In The Aeroplane Over The Sea turns 10

February 10, 2008

It’s quite strange to think, considering I only heard of this album about four years ago. I remember the end of my freshman year of college I was playing the title track, and as I was packing up to start heading home this girl stepped in the doorway and said “I’m so glad you’re playing that right now.” She left immediately afterwards, perhaps picking up on the awkwardness of the situation long before I did. I thought it was cool, I was getting attention from a co-ed; she probably thought it was strange, she was talking to a shy male at an art school.

The album has since changed me, along with other life experiences only obtained at an art school. But the album has also stuck with me for those years. “King of Carrot Flowers pt. 1” is still one of the best openers I’ve heard in a long time, and I still think it reflects your teenage view of the world. Here I am, growing up, experiencing love, and boy oh boy, are my parents strange. I still think “Two-Headed Boy pt. 2” is one of the best ending songs ever recorded, along with one of the most beautifully honesty and heartbreaking songs I’ve ever heard. But it still means more to me than that.

I’ve played the album for a few friends of mine, both at home and at college. Some have overlooked it, accepting it’s something I absolutely love and put it in the background. The guy’s voice is anything but nice, and the music is at times simple and other times too heavily orchestrated with weird instruments and noise to even be appreciated. But just as my music professor told me, the thing I like about it is what others hate about it.

I never played it for friends at college, most of them either already knew about it or were into other things. I never had a long discussion about it, as I’ve always imagined, but met a handful of people who had the record, and thanks to online social networks found out lots of people knew of the record. But again, I never really found a corner of the world where people obsessed over it like I do.

Then, upon my endless searching on the internet of Neutral Milk Hotel rarities and Jeff Mangum demos, I discovered an online community based on the Elephant Six collective, which had other bands and other fans who obsessed over music as much as I did. And it was strange, but it was nice. I never met these people, and I probably never will meet these people, but here are other humans who also enjoy this music. Who also enjoy and obsess over things that I enjoy and obsess over. And due to this, I made friends. People who shared the same interest as me, but could physically be non-existent. While that’s extremely doubtful, you can’t tell with the internet (which makes it oddly more ironic; the internet is where I first discovered the band and the album).

But as I said earlier, I was searching for rarities and demos; I wanted more. On Avery Island, which is a darker records, is arguably just as beautiful. Not as many subjects are presented, although it’s all there. “Song Against Sex” and “You’ve Passed” are two topics in Aeroplane – sex and death. No obvious religion references, but it’s all there. The Everything Is EP is a fun 15 minutes of noise and lo-fi music, possibly unlistenable to some, but essential to hear to others. And then, that’s it.

Many have gotten to this point, others have even obsessed with the Jeff Mangum demos, as if songs like “My Dream Girl Don’t Exist” and “Jaw Harp” are worth listening to more than once. I understand obsessing; I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan and for a while I wanted to get my hands on everything. But these are this guy’s bedroom recordings and he probably was fooling around at 11 at night with a four-track cause he had nothing better to do. And don’t get me wrong, the great song “Engine” is an early demo, as is “King Of Carrot Flowers pt. 2,” but these are still rough bedroom demos.

So, here I am stuck between wanting more and being too proud to even think of owning all his demos (I’ll admit, I have a handful), and I don’t know what to do. Well, I like to think I’m doing what the only true fan can do. Attempt to carry on the legacy.

Now, I’m no artist or Jeff Mangum lyric wise, but I’ve tried to introduce a few people to the music. I’ve even attempted to learn a song or two his, despite giving up on guitar. But hey, thanks to him, I actually tried to pick up the guitar. And now, instead, I’m playing a ukulele… But still, I like to think that its legacy lives on in both somewhat big name bands such as The Decemberists and The Arcade Fire, but at the same time in anyone staying in on Friday nights, just to get their shit out and make something wonderful for the world. It might not be pretty at first, but neither was Neutral Milk Hotel.

So, is all I can do is attempt to be the next big thing, as long as I mention Jeff Mangum and Co? Well, I think being true to yourself should come before being true to any of your heroes, but don’t forget about them along the way. And don’t forget about the record, or the way it made you feel the first time you heard it, the first time you “got” it, and the first time you truly needed it. And that is the power of music Jeff Mangum successfully strived for, and is now ten years old.

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