I haven’t been so overjoyed by a piece of music news in a very long time:
Jeff Mangum, the fragile, brilliant musician who created In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and On Avery Island, has not performed the material publicly since 2001… until now. The notoriously reclusive Mangum finally broke several years of radio silence this month to revisit some Neutral Milk Hotel songs with his old friends from the Elephant 6 crew on several stops of their Holiday Surprise Tour.
I vividly remember the first time I heard Aeroplane, in 1999. Thinking about it is like cracking open a time capsule. This dear friend of mine with a heart of gold, Andy Ristaino, had implored me, almost desperately, to pick up a copy as soon as I possibly could, and of course I did. Next day, I put it on the stereo for the first time and shuffled into the kitchen of my grubby, post-collegiate apartment to make a morning pot of joe. I recall distantly hearing what sounded like caterwauling and a drunken mariachi band waltzing off a cliff, pouring my coffee into a chipped mug and walking back into the living room. Mangum called out “two, one-two-three-four” and I froze to the spot in my bunny slippers, slackjawed. Must’ve stood there like that through just about the whole album, the forgotten cup cooling in my hands. I listened to Aeroplane five times in a row that day.
Cynics and naysayers, scoff all you like, but I think Magnet magazine was right: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was the album of the decade, more important for so many of us than Nirvana or Radiohead could ever be, and a more honest and upsetting, beautiful and unflinching outcry than just about anything my generation had yet laid claim to.
It also nearly killed Mangum to make it, apparently. After a few sporadic months of touring, he disappeared from public view.
Welcome back, mister. Even if only for a moment or two. It is very good to see you again.