an ode to mark eitzel and american music club

Writing about Mark Eitzel yesterday got me thinking about my intense love for his band American Music Club from around 1994 to 1997. I first heard them play an acoustic set on World Cafe in the summer of ’93. When I got to college that fall, I searched out what were then their two latest albums, Everclear and Mercury. (They’re also AMC’s two best albums, and any record collection would improve with their addition.)
Critics absolutely adored them, more than even most critical darlings. (For instance, I remember Rolling Stone naming Eitzel the world’s best songwriter at one point and AMC their “Hot Band” the next year.)But their albums never sold worth a damn, likely because they could be so damned depressing.
AMC was the background music to much of college, occasionally and incongruously through happy times, more appropriately through sad ones. (Fiona, my college ex, can vouch for how many times she’d call my dorm room, hear AMC playing in the background, and know immediately it’d been a bad day for some reason.)
Eitzel was a problematic object for my fandom. He was indeed a brilliant songwriter; his lyrics could turn from unspeakably sad to knife-to-the-kidney bitter to darkly hilarious in the span of a verse. In interviews, he came across as self-effacing and intelligent. And he made gorgeous, impassioned records.
At the same time, he could be nasty as hell. He was also a drunk. And enormously depressed (as might be expected from a gay man living in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis). He swayed between self-loathing for his band’s not being more popular than it was and hating the audience for not buying into his music.
After graduating, I moved on to other music. American Music Club broke up in 1995 (not long after this tremendously bitter interview I remember reading online when it came out). Eitzel’s produced five solo albums, all good, none great. His last album is all covers, which doesn’t play on his songwriting strength. But I still wear my fandom proudly.
A few great, bitter Eitzel interview excerpts from around the web:
from 1994:
Q: There’s a quote on a sticker on the cover of this new album, from a Melody Maker review: “One of the greatest living songwriters.”
Eitzel: Oh yeah. That was from 1989 or something? ’88 maybe? Old news.
ATN: But I mean it’s not as if this current album hasn’t gotten any, from the reviews I’ve seen, it’s been well received.
Eitzel: I’d much rather have like a million dollars and live in a giant mansion with several Rolls Royces, and I would put on the gate of my mansion, “World’s Greatest Living Songwriter.” When I have the security gates with a few television cameras constantly swiveling and the proximity monitors keeping people away and then an inner area with dogs — sub-machine gun posts — and then outside I’ll have this incredibly incongruous ornate gate with wrought iron. Well, I’ll probably buy the gate from Buckingham Palace, but at the top I’ll tear out the Queen’s sign and I’ll put, “World’s Greatest Living Songwriter.” That would be great….So really, I kind of don’t care. I have to sit at my desk and I have to go, “Well, this week, you really sucked.” And every once in a while, I’ll have a breakthrough. You know, and I really will think I’m the best songwriter. Otherwise, you know, you just write.
from 1996:
Q: So how do you plan to stay fresh?
A: Well, I take showers and, I don’t know, I like to spray things on my face. I like the little misting things. And then, of course, there’s cocaine and speed. No, I’m kidding. I don’t really plan to stay fresh. I guess I’m going to be like every other white male in America — just repeat myself until I drop.

I’ve met Mark two times. Once was at a great CMJ show in NYC (Soul Coughing, Grant Lee Buffalo, American Music Club, and Saint Etienne!). AMC was on second-to-last, and Mark came out to be in the crowd for Saint Etienne. Like a slavering fanboy, I went up to him and said (I was 19, remember): “I just wanted to say you’re awesome.” His response, typically: “Yeah, awesome at being lame.”
Then, he played a (surprisingly great) solo show at the Gypsy Tea Room last June. After the show, he was hawking a (surprisingly good) disc of demos. I stood in line to pay the man. When I got to the front, I told him I had a web site and I’d named it in honor of AMC’s song “Crabwalk.” (This was when this site looked roughly like this.) His response: “Huh, I’ll check it out. That’ll be $10.”

2 thoughts on “an ode to mark eitzel and american music club”

  1. i’ve seen mark twice: at the lounge ax in chicago, and at the infamous louisville, KY show on the ‘lovers leap USA’ tour, where he threw a fit because the smoke eating machine was turned on, and the audience had to convince him into playing the rest of his set. he split right after he finished, so my five hour trek to get my very own copy of LLUSA was for naught. siiiiiigh.
    i did eventually score a dubbed cassette copy, but it’s just not the same.

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