by Michael Goldberg
Monday June 4, 2001
The Yearning Of Mark Eitzel
The Invisible Man sees the darkness and, maybe, a little light too
Mark Eitzel has a yearning he can't seem to satiate. He writes/sings of a "hunger for a pain that's endless" in "The Boy With the Hammer," but hunger for pain isn't what I get from Eitzel's music. Instead, I feel a hole, an emptiness that yearning.
The new Mark Eitzel album is titled The Invisible Man, which says a lot about Eitzel, at least the Eitzel I've crossed paths with since the beginning of the '90s.
He's a man of contradictions, which is to say, he's like many of us. It's been some years since I spoke with him, but it's my impression that he veers from insecurity to a kind of grandiose view of himself (and I don't mean that as a dis). Again, I think we all know times when we have grave doubts about ourselves, and other moments when we are "sitting on top of the world."
Destroy This World
Mark Eitzel is not happy with the world, nor with the humans who inhabit it. One of my favorite Mark Eitzel songs, which he recorded in 1987 when he led the American Music Club, is a rock song called "Outside This Bar." That song is about wishing the world away: "Outside this bar there's no one alive/ Outside this bar how does anyone survive/ Together you and me, you know we've got to destroy this world/ Come on baby, I wish we could destroy this world."
I don't get the sense that Eitzel has made peace with the world in the intervening years. "The Boy With the Hammer" also takes place in a bar (well, "an illegal underground club," is the way Eitzel describes it in his current bio), a club full of losers, where the "magic act" gripes that "I should be in Vegas." Suddenly, from the outside comes the sound of sirens. "But it's only someone's family home burning down next door," Eitzel sings. "Don't worry people/ No need to hide and then the Colonel starts playing tambourine/ It was so funny we were rolling/ We were laughing in the face of the pain of the family next door too fucked up to feel anything."
That's us sometimes. Too fucked up to feel, or just not in the mood to feel, or maybe it hurts too much to feel. I know I shut down. I don't want to feel the pain of the world, of that homeless man standing on the divider asking for a nickel, a quarter, a dollar whatever you'll give him. You read the newspaper and, well, how could you even move if you really let in what happens day in and day out? You'd just be frozen. So much pain.
For the chorus of the haunting "Sleep," Eitzel sings, "If I had a song that could dissolve you in sleep/ Because sleep is the only thing you look forward to." As if sleep is time when we finally get a break from the pain. But he also sings in that song, "Goodness is not some pretty picture you paint/ It's shaking your fist into the face of danger."
It's like sometimes you wish you could forget about everything, that you could hole up in that bar and "destroy this world" so you wouldn't have to feel anything. And other times you want to just shake your fist into the face of danger. You don't just want to tell off the motherfuckers, you want to either transform or destroy them. You want this world to be different than it is. Or not exist at all.
A New Merit Badge
We live in a world where, so often, layers of cynicism are the only way to deal. Don't believe a word he says. Or she says. They're just trying to put one over on you. Cynicism is a dead end, and it's no way to live, yet if you're open and trusting, you risk being the sap. "With your hand over your heart and your boy scout face you win a new merit badge for a weakness for faith for a love of strangers for a love of dangers that most people don't feel," Eitzel sings in "To the Sea," a song he says is about a singer/songwriter who died. "Because they don't really feel..." And in "Steve I Always Knew," a song to a friend who died, he sings, "...far too early you saw that life had no meaning."
Yeah, this is a really heavy album, and there's a whole lot more that I haven't even touched on. Is there any hope? Does he see a way out? Yeah, there is, and I think he does. The final song is the Dylanesque "Proclaim Your Joy," which, whatever Eitzel's intention, comes across as a glorious, defiant "Yes!" And way earlier in the album, at the end of "Shine," he sings, "I wanna shine a light in your eyes," and, even, in "Can You See?" he sings, "...because the truth is that I'm happy when I'm with you."
So I think that Eitzel holds out some hope, at least once in a while. No matter how much pain and yearning, sometimes there is happiness, light and joy.