I was 17 when I first heard Neutral Milk Hotel. Adam introduced them to me, and in fact our friendship was created through them – me discussing the band with him the next time I saw him after his passing remark about how he liked them. In fact this band wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for that conversation.
I didn’t think too much of them at first. They were interesting enough but they didn’t really grab me. If I thought of them at all it was as a kind of outre indie band with a smattering of eastern european influences. I doubt I thought of them enough to articulate it that way.
But they crept up on me. After 6 months, I was besotted with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.I was listening to the song “Communist Daughter” daily on a mix tape I’d made myself.
I’d obsessed over albums, bands and song before, so this wasn’t too different. Back when I was 14 I even listened over and over to Oasis’s Magic Pie (a truly, truly dreadful song) – I spent many an hour considering the faux profundity of such lines as “there are but a thousand days preparing for a thousand years”.
It was over the next couple of years I became, I’m afraid to say, fanatical about Neutral Milk Hotal and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. As a very brief overview that album is a very personal concept album in part about Anne Frank; according to Pandora – the music genome project that categorises every popular song iver- it has folk instrumenatation and great lyrics. So there you go.
I began to listen to everything NMH had ever done daily, almost as a ritual. I listened to their first album, On Avery Island. I listened to early tapes. I listened to bootleg live recordings. I listened to the unreleased demos that had begun leaking online. I studied album artwork for clues. I read every singles interview that Jeff Mangum (Mr. Neutral Milk Hotel) had ever done.
My life at the time was very tempstuos and Jaff Mangum’s songs had become a lifeline (note to self – double use of life there, sloppy, sloppy writing). Like many an indie kid I had latched onto the wonderful, heartfelt lyrics sometimes straight forward ,”how strange it is to be anything at all”, sometimes opaque, ”when you were young were the king of carrot flowers.
The album became an anchor for me.
An important thing to mention is that shortly after In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was released in 1998 on Merge Records, Jeff Mangum disappeared from public view, only surfacing occasionally for a period of 10 years. The record sold well, very well for an indie record, but was essentially a non mainstream album. Due to this and the subject matter the album soon became a cult item.
For years I was so excited when I read anything about Neutral Milk Hotal. Any sign of action. I was an evangelical tryign to convert any one I met to the cause. When I met anyone else who had heard of them I wanted to jump for joy. But this changed. I got older. My obsession lessened. I listened to NMH less and less. Indie discos started playing their tracks.People were going to gigs in homemade Neutral Milk Hotel tshirts. And I started to listen to them less and less. I still loved them but I no longer lived and died by them. I listened to other things. I no longer went on their message board every day or every week or every month.
But.. I occasionally still dreamed of Jeff Mangum. When I was obsessed he started appearing in my dreams. A faintly messianic figure, he was always distant. I wanted to talk to him – make him normal and a friend of mine but never managed it. He always remained out of reach.
And this continued in the years after. I would still have these dreams were he would turn up even if I hadn’t listened to his band in months. I dreamt of him the way other people dream of Jesus; or John Lennon; or Justin bieber.
I’m writing about this because I had another one of these dreams a couple of days a go.
Jeff Mangum is playing gigs in the UK next uear. I’m going. I am an adult. I know he’s a normal man. My friends have spoken to him in a bar. And yet… my subconscious has internalised him. He’s become part of me and represents something. I don’t know what but I think he might still be popping up in my dreams unitl the day I die, when I can’t even remember what Two Headed Boy Pt Two sounds like any more…
John, November 11