Things you should know: In “Things the Grandchildren Should Know,” the frontman of the band “Eels” tells us his story of growing up as the son of a genius and dealing with the deaths of his entire family. In a straightforward autobiographical style, Mark Oliver Everett recounts his insecure and tumultuous childhood and adolescent years and how the alternative rock band came into existence.
Similar to the way he writes his music, Everett provides the facts of his life in a sparse and blunt manner. This is not to say that his writing is unemotional or flat. In fact, it is the opposite, getting the point across without any unnecessary flourishing. The simplistic writing, of course, makes for a few surprises, especially when some of the words on the page recount how each member of his family died and what the circumstances were that led up to those individual deaths. In a wry and almost sarcastic style, Everett recounts his life in an almost conversational manner that recalls talking to your grandfather or uncle over a cup of coffee or a jug of beer.
The highlight of this book is learning about how one person can deal with so many of life’s ugly moments and still find the motivation to get up every morning and do something worthwhile. He is not looking for your sympathy, nor was he looking for any growing up. Like any other human being, he was looking for understanding and it is refreshing to see how he does not paint himself as some sort of saint or hero whom we should all look up to. Instead, upon finishing this book, you may find yourself feeling as if you have known Everett all of your life.
If you were to listen to Everett’s music in albums such as “Electro-shock Blues” or the recently released “Wonderful, Glorious,” you would hear a certain kind of rawness and emotional vulnerability in his voice. As the epitome of the generic confessional singer/songwriter, Everett uses music as a way of coming to terms with the events that have happened to him and as a creative outlet while he keeps up with everyday life. This is not to say that his music is depressing. In fact, it tends to lean on the optimistic side, allowing glimpses of Everett’s surprisingly unshakeable optimism and hopefulness towards life following the descriptions of some of these dark moments.
Equal parts inspiring and remarkable, the book is a great read whether you are a follower of Everett’s music or not. While Everett includes certain lyrics in the book in order to show his inspiration for some of his songs, it is certainly not necessary to know his music before reading his memoir. Whether you are interested in finding out the backstory of the “Eels” frontman or interested in understanding the role and purpose of art in helping one overcome hard times, especially death, the book is a great read to enjoy anytime, anywhere.