Monday, September 15, 2008

Sex, drugs, rock & roll
and...Quantum Physics??

"Running with Scissors" meets "The Ice Storm" -- only set to music and filled with some wild science -- when it comes to the "weird but true" tale of indie rock icon and EELS frontman Mark Oliver Everett, whose life has been surrounded by madness, genius, music, death and suicide.

Now, his remarkable, sad, quirky and thoroughly absorbing life story unfolds in two major events coinciding on the very same day this fall: a one-hour TV movie and a starkly revealing autobiography.

1) TV MOVIE: NOVA's Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives
This hour-long NOVA documentary mingles science with music in a moving personal journey by Everett to understand his father, a distracted genius way ahead of his time who died young, bitter and largely unrecognized after developing what could be one of the most mind-blowing and important scientific theories ever. The film generated a huge buzz in advance screenings at the annual TCA tv critics' conference, where it enjoyed one of the most lively and talked-about panel sessions. NOVA premieres on Tuesday, October 21 @ 8 pm ET/PT on PBS.

2) BOOK: Things The Grandchildren Should Know
St. Martin's Press publishes an unflinching and often painfully humorous memoir by the internationally acclaimed lead singer, better known to fans as "E." This gritty and boldly told story reveals some of the darker forces and family tragedies that have shaped E's musical sensibilities and helped his artistic voice emerge. Hits bookstores on the same day, Tuesday, October 21.

Q: So what is a rocker like E-often compared to Kurt Vonnegut and John Lennon for his literate and lyrical music style--doing on a groundbreaking science series like NOVA?

A: Searching for his dad.

Though the two lived under the same roof for 18 years, the emotionally distant father rarely spoke to his son. Rejected by the scientific community and dismissed as a crackpot at the time, E's father Hugh Everett turned to heavy smoking and drinking, which cut his life short at age 51. (E discovered him dead.)

Now hailed by some as the most significant theory since Newton's and Einstein's, Everett's "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics predicts that every time we make a decision, a parallel universe splits off from our everyday reality.

Or, as one prominent string theorist amusingly simplifies: "Basically, it answers the burning question on everyone's mind: Is Elvis really dead?"

Well, according to this theory, he is alive and well in a parallel universe somewhere....

Fifty years ahead of its time, the elder Everett's trippy theory has inspired sci-fi tv, films and books--everything from Star Trek to The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.

Now, this imaginative new NOVA follows E on his odyssey to understand his father's work and his incredible contribution to science and humanity with an idea that redefines what is reality.

Tuesday, October 21 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS

For most of Mark Oliver Everett's life, things didn't add up. Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives follows Mark, better known as E, the lead singer of the cult band the EELS, across the country as he attempts to understand the fantastic possibility of parallel universes and unravel the story of his troubled family and the father he never really knew--iconoclastic quantum physicist Hugh Everett III. The film airs on NOVA, Tuesday, October 21 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).

Scientific American described Hugh Everett as "one of the most important scientists of the 20th century." In 1957, he proposed the controversial Many Worlds Theory, a startling interpretation of quantum mechanics, which makes the astounding prediction that every time we make a decision, a parallel universe splits off from our everyday reality. For many years, Hugh Everett's mind-boggling theory was overlooked. Today, the concept of parallel universes
is not only explored by many top physicists, but it also inspired many films, television series, and books, including The Golden Compass, Star Trek, and The Subtle Knife.

In this intelligent and imaginative film, the wry and charismatic Mark takes an emotional journey into his father's life, meeting Hugh's old college friends, colleagues, and admirers, including MIT physicist Max Tegmark, a vocal proponent of Hugh's ideas. It is only by entering the esoteric world of quantum physics that Mark can hope to gain an understanding of, and more importantly, a connection to the father who was a stranger to him.

Though Hugh Everett published his theory of parallel universes over 50 years ago as a Ph.D.student at Princeton University, it remained largely ignored by the scientific community for 20 years. Hugh's hypothesis countered the Copenhagen Interpretation, the most widely accepted view of the many puzzles of quantum physics, developed by Nobel laureate Niels Bohr. At that time, many considered the ambitious 24-year-old extremely naive and arrogant to challenge Bohr, who rivalled Albert Einstein as one of the giants of the physics world.

Through interviews and archival materials, the film conveys how Bohr's disregard of Everett's work devastated the young scientist. Dejected and depressed, he left quantum physics behind and became a defense analyst, conducting classified research for the Pentagon. Later he joined the corporate world, applying mathematical modelling in industry.The chain-smoking, hard-drinking Hugh Everett died of a heart attack in his Virginia home, long before Mark could appreciate his father's professional triumphs and frustrations.

"My father never, ever said anything to me about his theories. I was in the same house with him for at least 18 years, but he was a total stranger to me. He was in his own parallel universe. He was a physical presence, like the furniture, sitting there jotting down crazy notations at the dining room table night after night. I think he was deeply disappointed that he knew he was a genius but the rest of the world didn't know it."

Mark Everett jokingly admits that he can barely tabulate a restaurant tip, let alone understand his father's complex ideas. While Hugh focused on science, Mark focused on music. He mastered the piano, drums, and guitar and became an accomplished songwriter. In addition to writing material for their award-winning albums, the EELS contributed songs to movie soundtracks, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the three animated Shrek films.

Now in his forties, Mark is the sole surviving member of his family, which he has described as strange and lonely. With an intimate, often quirky style, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives delves deep into the Everett's family history, including the bouts of mental illness. Mark's father and paternal grandmother both suffered from severe depression, as did his deeply troubled sister.

The making of Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives reintroduced Mark Everett to his father and helped him understand his dreams and disappointments. "I feel like I know my father a lot better. I feel I understand more of the whole timeline of events. Just talking to all these people who knew him, it feels like he's around now more than ever before."