Plane Truth - April 1993

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American Music Club
Publication: Plane Truth (#11)
Author: Andrew Truth, Tracey Bowen
Date: April 1993

It’s a rather incongruous pairing: reverence and the bearded, balding figure wearing a suit and a dead-ringer for my old school tie on stage. But Mark Eitzel can simultaneously induce tears of sorrow and laughter. Even when slipping from his usual lyrical standards, he can still imbue ‘you’re so pretty, baby/you’re the prettiest thing I know/you’re so pretty, baby/where did you go’ ("Firefly") with the feeling of the most moving, poetic sentiment ever! Gigs can be more ramshackle, as exemplified in Manchester with between song banter of utter hilarity as Mark swayed around stage, swigging from a wine bottle, poured some of the contents over himself, and joked about the hordes of orgasmic teenage girls stood outside a neighbouring venue waiting for a glimpse of East 17. Through a snigger, he solemnly announced, “this is an important show for us!"

Earlier, AMC has made a surreal but unsettling appearance at the HMV shop. From the opening line of "I've Been A Mess", I thought that I’d burst into tears in broad daylight. Hearing a baby crying in the store seemed appropriate.

Attempts to organise an interview through the record company, Virgin, bore no success so Tracey took a more direct approach, tackling the band in Birmingham with the following results:

The band, Mark Eitzel at least, aren’t in the best of moods and they have a way of making me feel uneasy with every (admittedly poor) question I ask. As if I wasn’t nervous enough. I only did this interview as a favour – they scare me to death. But don’t get me wrong – it was worth it.

How do you find touring Britain as opposed to America?
Danny: They like us here a lot better.
Mark: I think the distances here are a lot less far.
Tim: It’s easier to deal with.
Mark: Only having to travel two hours to get somewhere. And the people here, just the level of violence. I mean, if I take a walk around the club like I just did, I’m probably not going to get beat up. In America, you always have to watch out. I like it. There’s innocence here.

Are you surprised by the reactions of crowds?
Mark: I’m surprised they know the songs but it’s great.
Vudi: We’ve been here enough but yeah, I’m still surprised.
Mark: But I don’t trust people. You’ll always have to try to move them somehow if you can. So it doesn’t really matter if they really like the show, you still have to try to push it, that’s the whole thing.

It must make it easier if you’re appreciated.
Mark: No, it’s never easier. You still have to make every show distinct and every moment important.

Whose idea was the HMV show?
Mark: It was our manager’s idea, actually. He’s trying to get as much promotion as he can and that’s good.

Did you enjoy it?
Mark: Well, do I enjoy it? Do I enjoy much of anything I do? Yes, I do. Everything is a shining moment.
Vudi: You play acoustic music and broad daylight is just fine ‘cause when you’re strumming your acoustic guitar it’s a sunshiny sort of thing to do.

I found it different standing so close in daylight.
Danny: We’re in your face kind of people.
Vudi: Yeah, we’re in your face back porch musicians!
Mark: Our first tour was record stores in America.

Plans for another British tour this year?
Mark: They seem to be talking about it but I don’t know – we’ll see. I hope so.

What happened to your Glastonbury appearance last year?
Danny: They didn’t want us to. We tried and tried.
Mark: Virgin wouldn’t put up the money for it.

(Fumble around with my sheet of questions. Mark comments-)

Mark: You have beautiful handwriting.
Vudi: I like her wristwatch, myself. (A flip top Mr Happy watch)
Mark: It’s Satan.

Would you tour with the Red House Painters?
Mark: No, it’d be bullshit. We did play with them once and by the time I’d done, the audience was exhausted.
Vudi: Hypnotised.
Mark: They’re pretty good but, you know what, I’m not their biggest fan anymore. I was a fan for a long time. They’re okay, though. The guy writes really great songs. By the time he’s my age, he’s going to be a great songwriter. It’s like teen angst at its best.

Your gigs are more of a cabaret.
Mark: Tonight was. Sometimes to get through these songs I don’t know what to do because I’ve got these songs to play and if I do them cold, which is the way I felt before the show, then I don’t know what to do. I had a big glass of wine, just a big gulp right before I went on stage and it was really stupid because I wasn’t going to drink at all tonight. I mean sometimes to get through these songs is really hard and you try to make it personal for the audience, even if that means it’s less of a show.

Surely that makes it more of a show.
Mark: Well, it’s more of a freak show, but it’s much less of a show, which is crap.

Mark: Because it’s a lie. The lies that alcoholics tell reflect the world, I think more accurately than the lies that sober people tell, but the lies that an alcoholic tells, if they reflect the world, means the world is a lie.

Just the alcohol talking?
Mark: No, it’s trying to connect with the audience.
Vudi: It’s the alcohol playing the guitar!
Mark: Yeah, badly. But I really wasn’t that drunk at all.

You were at Manchester.
Mark: Yeah, that was bad but at least I was playing in time.

Don’t you enjoy talking to the audience as much as singing?
Mark: I love talking to the audience, almost more than singing the songs.

Then why is it a lie?
Mark: What, enjoyment equals truth?

I don’t know. Does it?
Mark: Well, that’s our question.

I’m doing the questioning.
Mark: Well, I’m asking you because you’re asking me the wrong questions.

I’m suitably put in my place again.
Mark: Enjoyment doesn’t always equal truth.

But isn’t enjoyment more important?
Mark: That’s the lie. Enjoyment is of the moment and moments pass really quickly. The truth is horrid and lasts a lot longer. As soon as I got on stage, I kept thinking I had these incredible thoughts. I kept feeling exactly what people were thinking when they were listening to us, at least I thought I was. But then I thought, Mark, you’re just like Arnold Palmer – you’re a really dumb golfer and all you really know how to do is play golf and it’s a really pitiful thing. It’s not like an important thing. Pop music is not an important thing. Enjoyment is not an important thing.

It is for the people who come to see you.
Mark: For the moment, yeah. That’s my job. It’s to make them happy for the moment.

That’s good enough, isn’t it?
Mark: It’s more than good enough.
Vudi: Arnold Palmer enjoyed golf for metaphysical reasons.
Mark: But he didn’t sit there and talk to the crowd.
Vudi: No, but he talks to his people.
Mark: That’s true.
Vudi: He does talk to his people. He talks about man and human kind, talks about nature, he talks about physics and trajectory and he talks about the intensity of trying to do what you do as intensely as you possibly can.
Mark: I was wondering about people’s histories and what they really mean. Like what do you remember about so and so’s life? That’s usually a big mistake that people blow up into the meaning of your life. That's a strange thing.
Vudi: And Arnold Palmer, you know…
Mark: Arnold Palmer – he’s so talented, not like myself.

Why do you always stress your weaknesses?
Mark: Because that’s the only way to be.

Do you feel you have any strengths?
Mark: I’m a good kisser. That’s my only strength.

(I go completely to pieces for a while. I’m still kicking myself for not making him prove that statement but, despite myself, I ask another question)

When you’re on stage singing the songs, does it sometimes feel like you’re just going through the motions?
Mark: Yeah. When you sing ‘Firefly’ for the billionth time, you know what you’re doing. But you’re only initially from what the audience is feeling, so you have to give a lot to the audience to understand it.

Is that why you tire of playing the old songs?
Mark: That’s why I tire….yeah. But I love them all. I’m a ham!
Vudi: It’s not tiring – it’s like you’re a lot older now, aren’t you?
Mark: That’s right.
Vudi: People really adhere meaning to what you do. Your actions give meaning to the person in the eyes of the rabble.
Mark: Even though your actions are meaningless.
Tim: It confused me because I had a really bad night but I think people like it.
Mark: I had an incredibly bad night but I knew I was really connecting with some people. But I really hated it. I hated everything I was doing.
Dan: I had the best night I’ve had all week. Last night I thought I had a heart attack. I was dizzy, my chest was hurting.
Mark: You have to do something to make it work; so tonight I did something to make it work and did it in a really weird way, almost like it was the most personal show we’ve played.
Dan: It was.
Mark: But on the other hand, it doesn’t leave me with very much. You know, if you really get into the songs, you’re left with nothing. It’s what I always used to do in AMC and then I got some intelligence.
Dan: That’s why it felt like the old times.
Mark: But it’s not good, it’s not sustainable and it’s a lie. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it again, I probably will tomorrow night but it’s not something I want to.

The publishing company is called ‘I Failed in Life’ Music. Why?
Mark: That’s a dedication to my parents.

If not this, what do you define as success?
Mark: This sounds really pretentious but I’m a witness to people’s lives. That’s what I do and sometimes when I witness people’s lives, it’s a success.

Do you manage to get that over in your songs?
Mark: No.

(He becomes painfully silent for a while so I try, in vain, to turn the conversation to something less personal, but Mark’s on a roll with the personal thing. I ask what he thinks of Americans as a race (inspired by the line ‘another great American zombie’ plus Sebadoh saying ‘all Americans are wankers’)

Mark: At the core, probably the best nation on earth but individually and traditionally too, they’re messed up by television and laissez-faire capitalism. In SF there’s a lot of cool people. In every city on earth, there’s about 15 really cool people. The cool and beautiful people, you love them, they’re great and that’s enough. That’s where it’s at, it’s not ‘I hate this race, I hate that race.' I grew up in Britain as the only American in my school and they all hated me. Then I went to America and was the only Briton and I hated America…I don’t know, I like every race and hate everybody.

(At this point, the interview totally falls apart and I feel guilty that I probably made a bad night even worse. With a final apology, I leave them to carry their equipment out to the van…if only I’d asked Mark to prove his strength!)