Ten years ago today, the greatest album I've ever heard was born into the world. It would be hard to overstate the influence of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," Neutral Milk Hotel's second, and last, record. It's a curious masterpiece, at once obscure and legendary, depending on whom you ask.
1998 was a big year for me personally; I finished my bachelor's and went out into the real world. My dad gave me a memorable speech in which he laid out just how "cut off" I was. My best friends were also finishing school, and somehow I convinced them to move to Austin and get a house with me. That was in the Fall, and Seth drove down with a cassette copy of Aeroplane. It was like nothing I had ever heard. It was like nothing any of us had ever heard. It's a cathartic, metaphysical, deeply spiritual concept record about reaching out to Anne Frank through the shroud of space and time.
If it sounds heavy, well — it is. But in the face of the horrors that men do, there is an awe-inspiring redemption, the certainty that love and beauty are invincible though our bodies are as momentary as candle flame.
Aeroplane was more or less our soundtrack as we started our own band, Okkervil River, of which I am enormously proud. We certainly don't sound like Neutral Milk Hotel; we sound like ourselves. But we did all we could to preserve the spirit, the essential qualities that we admired so profoundly. What is the essence? Passion, the idea that when you play you ought to put yourself on the line, the idea that darkness and light are two sides of the same coin, the sense that experiencing music, both as a musician and in the audience, can be an act of defying mortality.
Anyway, I owe a debt of gratitude to Jeff Mangum, Jeremy Barnes, Scott Spillane, and Julian Koster. I have waited ten years for a more important record to materialize, and I'm still waiting!
And one day we will die / and our ashes will fly / from the aeroplane over the sea / but for now we are young / let us lay in the sun / and count every beautiful thing we can see