As many of my readers know, I recently became a fan of “The Eels.” And, as most of my regular readers know, I am an existential therapist and someone who tries to promote understanding of how the idea of death can make life more vital. Imagine my happiness when a cd I ordered combined the two.
When introduced to The Eels I pointed out some of their existential themes, and discussed their song “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” on my blog. I looked into buying some of their older cds, as my girlfriend had bought “Meet the Eels” for me, which is a compilation of some of their bigger hits. Following my birthday (I often get in trouble for buying myself stuff the weeks before it) I decided to order used copies from “Alibris” (an Amazon like site I stumbled upon). I ordered their first cd, “Beautiful Freak”(96) and their second cd “Electro-Shock Blues”(98) based on reviews I had read. It is, as you have ascertained from the title, the second cd I am so impressed by.
It is important to understand the context this cd was written in. At the time of the writing and recording, E (the real genius and as best I can tell the only steady member of the band) had experienced the loss of his sister to suicide, and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He was faced with being the only remaining member of his family. Additionally, it seems some friends had also perished. I highly recommend reading the comic book like account of how the band (and more so) the album Electro-Shock Blues came into being at http://www.eelstheband.com/story/title.html
The cd is haunting in its lyrics and song titles. It begins with “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor.” According to Wikipedia, this song comes from one of his sister’s final diary entries. “Going to Your Funeral, Pt. 1,” then “Cancer for the Cure” follows. Other titles sure to put off casual listeners are “My Descent Into Madness” and “Hospital Food.”
Some of the themes also resonate of grief and loss. The song “3 Speed” is about E wondering what is going on with his sister and her depression when he is a child. Other songs also focus on her depression, like the album title song, which seems to reflect a day of his sister’s life in the mental institution.
I love the quote from E on the webpage above about the album: “if ‘Beautiful Freak’ was our greeting card to the world, then ‘Electro Shock Blues’ is the phone call in the middle of the night that the world doesn’t want to answer.” It seems obvious he is discussing how many want to ignore death, and this album confronts the listener with it, perhaps waking them up to life itself.
I do not want to give the impression the album is morbid (although many think any discussion of death is such). On the site above E proclaims that he faces the demons (death) head on. He calls death “the greatest American taboo since sex.” And in the end he embraces life. This is existential therapy. This is what all the existential writers are saying when they try to get the point across that “Although the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us” (Yalom). The album ends with a message of hope. This album was E’s goodbye to his family. He used poetry from his grandmother, drawings by his father (who died when E was 19), and writings by his sister. It is an excellent album and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to grapple with these existential issues.