Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review - 33 1/3 Book Series - Neutral Milk Hotel / In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Kim Cooper

A dream of mine will finally come true this month.  A band that was unlikely to ever perform again will be on stage in an intimate setting for a show that sold out in two minutes...and I will be there.  
The band is Neutral Milk Hotel.  I may have completely missed this band if it wasn't for a mixtape given to me in 2006, seven years after they disbanded.  I will go into this more when I review the show. For now, I wanted to revisit this book, to indulge my growing excitement for the concert that I never thought I would witness.

The 33 1/3 Book series is a great concept.  Each book focuses on one album by a band and each book is by a different author.  The flaw is that each author takes a different approach to telling the story.  Some are based on facts and interviews.  Some are personal experience.  A few are psychiatric evaluations.  And some special ones paint a perfect picture of everything leading up to the making of the album and what the consequences were afterwards.  This book is one of the latter.  (Sorry Joe Pernice, I like you and all, but I wanted to know what happened during the making of The Smith's 'Meat is Murder' not what it meant to you as a teen growing up in  Boston that you claim to be fictional.)

The brave voice that sings this beautifully tortured music is Jeff Mangum.  He is an artist in the truest sense and this album is his masterpiece.  He grew up as the son of an economics professor in Louisiana.  He and his friends (the founders of The Elephant 6 Recording Company) had sheltered themselves from the urban area outside where they lived and created a commune to some extent.   They shared a love of psychedelic music.  They played in bands together.  They played solo.  They made recorded tapes for each other.  Experimented musically.  Encouraged each other to be creative.  They nurtured each other.  They relocated to Athens, GA and met other friends just like them.  They played house parties for each other.  They lived together, recorded together, toured together. But in many ways, for as wonderful as this creative environment may seem, Jeff was not equipped for success in a world outside of these parameters.  (This is very similar to John Frusciante during the making of Blood Sugar Sex Magic.)

Without being able to interview the reclusive Mangum, Kim Cooper does a wonderful job detailing his life growing up, the formation of the band, the influences of the lyrics, the environment in which they succeeded, the creation of this seminal album, the inability to cope with success, and the ultimate mental collapse of not being able to tell the friends that he had asked to go on this journey with him that he could no longer continue. It is pulled together through research, archived interviews of Jeff and interviews of those involved.  This was obviously a labor of love.  The detailed breakdown of each song sheds light on his obsession with Anne Frank and insight as to lyrical meaning.  The overall process leaves us with a reclusive Jeff Mangum and the thought that this wonderful piece of art that was created may never be duplicated nor played live for a new found audience.  We now know that it will.  A tour was announced in 2013 that takes the original lineup on a few intimate stops...and a recently announced Coachella announcement that completely pisses me  There are a few books in this series that are a quick fantastic read.  This is only one of them.  I will review others in the future to help guide you to the right ones as many of my friends have helped guide me.  Grab this one on Amazon in all formats!


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