Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.
I may be one of the few people who came to the Eels through Hugh Everett III, father of principle Eel, Mark Oliver Everett, aka "E." Mark's father is the originator of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. The many-worlds interpretation figures heavily in the work of Robert Anton Wilson, and so it was one of my Discordian brethren (Hail, Eris!) who said: "Hey, did you know that Hugh Everett has a son in some alt.rock band called Eels?" As soon as I heard 'em, I was gill-hooked, but good. 2005's "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" was certainly a revelation to me -- a two-CD set of 34 songs without a stinker in the bunch. E has said it's about "God and all the questions related to the subject of God. It's also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it's a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory." For me, it also served as something of the soundtrack to the loss of my wife. I still can't listen to "The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight" without completely losing my shit. Mr E knows from loss. His father, who barely interacted with him as a child, died when Mark was 19. His schizophrenic sister committed suicide in 1996, and two years later, his mother died of cancer. So much of E's music seems to encode all of this loss, along with a deep, dysfunctional social disconnect, and a visceral sense of confusion over who he is and what he should make out of all that's happened to him. But like all artists who resonate, Mark Everett seems to have an alchemical ability to transmute all of this sordid business into transcendent bits of sound poetry, music that, even when it's sad, the melodies, the musicality, the poetics, and all of its "beautiful, horrible glory" are so strong, it lifts up, rather than drags you down (at least, in this case, it does for me). Last year, the BBC released a wonderful documentary called "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives," which followed Mark Everett as he retraced the steps of his father, trying to learn more about the dad he never really knew and the physics theories he could never really understand. All in all, it's a rather quiet piece (not bad or boring, just quiet and small), but there are some truly potent moments, like when he hears his father's voice on tape for the first time, or when he finally figures out (basically) what the many-worlds interpretation really means, and when he hears himself on tape, in the background as a child, playing the drums and then bragging about how great he is. The scene where he describes finding, at 19, his dead father on the bed is one of the most heartrending things I've ever seen. That one scene explains at least half of the hit you get whenever partaking of an Eels' song. The entire BBC documentary used to be on YouTube, in four parts. Alas, it's been taken down. While links last, you can see it in two parts, on Veoh, here and here.
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Gareth Branwyn has been dog-paddling the waters of sidestream culture, as a participant and chronicler, for his entire adult life. He's been involved in the commune movement, the DIY and zine scenes, cyberpunk, steampunk, punk-punk, and has written for bOING bOING (print), Mondo 2000, Wired, Esquire, Details, and numerous other magazines and dailies. He is the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine's blog, and is currently editing a collection of his work: "Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems."