Monday, June 23, 2008

Songwriting: Dead Of Winter

Eels: Dead Of Winter


Various sources of inspiration for song writing: Volume II

Personal Tragedy: I hope I don’t offend any hard-core Eels fans, but in my opinion they really only have one great record: 1998’s critically acclaimed Electro-Shock Blues. I have tried a couple of other albums of theirs, and the magic just isn’t there.

So, how is it that front man and sole song writer “E”, who by my estimation is ultimately a second-tier composer, was able to produce such an incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking set of tunes for Electro-Shock Blues?

I think the answer is that sometimes personal tragedy brings out the best in artists. Sometimes it even makes artists out of non-artists.

Electro-Shock Blues was written following the suicide death of E’s sister, and his mother’s death that followed a battle with lung cancer. These two deaths, which occurred in close temporal proximity to one another, left E as the only living member of his immediate family. The songs on the album feature entries from his sister’s diary, comments about chemotherapy, hospital food, two songs about funerals, a beautiful tune about memories of simpler times with his sister, and others about E’s struggle to keep his sanity in the midst of this onslaught of personal crisis. The entire album is poignant, painful, and real.

What is it about personal tragedy that makes for great art? In my opinion the answer is that you can’t fake this stuff. I could probably write a verse or two right this minute about the war, about cars, a walk on a beach, or whatever, but the result would be pedestrian and mediocre. Genuine psychic trauma, on the other hand, can’t be conjured. As a result of this, the listener is drawn into a bond of sympathy with the artist, and because we have experienced pain of various kinds ourselves we are able to understand from what well of sorrow the words come.

The featured track is Dead Of Winter. E is standing outside his mother’s house on a winter night thinking about her struggle with cancer and knowing that she will die soon.

so I know you're going pretty soon
radiation sore throat got your tongue

magic markers tattoo you
and show it where to aim

and strangers break their promises:
"… you won't feel any … you won't feel any pain"


Uncle E said...

I can understand how you feel, and ESB is by far my favorite Eels album, but each album has it's share of tracks right up there with the best from ESB. You just need to hunt for them a little harder, and none of his albums before or after that one were as singularly great as that one was.
Very nice post.

Matt said...

Nicely done. A great song from a great (heartbreaking) album.

I'm one of those die-hard fans, but don't get us die-hard fans wrong... we know Eels are a tough slog. ESB was the first one that got me strong, and I resisted others, expecting the same level of grittiness in emotion.

I, for one, am glad that Mr. E got it out and moved on (occasionally too far on!) to greener pastures. There's a lot of hay getting baled in them thar outer fields!