Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver Everett
The first non-fiction book of the year, and the first straight autobiography I’ve read for years. For those not in the know, Everett (also known as Mr E, or just simply E), is the driving force behind the band Eels. If you’ve listened to any of E’s music, you’ll know that he’s not exactly the happiest of people, (A sample of song titles include “Going to your Funeral”, “The Medication is Wearing Off”, and “I’m going to Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart”), and I was peripherally aware of the fact that his family history has been pretty fraught (since it seems to come up in every album review ever).
Even with this in mind, I still thought it would be a good idea to read Things the Grandchildren Should Know while sitting in a crowded coffee shop. I reckon I probably freaked out some of the other patrons when I started crying into my latte after reading about E’s mother’s decline into cancer. Even though this was only one of many such events in the book, E’s sense of humour pervades throughout, alleviating the sadness at crucial points.
In addition to his personal story, E’s stories about the music industry’s attitudes to “alternative” artists is interesting, if not entirely unexpected. It’s surprising that even on the back of a number of successful albums, Eels were still pressured into, for lack of a better word, compromising their integrity to commercialise.
I think what’s most interesting about reading the book is seeing the parallels between E’s experiences and the songs he’s written. “Susan’s House” belonged to his at the time girlfriend, “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor” specifically refers to his sister’s first of many suicide attempts, while the line “We will walk among the graves of/Men long dead with presidents’ names” from “In the Yard, Behind the Church,” comes directly from the cemetery attached to the black community church that, truly enough, E’s childhood home backed onto. It really hammers home how personal most of Eels music is.
Ultimately, if you’re not already a fan of Eels (and why aren’t you?), you’re not going to get too much out of vast proportions of this book. However, it is an interesting life story even without knowing any context, and he does provide a lot of explanation for most of the musical references, including relevant song lyrics, which is a very nice touch. Even though some of E’s experiences would not seem out-of-place in the grief-porn laden shelves of WHSmiths, his humour and sincerity sets this a world apart from cloyingly self-indulgent tales of Dave Pelzer and his ilk.