MARK EITZEL, founding member of the American Music Club, stands before us accused of being “a melancholy angel of doom”, a manic depressive with a Grand Canyon streak of neuroses and tortured artistic depravity.
The kind of fellow who might do unspeakable things to his parents for bringing him into this world in Walnut Creek, California, and then turning him into a footloose army brat who spent his childhood in Okinawa, his teenage years in Southampton and his twenties in the university small-town of Columbus, Ohio.
The fact that he works in the San Francisco Public Library two days a week “filing and putting books back on shelves” gives him the air of ordinary madness — all librarians are several vouchers short of a pop-up toaster.
“I’m a mass of contradictions,” admits Eitzel, striking a pained lights-on, occupant-out expression. “True, I love depressing songs but they’re, er, kinda uplifting. I don’t smile before four in the afternoon and I can’t write about dancing or having fun.”
It’s also true that fun isn’t a word you’d use to describe either AMC’s four albums to date — Restless Stranger, Engine, California and United Kingdom — or Eitzel’s new solo album, Songs Of Love, recorded live at London’s Borderline at the start of the year.
At the concert, Eitzel plugged himself directly into the mainline; he cried and became hysterical, he extracted piss, pity and pathos and generally treated himself to a two hour therapy session at the audience’s expense.
“My songs are like lying in a ditch and croaking up at the sky. They are also the product of a middle-class bourgeois upbringing. I like soul music but I can’t do it.
His shock tactics, diary narrative and minor key malice tend to turn to self-loathing (and keep getting him compared to Nick Drake), but it’s a formula like any other. Still, you don’t need to dig far to realise how cross is Eitzel that everyone from the Sonics to the Replacements gets more attention than him, especially when on ‘Western Sky’, ‘Blue And Grey Shirt’ and ‘Last Harbour’ he sounds exactly like Bruce Springsteen’s demonic alter ego. Eitzel could go upstream if he only stopped tapping the veins of his own miserable psychosis — a tortured tale about a girlfriend hooked on PCP isn’t as endearing to your average major label A&R man as ‘Born To Run’.
The forthcoming AMC album Ever Clear is, according to Eitzel, “a compromise. Your basic sell-out. 24-track album which cost a lot of money and isn’t doomy or claustrophobic and doesn’t have any three syllable words. I’m not as high minded as I’m painted. People come along to witness the shocking confessions of Mark Eitzel when I’d rather they just said ‘This is fucking great!’ because that’s more rock’n’roll. Not that I like rock’n’roll shows either. The bands look bored and the crowds are mesmerised by volume. You can’t talk, you can’t afford a drink and unless you’re on drugs there’s no chance of a religious experience. I hate all shows, apart from a San Francisco band called The Grateful Dead Kennedies — total white trash with go-go girls in fur bras and pebbles costumes.”
Eitzel used to work for a company selling car ‘n’ condo packages to Mr and Mrs John Doe — “I was a good salesman too” — but gave that up when the boss made employees look into a mirror on their terminals to ensure they smiled as they pitched at all times. “Very Californian. The profits went up his nose. He’d been experimented on in the army with LSD. Totally frazzled. But I like writing about California now. If you live in a cesspool you have to deal with shit.”
© Max Bell, Vox, June 1991