Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Drivemouth and Neutral Milk Hotel

In February of 2009, something happened.

I got a hold of an album called In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by a semi-obscure cult-followed fuzz-folk band called Neutral Milk Hotel.

The first time I heard it, I was put off by Jeff Mangum's raw vocals and the overbearing fuzz on the guitars. The second time I heard it, I was changed.

I had never heard such an album with such an intricate concept. I've heard the essentials, of course. Tommy, Sgt. Peppers, so on. But this was conceptualized in a different, personal approach. Mangum, the band's leader, read Anne Frank's diary, and was impacted in a way I will never understand. Something I kind of envy.

And so he wrote this album. It's about so many things, and one thing. He bends landscapes and timescapes at will, and unashamedly and enthusiastically shares his passion for his story. This was not Sgt. Peppers, a concept that brought us a new version of the Beatles, or Tommy, a linear, fictional tale. It was like it came from a page out of a Mangum's diary. You know that feeling you get when you're about to cry, like ginger ale behind your eyes? It's like that, on paper. All your anxieties, all of your desires and unreachable goals, on paper. Mangum took that and put it in his music and poetry. And 10 years later a friend gave me a copy of this music and poetry. My perception of musical execution would be changed forever.

But first, further research didn't sit me down. Further research explained to me bluntly and unkindly, like some jackass rubbing my cat's death in my face, that Mangum had simply walked away from his musical career. Just. Walked away. And I was sad. I was outraged. How could somebody walk away from this kind of passion? How could you be this brilliant and just stop expressing yourself? For the love of love, how in the love can you just STOP? I found it selfish.

Jeff Mangum's album, and his story behind it, greatly affected me. So did his up and quitting. (Ten years ago.) And through this affection (and outrage) an idea was formulated between me and a comrade: Finding his departure selfish was actually more selfish. Who are we to ask for more? It was his expression, not ours. It was never ours. He said what he needed to say, and walked away. We aren't owed an explanation. The best we can do is hope he finds a reason to come back, and treasure it if he does. Other than that, we have to accept this, and take what we can get.

From these conversations, the roots of the story for The Imperfectionist were born into the ground. And they would eventually grow into something much, much more significant to me. For the first time, I had created a story out of something personal. I had finally unlocked the door that was holding me from artistic expression. (It's across the hall from creative execution, something I have always easily grasped.)

And so, ironically, Mangum's walking away from music has actually impacted me more than if he hadn't, starting with the concept of my first solo album.

Without Aeroplane, there is no Imperfectionist, no Drivemouth, and I'd still be off writing aimless, meaningless songs like I was when I was 17. Aeroplane taught me how to be personal and poetic, beautiful and haunting, and express ideas and a story in a truly fantastical, relatable way. It started with The Imperfectionist.

It will continue with Pink & Blue, my forthcoming album.

And I expect it will continue forever after that.

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