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Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

The new eels album, BLINKING LIGHTS AND OTHER REVELATIONS, is a two disc album about "God and all the questions related to the subject of God," says it's creator, Mark Oliver Everett, also known as eels leader E. "It's also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm," he adds, "and it's a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory."

A homemade epic, BLINKING LIGHTS is an imaginative, emotional reflection on the condition of living, recorded mostly in Everett's Los Angeles basement over a period of several years. Sprawling over it's two discs are songs about faith, responsibility, growing up, dignity, disappointment, comfort, hope and renewal. It's the most personal eels album since 1998's ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES. That album dealt with the nearly simultaneous suicide of Everett's sister and terminal illness of his mother, from the subjects' points of view. This album finds him a few years down the line, now battling some of the family demons himself, with the after effects of past tragedies becoming more of a personal issue in his adult life, sometimes fearlessly autobiographical, and other times built around the related stories of others.

Echoes of Everett's Virginia youth are heard during a fever-dreamed summer night's picnic inside the Civil War-era graveyard near his family's house ("In The Yard, Behind The Church), while the engineer of a dying travel industry laments the long gone Washington & Old Dominion Railroad that once ran nearby ("Railroad Man"). "I recently took a train trip across America," Everett says, "and it was clear that these are the dying days of rail travel. I got friendly with some of the old men who still work on the trains and I noticed that I had a similar sense of displacement in today's music industry."

The last eels album, 2003's SHOOTENANNY!, nominated by judges Tom Waits and Cameron Crowe for the 2003 Short List Music Prize, was essentially the document of a live four piece rock band in the studio, recorded in ten days, as a kind of working vacation from the long and arduous process of making BLINKING LIGHTS.

Finally completed in 2004, BLINKING LIGHTS rides a wide aural spectrum of sometimes disparate, ghostly sounds -- from the saxophone sextet gospel of "Son Of A Bitch," to the surf-rock operatic wail of "Old Shit/New Shit." There's the apocalyptic fire and brimstone of "The Other Shoe," and then there's the Jackie Wilson-in-cyberspace existential celebration of "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)."

The album is full of unusual instrumentation and some notable guest stars. One song ("Last Time We Spoke") features Everett's hound dog, Bobby, Jr., howling a lonesome solo. A few songs later, eels-fan-turned-collaborator Tom Waits cries a solo -- literally -- ("Going Fetal"). Later on, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck (making his second appearance on an eels album) plays dobro, guitar and bass (the Buck co-written "To Lick Your Boots"), and on an album that prominently features the autoharp on several songs, it's exciting to know that the king of rock & roll autoharp, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, makes a rare appearance, playing autoharp on one track ("Dusk: A Peach In The Orchard," co-written by Sebastian).

Sometimes eels music is simple and pretty (DAISIES OF THE GALAXY), other times grating and loud, even scary (SOULJACKER) -- according to Everett, that depends on how he feels the story is best served. If it sometimes resembles catchy, popular music on the surface, that's Everett's chosen mode of celebration. There's always something heavy lurking just beneath. Everett is an artist who steadfastly refuses to play by the rules of today's entertainment machine, and is willing to pay the price:

"After the commercial success of the BEAUTIFUL FREAK album (1996), I made a decision. It all seemed like such an empty experience, being in that world of what's cool and popular at the moment. It represented everything I hated and now I was becoming part of it. It was making me hate myself more than I already did from my upbringing! And I was learning some great lessons about what matters from the tragedies that were occurring. I needed to go somewhere deeper. If any of the records sold less didn't matter to me."

"As a result I was labeled a troublemaker and difficult and all those things anyone worth their salt should be called. The music business no longer values artistic vision of any kind. They want cooperation. But you have to protect your work, or they'll water it down until whatever was once good about it is unrecognizable. It's a never-ending source of exhaustion trying to keep your artistic ship on course these days. God be with you."

Of course, we're talking about an artist who, when asked to give a quote for the dust jacket to Kurt Cobain's posthumously published diaries submitted this quote: "Please don't do this to me after I kill myself." (The publishers opted not to use the quote.)

And an artist who was singled out by George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign for the U.S. presidency for writing "obscene" songs (the lovely "It's A Motherfucker" from DAISIES OF THE GALAXY, among them) and who, after being told by the Late Night With David Letterman producers that he could not use the term "goddamn" on network television, sang a medley of censored rock's greatest hits during his first appearance on the show -- all while standing on the very stage where The Ed Sullivan Show originally censored, or tried to censor them ("Let's spend some time together/Girl we couldn't get much higher...").

Everett's colleagues describe him as a troubled and complicated individual, angered by a "mixed-up, backwards world," as he sees it. What sets him apart from the garden variety misanthrope is that, somehow, he keeps a little twinkle in his eye. "If you're disappointed in the state of things, then you have some idea of what things could be, and I do recognize the good things in people and the world we live in. It's my job to celebrate those things as well," he says. This may help explain why eels' music is often described as sounding simultaneously sad, yet somehow life-affirming. It's hard not to feel lighter when the people-hating recluse of "I Like Birds" (DAISIES OF THE GALAXY) confesses his fondness, and offers shelter, for all things feathered.

Often misdiagnosed as being ironic in instances that are anything but, Everett says it's a sign of the times that he could be so misunderstood. "I do have a sense of humor, and I can't help but laugh at how silly all the machinations of the pop star life are, but when we play 'Get Ur Freak On' (eels' 2001 SOULJACKER tour) it's not about being 'kitschy.' I love that song and was excited to hear something new on the radio that I loved and so I wanted to celebrate. Just because it's a hit doesn't have to mean it's not a great song -- it's so spooky and exciting. We did our best to rock it and make it our own. It was my favorite song to play that year." He adds, "I make fun of the roll of the pop star, the media, and of myself, but I would never make fun of the music. Music saved my life."

Everett's father, famed quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, author of the Many Worlds Theory, died in 1982. His sister, Elizabeth committed suicide in 1996 and his mother, Nancy, who appears in a childhood photo on the cover of BLINKING LIGHTS, succumbed to cancer in 1998. "I would have ended up like my sister a long time ago except for one thing -- music," says Everett, "I've been very lucky to have that to hold onto. I take it very seriously. Maybe too seriously. It's everything to me."

"The family I grew up with was completely gone by 1998. I dealt with it at the time by making ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES. But it's something that is never going to change for me and its implications are far-reaching in my life," he says. And the "curse" didn't let up after 1998, either: Everett's cousin Jennifer was a flight attendant on the plane that hit the Pentagon September 11, 2001. "There's kind of a ghostly sound to a lot of BLINKING LIGHTS," says Everett, "maybe because I'm living with a bunch of ghosts."

The son of the man who invented the concept of parallel universes is an artist who works on more than one level at a time, whose last world tour (2003) often opened with back to back covers of "Tiger Man" ("I'm the king of the jungle!") and "I'm A Loser." While this made for an exciting and unexpected opening to an eels rock show, the singer had a deeper intent: "I wanted to make a big entrance and come out thumpin' my chest, figuratively, but then show what's inside that chest -- an insecure heart. That's why someone beats on their chest."

When asked about the inspiration for disc two's "Whatever Happened To Soy Bomb," Everett says, "The only reasonable answer to the title's question is 'who cares?' This was the 'performance artist' that invited himself onstage during Bob Dylan's performance on an awards show, gyrating with the meaningless words SOY BOMB written on his chest. There was no point. It wasn't punk. It wasn't Andy Kaufman. It wasn't even Jarvis Cocker storming Michael Jackson's performance, which at least had some point to it. Maybe I'm just an old railroad man, but it seemed like a sign of the stupid times we live in and it makes me long for a more dignified time."

After a life full of some intense and horrific episodes, while looking back and taking stock in disc two's closing "Things The Grandchildren Should Know," there's an extraordinary moment when the bloodshot and world-weary Everett clears his eyes and finds that life is still sweet enough to live all over again.

"There are two kinds of Christmas people," Everett says, "those who like their Christmas lights to stay on solid and those who like them to blink. As a kid, I always had a thing for sitting in the dark and watching the lights blink on and off at random." Now he says this fascination goes much further. "In the end, what we have are these little, great moments. They come and they go. That's as good as it gets. But, still, isn't that great?"

Release date: April 26, 2005

world reaction to blinking lights and other revelations

a selection of feature stories

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations Box Set

as performed by
Mark Oliver Everett,
a man often called E

Koool G Murder, Chet,
Puddin', Butch,
and a cast of thousands

Bobby, Jr., Tom Waits,
John Sebastian, Peter Buck

Release Date: April 26, 2005

Disc 1:
theme from blinking lights
from which i came/a magic world
son of a bitch
blinking lights (for me)
trouble with dreams
marie floating over the backyard
suicide life
in the yard, behind the church
railroad man
the other shoe
last time we spoke
mother mary
going fetal
understanding salesmen
theme for a pretty girl that
makes you believe god exists
checkout blues
blinking lights (for you)

Disc 2:
dust of ages
old shit/new shit
bride of theme from blinking lights
hey man (now you're really living)
i'm going to stop pretending
that i didn't break your heart
to lick your boots
if you see natalie
sweet li'l thing
dusk: a peach in the orchard
whatever happened to soy bomb
ugly love
god's silence
losing streak
last days of my bitter heart
the stars shine in the sky tonight
things the grandchildren should know

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