A Heartbreaking Work of Death and Embarrassment

Eels front man E plants some Daisies of the Galaxy and, finally, drives away from the graveyard

"I'm proud of what I did with electro-shock blues, proud that it deals with what it deals with," Everett says over the phone from Germany, where the eels began their European tour this month. "I actually think it's the most positive record I'll ever make. I think it's mistakenly thought of as a depressing thing, but to me it's not. Also, people mistakenly will refer to it by saying I deal with the topics with a certain detachment, which I think is absolutely wrong. To me, it's the opposite of detachment. It's complete immersion in the subject, because it was my life, and if that's your life, it just seems normal to you. You're human, so you laugh, you cry, you eat, you sleep, you do all the things you do every day, and those things are going on during all of that, so you apply all of that to those subjects. If you're around someone who's dying -- and I've been around a lot of dying people and a lot of ill people -- they're just people, and you talk to them like regular people. You joke and you have fun and you even joke about dying. I don't know why it's such a strange thing for other people."

Everett can't stop talking about himself, his family, and his pitiable life. Every time someone switches on a tape recorder, he talks endlessly about his sister's suicide, his father's genius, his mother's drinking problem and her illness -- and how all three of his family members are now dead. In 1996, he told one journalist that Beautiful Freak, the eels' debut album, was borne of his being from a "fucked-up family": His father, who died of a heart attack when Everett was in his teens, was a brilliant physicist. His sister suffered from mental illness. His mother fought cancer. As a result, Everett liked to say, he had to wrestle with "a lot of demons."

"Now, they're a fucked-up dead family," Everett says four years later. "Little did I know where it was heading."

Mark "E" Everett's life is an open book and, occasionally, an open wound.
Mark "E" Everett's life is an open book and, occasionally, an open wound.

He continues. "The thing is, I get inspired by certain things in my life or whatever. Like in the case of electro-shock blues, I get inspired by these things, and some of the songs directly deal with those things in plain language, where it's all out there." He pauses for a moment. "But if I want to write a tribute to someone, I write it in their voice, rather than have it be about them. I write in the first person, because I think that's the best way to pay tribute to someone -- to try and really understand them and what it's like to be them. There's a song on the new record, 'I Like Birds,' which for me is a tribute to my mother, but no one would ever know that if I didn't tell you that. It's much more meaningful that it's something she would say, rather than me singing a song, 'Oh, my dead mama, I miss you,' or whatever. We don't need any more of that.

"The new record came really natural to me, because of what was going on in my life. I'd felt like I hadn't been to a funeral for a while" -- he laughs -- "and I moved into a different house, and I felt like, 'Okay, it's a new beginning, and it's time to put all that behind me for now.' It felt like today was the first day of the rest of my life, and that was reflected in the songs I was writing."

Everett, in trying to pitch his new record, can't stop talking about his last one. But there is a good reason: Daisies of the Galaxy is a sequel to electro-shock blues; it's the album on which Everett is, well, born again, picking up where its predecessor left off. electro-shock blues ended with Everett moaning, "I don't know where we're going/I don't know what we'll do," before he finally exhaled his last gasp: "And maybe it's time to live."

Daisies begins with the fading echoes of a funeral: The opening strains of "Grace Kelly Blues" sound not too unlike the introduction to Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," horns moaning and drums rat-a-tat-tatting -- a wake (at last). From there, Everett goes on to sing of how he needs "a broom to sweep up all the troubles you and I have seen"; how he hopes to "never [make] another sound of fear"; how a handful of daisies can cheer you up; and how "it's a motherfucker being here without you" (that song is an homage to Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today"). He writes songs to his mother as his mother; and he writes of how, when he grows up, "I'll be an angry little whore/I'll give you all the finger/I'll sell you all what for."

He then concludes by insisting that "Something Is Sacred." (The final song on the disc is actually a hidden track, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," which is being released as the album's single; Everett didn't think it fit with the rest of the disc, though DreamWorks insisted it remain somewhere on Daisies.) Everett points to "Sacred" as perhaps the album's most meaningful song. After all, a young man who has survived his parents might be tempted to think nothing is sacred, that everything around him is "shit and piss" (to quote from electro-shock blues). But the survivor knows better.

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