Listen to this track by stylistically slippery Los Feliz-based musical vehicle for songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, Eels. It’s “Saturday Morning”, the lead single as taken from 2003’s Shootenanny, the fifth release under the Eels moniker. The album followed relatively quickly on the heels of 2001’s Souljacker, and shares some of its harder, fuzzier edges.
By this time, Everett was in a particularly busy period with multiple projects on the go all at once. He was planning a magnum opus of a record that would eventually be released in 2005 as the thirty-three track album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. That project would feature some of the most intricate and delicate arrangements of his career. At the same time, he recorded this album which was done in a contrastingly short period of time in a matter of a couple of weeks, live off of the floor. Somewhere in there, he also wrote the score for the film Levity. Whew!
Knowing what was on his plate at the time, it would be easy to chalk this particular song up to Everett’s own driven work ethic. Yet, this song alluded a time in the past before his career as a professional songwriter and musician even began, and to a state of mind to which many of us can relate.
Everett considers the Shootenanny! album as something of a break from his work on the sessions that would eventually produce Blinking Lights …. The latter project was a big risk, with a question hanging over it as to who was really calling for a thirty-plus track album from a cult artist beyond the artist himself. In addition to label trepidation and resistance over all of that, self-doubt was also plaguing Everett (just “E” to his friends …) himself. A fast and ready two week live session to produce a crunchy rock record in the interim was most likely just what the doctor ordered to get Everett focused on his work and worth as an artist with something to say.
This song certainly embodies that effort in one sense, seeming to be a statement of intent in the get-up-and-go stakes. I imagine writing and recording “Saturday Morning” was pretty therapeutic in the end, considering what he was up against in trying to bring his vision to life for an ambitious, risky project with a question mark hanging over it. But, this song isn’t really meant to be a motivational speech set to a rock groove. It’s primarily about strong memories of childhood, the fidgety energy that only a child possesses, and perhaps even about connecting oneself to that energy in adulthood as a way to move forward.
When I was a kid myself in the 1970s, and well before the age of Cartoon Network, Saturday morning had a special kind of energy. For one thing, it was a time when I filled up on cartoons, with that specific time dedicated to a cavalcade of frenetic visual delight. It was a time full of Wacky Races, colourful super-hero tales, and even some live action flights of fancy. Up I’d get early, my parents sleeping soundly, the neighbours as dead as wood. By the time cartoons had ended, I was out the door and down the street to call on my friends, taking the fuel from the stories I’d absorbed and using it to motivate my own adventures that day. Saturday morning was concentrated childhood, weaponized innocence. It was a slice of time during the week dedicated to pure belief in the imagination and triumph over stultifying sensibleness and reasoned caution that so easily sets in as we got older.
That’s what this song attempts to capture; the state of mind of being a kid, not really knowing what the world is about in any kind of experiential way, and seeking to explore it with enthusiasm with one’s friends pushed along by sheer energy if not always by informed sense. “Saturday Morning” is a ferocious song of innocence, full of sixties garage rock clatter that would have marked the soundtrack for the times in which Everett was revved up by the possibilities sparked by a fertile imagination. Perhaps it was this energy, or the memory of it, that allowed him to set aside the doubt that plagued him, and to push for the completion of his vision for a sprawling double-album that would eventually follow up this song and the album off of which it comes. That large scale follow-up record would garner Everett some of the best reviews of his career.
Sometimes, a song will come along to give a helping hand to its writer, with the power to pull them out of a rut. Maybe for Mark Oliver Everett, that’s what this song was able to do for him.
At the time of this writing, fans of Eels like myself are eagerly anticipating a new album to follow up 2015’s Eels Royal Albert Hall live document. But in the meantime, you can always check out eelstheband.com to learn more about the background of Shootenanny! and the rest of E’s output.
Further to that, you can see E as a semi-regular cast member in Judd Apatow’s Netflix series Love, now in its second season as I write this.