Feature: Jack Foley
THE back story surrounding The Fiery Furnaces is probably as
quirky and child-like as much of their songwriting.
Eleanor Friedberger was constantly ridiculed in the crudest and
least interesting manner by her brother, Matthew.
He, for his part, had to suffer such things as her coming in
the room, and various other affronts, for instance talking, or
watching the TV show she wanted, or putting on a record she might
like to hear.
So Eleanor had to hide her likes and dislikes until he left.
It was a beautiful day.
She stood at a second-floor window, watching as Dad drove Matt
off, and roughly, excitedly, triumphantly put Houses of the
Holy into the CD player, turning up the volume on what used
to be her brother’s stereo.
Matthew, you see, had only liked The Who. He had Who records
and videotapes, and, as a youth, down in the basement, he tried
to make Who noises.
But he failed, miserably, and with black jealousy guarded the
scene of his humiliation and insufficiency, that basement, where
he kept the tape recorder.
In fact, Eleanor was hit over the head, stabbed in the knee and
smashed on the foot for coming down in the basement. But that
didn’t make his songs any better.
Years later, when Matthew - his pride gone, his spirit, such
as it was, crushed - encouraged Eleanor to come down in the basement
to make their first Fiery Furnaces music together, he simply swore.
For in the meantime, while plagiarizing her way to a University
of Texas B.A., Eleanor worked as a telemarketer for the Texas
Her subsequent adventurous life - helping humanity - included
a year spent in London and trips with her mother to the south
of France, Italy and Greece.
Her enthusiasm for restaurants, shopping and like-minded people
led her to come help, in her small way, gentrify the north end
And there she lives, with a surprisingly well-developed and wholly
undeserved sense of self-righteousness, no observable interests
except her own enjoyment of such sophisticated things as cookery
and movies, an impressive ability to aggrandize herself at the
expense of her already unappealing older brother, taking very
long walks, her mind completely blank.
Her musical expertise extends so far as to include buying and
listening to records and having boyfriends who were, once were,
or wanted to be in musical groups.
Her greatest achievement remains
hitting a three-run triple, which earned her a headline in the
Chicago Sun-Times, 'Friedberger’s Big Day Powers Oak Park'.
But in the story beneath, she was misquoted.
Her older brother went to Germany, at 17, and managed to learn
not a word of German or even have a good time – apparently
pining for mommy and daddy and doggy, and the comforts of home,
which he was incapable of enjoying in the first place.
After failing repeatedly at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
he cleverly stayed in that fascinating metropolis until he was
Then he moved back in with his mother, sealing his fate and cementing
his status as parasite and waster of indulgence and advantage.
Looking for further opportunities to squander goodwill and mess
up, he later imposed upon a high school friend to help him move
to New York (because his sister made it clear he couldn’t
stay with her).
He was, however, the proud author of such works as Spider
Spite, Toad King Land and Banobazus Persian Prince.
But those things are terrible and only give evidence of no talent
and periods of excess sponging... and so on and so forth...
A typical brother-sister, love-hate relationship then.
It manifests itself throughout the latest album, Blueberry
Boat - the eagerly anticipated follow-up to Gallowsbird
Bark and recent chart
effort, Single Again.
"We do fight a lot, but then, we grew up in a house where
screaming was normal," explains Eleanor.
Occasionally, it sounds as though Matt is deliberately trying
to upset Eleanor with squalls of guitar noise and Bolanesque guitar
A typical big brother playing his electric guitar as loudly as
possible in the next room, as his sister trills serenely at the
This would be perfectly in keeping with his dark humour and
their skewed, Turn of the Screw, sibling relationship.
So it will come as little surprise to hear that Blueberry
Boat transports us like a great children’s story.
It needs to be listened to several times before it really sinks
in - and even then you might not like it; or rather, hate it!
Perhaps it is actually higher art than most of us are used to...
as you get the feeling these siblings hope it is.
In his classic decadent novel, Against Nature, J K Huysman creates
the character, Des Esseintes, who attempts to escape the vulgarity
of Parisian life by travelling around the world.
Unfortunately, he is too lazy to go anywhere, so he creates the
places he wants to visit in his own home, usually with the aid
of absinthe and a few exotic plants.
It is a similar sort of journey that The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry
Boat takes you on.
Fancy jumping on board, then why not read the review...