Things the Grandchildren Should Know

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9780316027878: Things the Grandchildren Should Know

How does one young man survive the deaths of his entire family and manage to make something worthwhile of his life? In Things The Grandchildren Should Know Mark Oliver Everett tells the story of what it's like to grow up the insecure son of a genius in a wacky Virginia Ice Storm-like family. Left to run wild with his sister, his father off in some parallel universe of his own invention, Everett's upbringing was 'ridiculous, sometimes tragic and always unsteady'. But somehow he manages to not only survive his crazy upbringing and ensuing tragedies; he makes something of his life, striking out on a journey to find himself by channelling his experiences into his, eventually, critically acclaimed music with the Eels. But it's not an easy path. Told with surprising candour, Things The Grandchildren Should Know is an inspiring and remarkable story, full of hope, humour and wry wisdom.

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About the Author:

Mark Oliver Everett, lead singer with Eels, is one of the finest singer songwriters of his generation. This is his first book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One   Summer of Love

I WAS DRIVING THROUGH THE PITCH BLACK VIRGINIA night, down the perfectly flat blacktop that was once a railroad track, across that high bridge over the ravine, thinking about the details of how one night I was going to drive off it. I was sure I’d never live to the age of eighteen, so I never bothered making any plans for the future. Eighteen had come and gone a year ago, but I was still breathing. And things were only getting worse.

The summer of 1982. That disgusting, sticky, humid weather where your back soaks through your shirt just from taking a short drive. By midsummer everything was a mess. My sister Liz’s boyfriend flipped out in our kitchen one night and attacked me with a butcher knife. Soon after, Liz tried to kill herself for the first of many times. Swallowed a bunch of pills. Her heart stopped the moment we got her to the hospital, but they were able to revive her.

Pretty soon after that, Liz and my mom went out of town to visit relatives and I found my father’s dead body lying there sideways on my parents’ bed, fully dressed in his usual shirt and tie, with his feet almost on the floor, like he just sat down to die at fifty-one. I tried to learn CPR from the 911 operator on the phone, carrying my father’s already-stiff body across the bedroom floor. It was weird touching him. That was the first time we had any physical contact that I could remember, other than the occasional cigarette burn on my arm while squeezing by him in the hallway.

I figured driving off the bridge might be the best way to deal with the crushing, lost, and empty feeling of being me. A dramatic way to go, of course. I was a kid. Later in life it would usually be a gun I imagined using on myself. Not quite as dramatic as driving off a bridge in your home-town. You can chart my development this way. In more recent years I would think about pills most often. That dramatic stuff is for kids. I’m mature now.

At the end of the summer, which I had already started referring to as The Summer of Love, I drove my gold ’71 Chevy Nova away from home for the first time. I had bought the car that I called "Old Gold," complete with a stop sign used in place of its rusted-out floorboard, for a hundred bucks from my hot, blonde cousin Jennifer, who years later would die on the plane that hit the Pentagon September 11, 2001. She was a flight attendant. Sent a postcard from Dulles Airport that morning that read "Ain’t Life Grand?" in big letters on the front.

My father worked at the Pentagon back around the time I was born. If I believed in curses, I’d have to wonder if the plane hit the part of the building where my father’s office once was. But I don’t believe in curses. Life is full of ups and downs. There have been some extremes in my life’s case but, considering I had no plan, and very little of the kind of self-esteem you need to get by in this world, things could be worse. I’m just wandering through here, seeing what happens.

I don’t know what happens when you die and I don’t expect to find out until I die. Probably nothing, but you never know. For now, I’m still alive, and I’ve come to realize that some of the most horrible moments of my life have led to some of the best, so I’m not one for eating up people’s melodrama. Just another day to me.

It felt weird leaving my mom and Liz in the house, but it was time for me to get out of there. I had long ago become the man of the house, since no one else was laying down the law, and when my father died that really cemented my status. But I knew if I didn’t get out of there soon, I may never get out.

However crazy things got, I could always lose myself down in my room in the basement (walls painted black), reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man with the headphones over my ears cranking The Who Live at Leeds or John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band or what ever it was I was into that year. Even at this terrible stage in The Summer of Love, I could transport myself, driving Old Gold and watching the sun go down while I listened to Sly Stone sing "Hot Fun in the Summertime" nice and loud on the shitty cassette deck duct-taped under the dashboard.

I got to Richmond and enrolled in school. I had no interest in school, but everyone else seemed to be doing it and I had no other plans. Because my grades were so bad in high school, due to complete disinterest on my part, I was only accepted on a part-time basis. Felt totally alone and miserable.

One night I was walking past one of the city campus buildings and heard the sound of pianos. I walked in to discover it was the music section of the school. I wasn’t interested in studying music that way but was dying to play something, anything. I began sneaking into one of the piano practice rooms every day or night, always worried about being caught, since I wasn’t supposed to be there. It was the only time I felt good, banging away on the keys, making up little songs as I went along. Sometimes I’d imagine a lot of people listening to what I was playing, and liking it. One night I got into it so much that I broke one of the big, low piano strings, which made a sound like a shotgun going off. I quickly left the building before I got in trouble.

I was sinking deeper and deeper into despair. I wasn’t the least bit interested in any of my classes. My only relief was music. I began to feel what could almost be described as a lust for writing and recording music. I would walk dazed through the streets of Richmond, dreaming of going back to my mother’s piano and setting up a tape recorder and microphone.

SOME NIGHTS, ALL THESE YEARS LATER, I’LL SIT here and think about when I was really young and how great it felt when things were OK and we were all there in the house: my father reading the paper, Liz playing Neil Young over and over in her room, my mom laughing her goofy laugh at something that wasn’t that funny to begin with. When I think about the feeling of being in the middle of that, I’m overwhelmed with desire, like I’d give anything to spend a night back there again.

Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises. Sometimes the beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or writes something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you. It’s nice when a non believer has to question his doubts. That might be what led me to music in the first place. It was like magic. I could transcend the shitty situations around me and even turn them into something positive just by setting them to music.

Maybe I don’t like people as much as the rest of the world seems to. Seems like the human race is in love with itself. What kind of ego do you have to have to think that you were created in God’s image? I mean, to invent the idea that God must be like us. Please. As Stanley Kubrick once pointed out, the discovery of more intelligent life somewhere other than Earth would be catastrophic to man, simply because we would no longer be able to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. I guess I’m slowly becoming one of those crusty old cranks who thinks animals are better than people. But, occasionally, people will pleasantly surprise me and I’ll fall in love with one of them, so go figure.

So what kind of an ego do you have to have to write a book about your life and expect anyone to care? A huge one! But not so big that I think I was created in God’s image. Unless God is a hairy ectomorph with bad posture (God forbid I don’t use the almighty uppercase "G"). And I know I’m not the most famous guy in the world. People aren’t making up rumors about gerbils getting stuck up my ass or anything like that. Some people think I’ve deliberately shot my fame in the foot with some of my "career" decisions, but that’s really not the case. I never wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous. I decided to try and make something good in the world, as best as I could anyway, and that was the only goal. So, I only do what I want to do, and I spend a lot of my time on Earth saying "no" to all the stupid things I’m asked to do that I know are a bad idea for me. I’m not a really famous guy, and that’s who usually writes books about their lives, but, nonetheless, I’ve been through some situations and I’ve decided it’s time to write them down. This isn’t the story of a famous guy. It’s just the story of a guy (who occasionally finds himself in situations that resemble a famous guy’s life). There’s an inherent ME, I’M SO IMPORTANT thing about doing this that makes me uncomfortable. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it happened to be a peculiar story. I’m not so important.

Thanks to my ridiculous, sometimes tragic, and always unsteady upbringing, I was given the gift of bone-crushing insecurity. One thing you’ll notice about people with mental problems is the constant self-absorption. I think that’s because it’s such a struggle just to be who they are, so they have a hard time getting past it. I am no exception to this rule. But luckily for me, I found a way to deal with myself and my family by treating it all like a constant and ongoing art project, for you all to enjoy. Enjoy! You’re welcome!

Also, judging by my family history, midlife may have been a long time ago for me. So I do feel like maybe I better write this all down now, just in case I don’t beat the odds. Don’t want to wait too long.

Now, the...

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Everett, Mark Oliver
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