While reading No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan several months ago, the fact that Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota struck a nerve with me. Not that I didn’t already know Robert Zimmerman’s hometown; what caught me off guard was the way author Robert Shelton described Dylan’s disdain for small town life. Being a fellow small town Midwest boy who couldn’t wait to escape, I felt a spiritual connection to Bob, like maybe that internal yearning for bigger things is what has always drawn me to his music. On the first page of the biography, Shelton encapsulates the mining town: “Hibbing had dug its own grave with sixty years of mining shovels, now only good for burying miners.” This description reminded me of my hometown that imploded when the Morrell’s meat packing plant left town three decades ago. As the book went on to describe the very familiar scene of empty storefronts and prevalent backwater conservatism, I decided I had to visit Bob Dylan’s hometown, a seven hour drive north from where I grew up.
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I couldn’t watch the Super Bowl tonight. I’d occasionally flip it on to check the score, but I couldn’t keep my attention focused on it for longer than five minutes. Being a life-long Viking fan, I couldn’t bring myself to sitting and watching the Saints win a game they didn’t even deserve to be in (Vikings had double the yards, and don’t tell me there wasn’t VooDoo at play in that game with six fumbles, two interceptions, and possibly the worst overtime officiating in NFL history). After the devastating loss in the 1999 NFC Championship, I never thought I’d be so let down again by a Viking’s loss, but the late game meltdown knocked the optimism out of me once again, witnessing deja vu as another chance to get to the super bowl slipped away.
In the same way, I never thought I’d see the Eel’s Mark Oliver Everett (best known as simply “E”) so depressed again, not after his 1998 album dedicated to the grieving process, “Electro-Shock Blues”. His newest album “End Times” deals with the same feelings of desperation, this time focusing on his recent break-up with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, this album fails in comparison to “Electro-Shock” for several reasons. For one, the music seems bland, lacking the playfulness of E’s work from the late 90s.
Much of the album focuses around E and his acoustic guitar, strumming away, which is fine and dandy, but over the years I’ve come to expect the unexpected from E. Most of the tunes stumble along in milk toast fashion. Yes, a break-up can deflate you, but does it have to deflate your creativity as well? On “Electro-shock Blues”, E approached the concept of death in a way no one had done before. He gave a creepy life to songs about cancer, hospital food, and funerals. You could still sense his misery within the upbeat tempos, making the lyrics even more jarring.
Even the lyrics on “End Times” lack the usual genius of E. The majority of the songs are straight-forward and literal, containing little of the jarring imagery of his past work. It almost seems like he’s reading them straight out of his diary. There isn’t much that is going to catch you off guard; it’s just a sad album, nothing less, nothing more.
Only on a few songs are glimpses of E still present, including “I Need a Mother”. In the song, E dissects a one-sided relationship where he says, “I’ve been your daddy for too long. I need a little mothering once in a while.” It plays as a modern version of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid”, discussing the simple fact that a man needs a woman who takes care of him “just once in a while”. The song has a borderline Oedipus complex, yet it presents a view on relationships rarely touched upon.
“I Need a Mother” is followed by “Little Bird”, a total contradiction to the song prior (remember when the Eel’s songs about birds were happy?). He jumps from “I need a lover, not someone like you” to “God damn, I miss that girl”. While it’s okay to have songs that don’t follow an overall theme, it kind of lessens the value of the break-up concept album. “Electro-Shock Blues” had a definite storyline, leading you from “my life is piss and shit” to E’s discovery that life goes on. That moment of realization never comes on “End Times”; it’s doom and gloom through and through.
As I sit here typing, I can see the Saints celebrating out of the corner of my eye, a sight that makes the Taco Bell in my gut do flips. With a six month wait until the next Viking’s season (possibly Favre-less), I could look at it from an “End Times” stand point and remain bitter about the way a once magical season ended. Instead, I’m going to take the “Electro-Shock Blues” approach and have hope for the future. As “P.S. You Rock My World” says so brilliantly, “maybe it’s time to live.”
If you are not familiar with this song, check it out below (probably one of my top 20 all-time favorite songs). To this day, it still gives me goosebumps: