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I think you were blind to the fact that the hand you hold was the hand that holds you down.

March 31, 2010

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR


Everclear – Everything To Everyone
From: So Much For the Afterglow

I never researched Everclear enough to figure out whether they were much different from that late-1990s batch of alt-rockers who wanted to sing some ballads about love and messed up relationships with a bit of guitar overdrive (you know, your Lifehouses or Eve 6s or all those other bands that high school girls got a little too obsessed with because of one song). I know Everclear had a few hits in their repertoire, but after “Father of Mine,” I really stopped caring.

And it wasn’t entirely because “Father of Mine” seemed like a sleazy cash-in attempt on a crappy childhood over a more-than-similar-to-“Everything to Everyone” backing track… it was because “Father of Mine” seemed to trigger Art Alexakis into thinking “songs about crappy family situations… GOLD!” Wasn’t the first single off their next album “Wonderful?” Thoroughly depressing stuff over a poppy beat…

Now, crappy fathers aren’t anything particularly unique in rock and roll — Joseph Jackson, Freddie Lennon, Thomas Gallagher, the dad in that Twisted Sister video, the dad in that Cyndi Lauper video… there are lots of songs that could and have been written. And maybe when divorce rates were skyrocketing in the 1990s, songs about broken homes and bad dads eased a considerable amount of teenage souls. Maybe I’m just cynical about it because I’m fortunate to still have two married parents, with both of whom I have a good relationship. So what would I know?

What’s bothersome about it is that of all the cliched songwriting routes to take — and Everclear touched a few of them in their singles — to focus on the “crummy upbringing” one seems the most self-serving. And if it’s really the label asking for that, well then, at what point does a songwriter go, “But I’ve got a poppy one about breaking up with a girl that has a better chorus”?

Look at “I Will Buy You a New Life.” How many songs have been written about having no cash but still wanting to provide a garden, car, house and life for the girl of your desire? Tons. And despite a pretty deplorable set of lyrics that mention “a welfare Christmas” (let it go, dude, you’re on a major label) and describe a “new car” as “perfect, shiny and new” (only two adjectives to describe a new car? You couldn’t have gone for “blue” or “cool” or “true” to avoid obvious redundancy?), you probably still remember the chorus and thought the sentiment was fair enough.

And then there’s “Everything to Everyone” which is really what launched Everclear into the mainstream stratosphere and announced So Much For the Afterglow to America. Perfect 1990s pop song — critical of posers, strong if simple little bassline and an open invitation to “come on, dance with me” which apparently rectifies the problem of trying to please everyone, stumbling and falling (and doing it again). Oh and it had a cool spinning room video that ends with all the song’s perceived targets joining the Everclear boys for a soul-cleansing pogo.

The fact that “Everything to Everyone” was popular amongst so many of my friends at Willowbrook High School wasn’t at all surprising. It’s a song that any indifferent teenager can probably relate to — if not seeing their own problems in the lyrics, then most certainly picking out a friend or ex-friend the song perfectly describes. Although can I say, at 27 years of age, that I envy the people who know all the right people and play all the right games? They have it dead easy right now.

And honestly, Mr. Alexakis could have mulled on that theme for five more hit singles before 1999 turned into 2000 and bought whatever woman he was talking a damn fine new life. So why instead muse about f*cked up childhoods?

And for what it’s worth, isn’t it interesting that in all three of the Afterglow hit singles, Alexakis is attacking someone? Dad, or the one who tries to be everything to everyone or the people who try to tell you money is the root of all that kills. When exactly did he become so enlightened and the authoritative voice on who must be judged? ‘Cos frankly, I’d have enjoyed an Everclear single where he meditated on his own issues over another recycled “Everything to Everyone” sounding backing track.

I hear “Everything to Everyone” these days and I’m likely to do a bit of head-nodding, and think it’s a decent enough song. But part of me still remembers a conversation I had with a co-worker at the bookstore where I had my first job. We were discussing “Father of Mine” and theorized if Alexakis was just making things up to try to move records. As if his dad was sitting at home listening to the song going, “What the… I’M RIGHT HERE!” I know it wasn’t that way — look, I saw the “Behind the Music.” But once “Wonderful” came out, I also thought it wouldn’t be surprising if that hypothetical situation really was the case.

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One comment

  1. It is not easy to write one hit song. Think of all the thousands of bands and millions of songs that never reach “hit” level status. So for one band to reach that level several times means that Everclear is doing something right. They don’t claim to be a political band like Rage Against the Machine or Bad Religion…They are to me, the poster band for “anyone can make it” if you persist! I want to say Alexakis was in his mid thirties, loosing his hair, not a particularly great singer or guitar player- just an average guy, down oh his luck, writing about what he knew about which was heart ache and pain! For me songwriting is therapy and I can connect with Art Alexakis finding outlets for his past in songs. His songs are catchy, have interesting lyrics (that paint pictures) and are simple…he shares this in common with some of my favorite song writers: Kurt Cobain and John Fogherty. I never really thought about it before but after reading your rant and writing this response…I have realized that Everclear has been an influenced on me!



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