E in the London Sunday Times

On influences, his sister’s suicide and poetry

The Sunday Times
June 5, 2005

E from Eels:
Katherine Kennedy Everett

Eels’ front man Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E, emerged as one of the great modern songwriters with his band’s 1998 album Electro-shock Blues. As with much of E’s work, the songs are deeply personal and concern his family. The album was written after his mother died of cancer and his sister committed suicide. Similar themes are explored again on his latest album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, which received a five-star review in The Sunday Times when it was released.

E’s family , its dysfunction and tragedies , doesn’t just provide him with subject matter, it also gives him poetic inspiration. “After my mother died and I went to clear out the family house in Virginia, I discovered one of my grandmother’s books of poetry, Music of Morning. I had heard stories about my crazy grandmother who wrote poems. But I didn’t realise until then just how good she was.”

E printed one of his grandmother Katherine Kennedy Everett’s poems, Prelude, on the sleeve of Electro-shock Blues: “Let me lie on your heart like snow/Cool and apart/for a moment, so/Before the flames start/and the snows melt/and the waters flow.”

“I love that, it’s really beautiful,” he says. It was also important for E to find another family member who could express emotions. “Maybe it skips a generation,” he says. “My grandmother’s work is passionate, full of life and longing. That was an influence on me , that vibrancy is something that I strive to achieve.” Indeed, the final line of the album is “Maybe it’s time to live”.

The lyrics of title track of Electro-shock Blues derive from writing that E’s sister Elizabeth did in a psychiatric hospital. “They had given her an exercise,” he explains. “She was told to write out ‘I am okay’ 100 times. She managed it a few times, and then she started writing ‘I am not okay’.

“Elizabeth had the family curse, but she didn’t have the family gifts. Without doubt, the thing that has kept me from the dark end of the family street is that I’ve been able to write these songs. The thing that ultimately killed Elizabeth is that she couldn’t do anything like that. By creating a song from her words, I wanted to give her that , the gift of being a poet.”

Eels perform at Queen Elizabeth Hall, SE1, on June 12

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