Mark Eitzel, American music’s poet laureate of the alcoholic undertow, has never gotten his props. During his time with his band American Music Club he put out a number of great albums, each one more besotted than the last, and managed to write what I consider the best song (by far!) of the nineties, “Johnny Mathis’ Feet.”
So what if he brutalized me in comments following a review I wrote of a show at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. What really hurt was his saying, “If I’m as down as you say I am – then what gives you the right to kick me?” I wasn’t kicking you, Mark, I love you man—I was just unhappy that you were moving in the direction of stripped down torch songs, which have never been my cup of meat.
Ah, but that’s bourbon under the bridge. I will always consider Eitzel a genius, what with his way of both bumming you out and making you laugh with his songs about himself and his burned-out friends. He can turn a phrase and has a surgeon’s eye for just where to put the scalpel in, and these gifts are, I think, on best display on 1991’s Everclear. It led Rolling Stone magazine to declare Eitzel the Songwriter of the Year in 1991, but didn’t up his band’s exposure any; as Eitzel sadly noted later, “The next show there were about 20 people in the audience. And they were army guys and they thought American Music Club were some righteous American freedom-fighting, cool ass Springsteen-influenced Guns N’ Roses kind of guys. And we did not rock.”
And we did not rock. Sad words, those. And inaccurate to boot, because on Everclear American Music Club does intermittently rock, in a way that brings to mind another great underrated indie band, Lambchop. Take “Crabwalk,” a herky-jerky revel that opens with the great lines, “He reels around the nightclub/Like the hubcaps off of a car/That just crashed into a sign that said/‘This way to the nightclub’” and proceeds to compare said nightclub, due to alcoholic lack of equilibrium, to the rolling deck of a ship at sea. There’s also some stuff about fishing for tires and staring down jukeboxes, if they float your boat.