Mark Eitzel
60 Watt Silver Lining
Wea/Warner Brothers
Original Release Date: March 19, 1996
ASIN: B000002N4P

I was vaguely aware of the existence of Mark Eitzel beforehand. I'd heard a song once form his previous band, American Music Club. It was good - kinda sub-REM plinky plonky alt-folk stuff. I'd given his new album a cursory listen as well, it seemed okay: your average singer-songwriter, middle-aged man with an acoustic guitar kind of stuff. I felt I didn't have to research the interview because of that - you can ask all of these people the same questions. Where do you get your ideas from, who inspires you, blah blah blah. Get them to throw in one hilarious anecdote about life on the road (preferably involving a better-known celebrity) and the article pretty much writes itself.

I'm glad we scheduled the interview for after the gig. My then-girlfriend and I had sat down in the back, expecting a quiet night of folk songs. He walked out onto the empty stage, eyed up the crowd with his tired, sad eyes, paused for a moment, then hurtled into his first song. His hands blurred over the strings, his eyes screwed up tight, and the words came out in a desperate, feral howl. The audience surged forward, hands trying desperately touching him. They mouthed every word and had tears in their eyes. They loved him. I suddenly realised that this wasn't a David Grey concert. This was more like watching an old-style southern Baptist preacher given a blood and thunder sermon.

This animal passion kept up throughout the entire gig. Every lyric, every chord was delivered with the urgency of a biblical prophecy. The crowd relished, absorbed it, listen to every second as if it were the last sound they'd hear on this earth. We were in rapture. But it seemed not to be enough for Mark. He seemed frustrated, as if he still wasn't communicating properly to us. Then he did something truly amazing.

During one song, he stopped dead completely. We all stared at him. He screwed his eyes up in pain, then ripped the jack out of his acoustic. For a horrible moment we thought he was going to walk off. But he didn't. Instead he walked around the mike, climbed onto the crash barrier and balanced himself against the rafters, so he was leaning over the crowd. Then he started singing.

A few people at the back cheered and clapped. We all turned at with one voice screamed, "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WILL YOU LET THE MAN SING!!!". In a deathly silence, Mark bellowed out a beautiful song, about how he'd love to take us home, but he could see we weren't a drinking crowd. People cried.

Afterwards I staggered over to Philip, the tour manager. "Woah, that was amazing."

Philip shook his head. "He does this every fucking night."

Bruce Kaphan : piano, pedal steel, bass, organ
Daniel Pearson : stand-up bass, mandolin, drum
Simone White : drums
Mark Isham : trumpet
Mark Eitzel : vocals, arrangements, production
Mark Needham : recording, engineering, mixing

A few months later, I found myself living with a guy who had a lot of alternative American stuff. I asked if he'd ever heard of Mark Eitzel. He smiled and produced about 15 tapes and CDs. I asked what was good.

"They're all pretty much great. This is probably my favourite though."

He produced a CD with a sepia-tinted picture of a small boat lost in a huge ocean on the cover. "This is probably his most popular album. Oh, listen to this song." He put on Wild Sea.

I don't know whether I'd heard it at the gig and remembered it, or if it had been on rotation on the radio and I forgot, or if it's just one of those songs that you feel you've always known. Whatever, I was singing along after thirty seconds, even though it doesn't have a recognisable chorus. Just a dreamy tumbling of words over a simple gently played guitar. The lyrics seemed to be written as a single sentence. I caught a couple of the images as they drifted past: "Inside, he's empty / a head filled with shopping lists and politics / and a hollow eggshell kind of frailty / filled with old ghosts and a whole other language / welcome to the laws of decay". There was something about life as "a gesture, a check paid in dirty dishes". It rhymed "sweet, passionate kisses" with "vain, petty wishes". I felt like I was in love.

I bought the album, but never really got around to listening to it. Except for occasionally listening to that song, it sat gathering dust.

Synopsis : Mark Eitzel's solo studio debut after parting from American Music Club. It's a lot more commerical than anything else he's recorded (The sleeve notes for Saved say "I want Barbara Streisand to cover this. Really!"). It still maintains Eitzel's trademark melancholy. It opens with a cover version (Carol King's No Easy Way Down) and continues on to 10 original compositions, with the lyrics, music, arrangements and production pretty much entirely Eitzel's own work. It didn't quite succeed commercially (although it is rated as Amazon's 67,367th best selling album!) which may have encouraged his embracing of lo-fi Americana on his later albums.

It was last summer, after life had thrown another sucker punch and left me dazed and winded. I decided to spend an evening feeling properly miserable. I set about it like I was planning a dinner party. I picked the wine very carefully (the most bitter, gutrotting red I could find), lined up a couple of pre-rolled joints, marked a few Sylvia Plath poems I wanted to ruminate on. The only thing missing was music. The Holy Bible was too angry. Grace was too romantic. Let Love In was too likely to drive me to homicide. Then I spotted 60 Watt Silver Lining. What the hell, I thought. It's got a miserable title anyway.

I have one of those retracting CD drawer things. I put the disc on the tray, hit play, and sparked up the first J. By the time I had exhaled, the first chords of "No Easy Way Down" were playing, a song with the rhythm of a heart just about to stop beating. I was surprised how perfectly it suited my mood. The lazy drawl of the music, the hoarse passion of the voice as it sang., "When your sad eyes reveal / Just how badly you feel / There. Is. No. Easy way down". I do feel bad Mark. Thanks for noticing.

The second song was a lot perkier, but still contained enough forlorn lyricism to match my mood. "I'm...a worthless tourist / with his eyes stuck on / Glue and paper / No roof to crawl under / And a heart full of rain". I was felling a bit papier mache myself, actually. And, "track me down and I'll give you / my pomegranate heart, my throwaway heart". Sigh. The worst thing was I wasn't feeling miserable because I'd done anything wrong. I'd tried to be happy and make other people happy, but they'd fucked me, taken all the happiness for themselves. And the worst part was the huge, looming future; knowing that the only way I'd ever be happy again wold be to pick myself up, dust myself off, try again, trust someone again and possibly end up in this same position. "Relax my love / it's just the gates of hell swinging open / I hope your heart won't always be broken"

Sigh. "Everything is beautiful," he sang, "but babe, not you or me". I dunno Mark. In our own weird fucked, beaten, drunken, lost, wretched way, maybe we are. Just a little.

Now it's like an old friend. I've probably listened to it every day since then. I threw a major fit recently when I thought I'd lost it. It's not the best album ever recorded. Whatever straggly-haired, heroin chic messiah is accepted as the new God Of Rock next week won't hold it up and cite it as his biggest influence.

But it's got a shabby beauty, and a desperate desire to be loved, and its arms are flung open to accept any and all lovers. Kinda like the people who listen to it.

Track list:
  1. No Easy Way Down
  2. Sacred Heart
  3. Always Turn Away
  4. Saved
  5. Cleopatra Jones
  6. When My Plane Finally Goes Down
  7. Mission Rock Resort
  8. Wild Sea
  9. Aspirin
  10. Some Bartenders Have The Gift Of Pardon
  11. Southend On Sea
  12. Everything Is Beautiful