I was saddened to read of the early death of Sean Body while researching the latest entry in the Backed with annals. Reading Sean’s book Wish the World Away: Mark Eitzel and the American Music Club was – I thought – the first time I had come across him, but I hadn’t realised that he was the co-founder of both the Helter Skelter publishing concern and the bookshop of the same name in London, in which I had happily browsed and bought on several occasions, even attending the odd book launch there.
I never met Sean but I’ve got a sense of him through reading his book about Eitzel, and like to think we’d have rubbed along fine if we’d ever struck up conversation in the Angel, the pub that was nearest Helter Skelter.
At the end of Wish the world away Sean gives a personal selection of the best less well known American Music Club songs, and a song called ‘Mrs Wright’ is number one. A Mark Eitzel home demo from the time between California and Everclear, it obviously meant a lot to Sean, and in his memory, it deserves a wider audience. This is what he wrote about it:
It is often easy to exaggerate the brilliance of unreleased songs, because they have a mystique missing from released material. Also, they are judged against much weaker yardsticks than an artist’s best released work, set against which they might often be found wanting. It would be difficult to sustain an argument that ‘Mrs Wright’ in its demo-ed version is a better piece of work than finished Eitzel tracks such as ‘Western sky’ or ‘Blue and grey shirt’. Nonetheless, it is somehow strangely more compelling than many of his better-known songs. The introduction lasts only four bars, before Eitzel begins singing, and the performance itself is less than two minutes. … When the final passage turns out only as a half-verse, the effect is startling. What we are left with is a mystical, beautiful fragment – the shadow of a ghost or a fading dream. Because of the technological and commercial processes involved in making a record, there is often very little mystery in pop, but this home recording of ‘Mrs Wright’ remains inscrutable, undocumented and frozen in time – untainted by either artistic or commercial compromise. … It would be difficult to imagine this fragile performance worked into a full band arrangement, without taking something more pure away. And in this, the song is representative of some of Eitzel’s fundamental problems in bringing his music to a wider audience, both in terms of the double-edged sword of musical collaboration, and with regard to commercial considerations. Nonetheless, with ‘Mrs Wright’ Mark Eitzel realised his quest to make timeless, beautiful music. In terms of his artistic achievement alone, it may not really matter that the song was never released. In AS Byatt’s novel Posession, the narrator comments: ‘There are things which happen and leave no discernable trace, are not spoken or written of, though it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been.