Saturday, February 16, 2008

In The Aeroplane Over the Sea

On the drive home yesterday "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana came on the radio and I was a little sad. For I realized that no matter how hard I try I will never be able to hear that song again without context not of my choosing. That song has become such a pop culture staple, with the good and bad that comes with that it, that a huge portion of my relation to the song is shaped by others. Add the death of Cobain to the mix, and the song today doesn't come close to resembling I song I heard as a high school kid. Not that you can ever hear something again for the first time. But there's no way I could ever hope to hear what I heard approaching 20 years ago. To feel what I felt when I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit". And yes, that made me a little sad.

In this context I am somewhat relieved that "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" never became as popular as it deserved. For while I can not hear it again for the first time, the album has not been corrupted by others. It's completely mine - and I like it that way. Which isn't to imply it's something I try to keep secret or use to make myself look cool. In the 10 years I've owned the CD I've screamed to the rooftops its brilliance and others have been similarly affected. Yet by not becoming a pop culture landmark has allowed me to shape my relationship with this music. It is solely mine, based on experiences I have had with it. Others will have different experiences, some bordering on confusion, hatred, or even boredom. But those are experiences of our own making.

With the 10 year anniversary of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea", I have gone back to re-evaluate it and hear it again, for the first time. It has been a refreshing experience, as the power and brilliance of the album holds up. And while my perspective and comprehension as I listen may have changed, the general feeling I get has not. That's not very usual, and just affirms what a remarkable piece of art this CD was, remains, and should continue 100 years from now.

The point of this post isn't to describe the CD or try to convince anyone to buy it. It's basically a fan letter or love letter to one of the greatest CDs I have ever heard. A CD that has dramatically shaped my life. So with Pitchfork's reflection on "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea", it seemed like now was as good of a time as any for this post. If this post or even the music is not your thing, I completely understand. But this is something meaningful to me.

It's hard to put into words the appeal, devotion, worship, etc behind the CD. Yeah, it's kinda folky with a kitchen sink asthetic. Yeah, the lyrics are poetic. Sure, Jeff Mangum wears his emotions on his sleeves. But there's so much more. It's not even about the songs. I can't tell you the last time I've ever put on this CD to hear a song. Or even a handful of songs. I'm sure I've done this in the car but besides that, I may have never done it. At least not intentionally. For when I play this CD I know I'm going to listen to it from start to finish. It's really one, 50 minute long listening experience rather than a CD. Which probably explains why I do not listen to this CD all the time and only in select occasions. Even as I type this post I have a hard time, because it's on in the background. And all I want to do is take in the music. It just has this other worldly quality that consumes you and forces you to become a part of it.

Back when I only had a tape player in my car, I recorded this CD and added an extra song Jeff recorded for a compilation. While the song, called "Bucket", was pretty good, I grew to hate the song. For it just didn't work at the end of Aeroplane. It was just too jarring to hear after "Two-Headed Boy Pt 2". So I just started forwarding to the other side.

As I heap all this praise on the CD, it's important to note that the music itself isn't some happy, feel good music. It's very dark at places, with the recurring images of Anne Frank. But it's the naked honesty behind the lyrics that transcends everything. When Jeff sings "I love you, Jesus Christ" he means it. It's not some clever, wink-wink, hipster putdown on religion. And when he sings "how weird it is to be anything at all", he truly believes that. Not in some college freshman stoner look at how deep I am way. But as a honest assessment. And that's one aspect that makes this CD truly remarkable. Some people get caught up on this, as warts and all are included in the CD. Yeah, every note is not hit. But life isn't that way. And does that really matter, when your trying to record emotions?

After 9/11, I turned to Aeroplane a lot for comfort. Again, not because it offered some fairytale happyland that doesn't exist anywhere. Instead, it provided me the emotional release I needed. If this guy could be so emotionally open on a CD where he's setting himself up for ridicule, what am I afraid of in the comfort of my own home, alone. Plus, the imagery was very relevant since Aeroplane deals a lot with death (And it's so sad to see the world agree / That they'd rather see their faces fill with flies / All when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes). On a superficial level, it would be easy to get lost in the death and destruction so eloquently expressed. But the true message I get from the CD is hope. The hope that everything will be alright. The hope that even if things are bad now, at this time, on this planet, this is only a fraction of your real life. We have eternity to experience love and happiness. And any momentary pain and suffering, even so brutal as the Holocaust, is just a blip in time. So I took that message of hope in the months after 9/11 and a lot of power and inspiration from Aeroplane. And I'm not afraid to admit it, but I have been known to tear up listening to this album, usually towards the end of "Two-Headed Boy Pt 2".

From a musical standpoint, this CD had a profound impact on me. Of course I first bought all CDs I could find from the Elephant 6 collective. Generally this was a good thing, though I have some CDs that I would not notice is they were lost. Longer term, this CD opened myself up to appreciate a wide array of music. And I truly credit this CD, partly due to the eclectic sounds but also because of the openness. I allowed myself to be open to all types of music, which I already was to a small degree. The major difference was I was open to it and actively sought it out.

In the 10 years that have passed since Aeroplane was released, a lot has happened. And Jeff has not released any new music of his own. But even if he never records another song, I will always be grateful for the this CD, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Thanks!


*entertainment*music *indie *punk*Neutral Milk Hotel *In The Aeroplane Over The Sea *Jeff Mangum*Pitchfork *Tom G


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