Boston Rock - October 1991
Running From The Cult Of Personality
Publication: Boston Rock
Author: Bob Gulla
Date: October 1991
In a perfect world, there exists a crystal clear lake, sapphire blue surrounded by rolling fur-covered hills, populated by softly chirping vireos, cardinals and starlings, and teaming with schools of rainbow trout. And there's no noise. Every Winnebago Warrior invading the lake's placid waters with a jet ski spontaneously combusts. Every motor-powered boat, any vessel leaving an iridescent gas puddle capsizes instantly and bursts into flames .Only rowboats, with their oars gently pushing waters aside to form tiny whirlpools, are allowed on the lake. After all, it's a perfect world.
In Mark Eitzel's world, singer/songwriter for American Music Club, the sapphire blue water belies its acid rain saturation. The fish and birds, all of them hunted to extinction, have left gaping, tragic holes in the ecosystem's food chain and Satan's Army has filled the water's surface with turbo-powered jet skis. Just below the surface, a 1954 Cadillac Eldorado rests in the soft mud of the lake's bottom. The four people trapped inside die from suffocation. They were stupid drunk when they crashed.
Eitzel's world, the world of American Music Club, is trapped by hyper-realism, a fool's paradise, a place where disillusionment and failure are as regular as trips through the Drive-Thru. "It's just what I see," Eitzel said from his home in San Francisco. "I can't help it. Sad things happen, man. That's just the way I see it."
At least superficially, Eitzel seems the prototypical tortured artiste. His stark vision and bleeding soul have been hallmarks of the American Music Club voice since their formation in 1985. In reality, though, Eitzel is running swiftly from the image of being too sensitive, too vulnerable.
"Look, I don't want everybody to think that I'm this real precious guy. I'm not into the whole cult of personality thing. That's not me. What it comes down to is that I'm a performer no different to Skid Row," he laughs quietly. "I'm a poseur just like they are. We're just more genuine. But that's a pose, too!"
He continues, as if he's chewed on this issue before.
"All I'm trying to do when I write a song is to give a guy or girl who's havin' a really bad time someone to relate to." Eitzel's writing is the centerpiece and raison d'etre of American Music Club. From 1987's Engine to the brilliant California in 1988 and the haunting import-only United Kingdom in 1989, Eitzel's songwriting has given the cold sweats to legions of listeners.
Now in 1991, with the brand new Everclear (Alias), AMC has made a record as thrilling and soothing, as ambient and poignant as any release this year.
"We wanted Everclear to sound big and strong, as opposed to weak and small. We intended to make it as upbeat as we could and I think it came out that way."
"Upbeat" must be taken relatively in this case. Eitzel may be feeling more optimistic, but his bleakness is crisper, more intelligent and more evident than ever. "The Dead Part Of You" is a beautifully articulate vignette about a guy whose old girlfriend gas gotten involved in a dangerous consuming relationship. "The price of your soul is worth less than the cab fare/It takes to bring you to the living end." Then, "He has taken everything/there's so little of you left." An uncharacteristically slicing guitar riff underscores the disappointment.
Everclear is a startling documentation of a life trapped on the wrong side of the tracks, someone whose only excitement comes from the rush of adrenaline before a bar brawl, someone whose only passion comes from making love to a woman who doesn't love him anymore.
On "What The Pillar Of Salt Held Up", Eitzel sings of a disconsolate person who can't rise above melancholia. "You can't overcome your bitterness and pain/You don't remember how/To start your life again..."
The plain truth is, and this will surprise no true fan of the band, that American Music Club makes music that pierces the heart - with anger, with despondence, with cynicism - and leaves no room for escape.
"We try to make music that changes people and ourselves," Eitzel said. "I just can't get up on stage and write about stuff that doesn't mean anything to me. I can't lie about my songs. I have to present them as honestly as I can. Beyond that, there's nothing more I can do."
The music on Everclear is lusher and fuller this time around, partly because, for the first time, the band decided to DIY. Bruce Kaphan, pedal steel guitarist, etc, gets much of the credit. The eerie sparseness on "Why Won't You Stay", the full on comic rock of "Crabwalk", the cathartic "Rise" about a friend dying of AIDS, pull all the right studio punches.
The band itself, a fine supporting cast, sports two longstanding members, Vudi on guitar and Dan Pearson on bass, and drummer Tim Mooney, on loan from the Toiling Midgets. The playing is top notch, both on record and live, with the band able to swing adeptly from hard blues to country to eggshell folk.
If there's a downside to American Music Club and the songs of Mark Eitzel, it may be that the vision of the band is too unrelenting, too stark. Most of his work is vein-opening, blood-gushing honesty. Perhaps, like other bands with sincerely concerned artistic perspectives, Thin White Rope comes to mind, this is why they aren't recording for a major label.
But who cares. I got my bottle. Eitzel has (had, he quit drinking six months ago) his.You got yours. Desperados all. Let's straggle down to a corner bar, bust through the saloon-style doors and sing a few loud, sad love songs. Screw the perfect world. I think I'll get myself a jet ski.