Non-fiction – hardcover; Little Brown; 256 pages; 2008.
To survive the tragic deaths of your entire family is one thing, to become a critically acclaimed musician is another, and yet 44-year-old Mark Oliver Everett has done both. Now, with the release of this memoir, he can also added talented author to the list.
Everett, better known as ‘E’ from the Eels, an alternative rock band which is essentially Everett and an ever-changing cast of musicians, seems to be the current flavour of the month here in the UK. He recently starred in a BBC 4 documentary called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives about his father, the late quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, who was the originator of the many-worlds theory. Then his book was published and just last week he played a special gig at St James’s Church in Piccadilly to promote it.
The beauty of Things the Grandchildren Should Know is its easy-to-read narrative style and Everett’s tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating humour. This is surprising given the largely sad story contained within its pages. Not only does Everett lose a succession of family members under various tragic circumstances — his father of a heart attack aged just 51, his mother of lung cancer, his drug-addicted older sister of suicide and his air stewardess cousin in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11 — but many of his friends and colleagues in the music business have also died before their time.
Understandably Everett wrestles with many demons, including depression, but he never loses sight of his goal, which is to make the best music he can make without sacrificing his integrity. Getting the first record deal was tough. Keeping the record company happy was even tougher.
What you gather from reading this book is that Everett has a wonderful ability to roll with the punches. Ever pragmatic, he states that it is only by experiencing terrible lows that he can appreciate the highs, such as his critically acclaimed success. “I can get overwhelmed with situations sometimes,” he writes towards the end of the book. “But it’s not as bad or as often as it used to be, and I think living through so much crazy shit really has made me stronger. Just like they say it should.”
Things the Grandchildren Should Know is the kind of thought-provoking memoir that makes you thankful for the good things in life — and you don’t necessarily have to know anything about Mark Oliver Everett or be a fan of the Eels to appreciate its universal message.