece.

It’s a book for anyone whose soul hasn’t been sucked away while they were sleeping.

Everett has said he hopes that from now on his life will be so undramatic that a sequel to his memoirs would be the dullest book ever written, but I have a feeling that with him at the helm, it would still be compulsively readable, utterly riveting and may just make your heart burst.

 




Author: Julia Collins

My favourite film is French, which means that I can pretend to be really deep. I can often be found at gigs and festivals dancing enthusiastically and very badly to the music I love, even if no one else is.

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