reviews

A Night of Musical Board Games by your host, Vern Stoltz

This article originally appeared in Scram #15

A Night of Musical Board Games by your host, Vern Stoltz

There are many sad things one notices about the world as it moves further along the path of technical progress. Sure, CDs may sound clearer and be less vulnerable to scratches, but one loses the pleasure of holding a beautifully designed record cover in one's hands. Likewise, the evolution of computer gaming has allowed for incredibly realistic scenes to appear on a video screen, but at the expense of the visually appealing board game box. Many people have forgotten or never experienced the joy that comes with opening a box to discover a world of plastic pieces, dice, spinners, cards, multicolored play money, and best of all, the board that opens to display an exciting design.

Recently I gathered six friends to re-create that era where music and board games met in pop culture heaven. The goal: to play four long-deleted music-themed board games to see if they were still enjoyable today. This was not a scientific experiment, as the increased level of alcohol infusion through the evening may have resulted in biased results.

The Players:
1. Abigail: a collector of old advice books, and the personality behind the Miss Abigail advice column for the London Times. Miss Abigail's Time Warp Advice website can be found at http://www.missabigail.com/
2. Ani: a painter, artist, and dedicated thrifter, newly relocated to Buffalo, NY
3. Jeff: the writer behind the often funny Wit Memo website http://www.geocities.com/~witmemo/
4. Jen: a school teacher in the Washington, D.C. area
5. Ray: a magician in his spare time, residing in Washington, D.C.
6. Suzanne: wife of Jeff (they met at a screening of the documentary I Created Lancelot Link)
7. Vern: collects old vinyl LPs and board games, and sometimes even plays with them

The Games:

1957--Name That Tune

This game was a form of musical bingo. Each player received a card with columns headed with the letters M-U-S-I-C, and a small pile of red wooden markers. These looked suspiciously like those red tablets they used to hand out in grade school--the ones you chewed, after which everyone laughed at the kid who had the reddest teeth (and the worst brushing habits)

The Name That Tune game came with a record album, containing the voice of George DeWitt, host of the television show. Mr. DeWitt would announce a certain letter/number combination (eg. S/42), and then an organist played a five-second segment of an unnamed musical selection. If the title of the song was on your MUSIC card, you placed one of the red markers on the appropriate square. Should you achieve five in a row, you've won and must yell out "Stop the Music!"

This 1957 edition of the game included no rock and roll songs. Instead the game centered around selections like "National Emblem March," "American Patrol," "The Merry Widow Waltz," and the "Triumphal March (from Aida)." Soon after placing the needle on the record, I became concerned that the disk would play out to the finish without anyone being able to identify five songs in a row.

Fortunately, two things prevented this. The first was the large number of standards that are still well known today--"Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Yes We have No Bananas," and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (aka the alphabet song). The other element speeding play was the irresistible urge of my guests to yell out song titles once they recognized them. You might never have heard "Sweet Rose O Grady" before in your life, but having the player next to you yell out its name permitted you to mark it on your own MUSIC card.

The game was much more enjoyable than I had envisioned. And the record, though comprised of cheesy organ music, was actually quite fast paced.

Name That Tune Player Comments:

Jeff: B+ A great game--if you were born in 1930. A lot of fun--great to "break the ice" at a party.

Suzanne: We're gonna party like its 1949!!

Abigail: I won!! I won!!! And I didn't even cheat too much!!

Jen: 'A' grade. I was inspired to shout out the names of the tunes and sing along with the rapid tempos. We are concerned about the red dye on our hands from the tokens

1967--The Monkees Game

This was a more traditional game, the type where one spins an arrow, then moves that number of spaces forward. The winner is the first person who advances through a path of musical notes to reach the Monkees car. Although the cover of the box is quite impressive, with its images of the Monkees in their souped-up wagon, the game-board is a bit disappointing. The four Monkee markers looked too much alike, and they were out of proportion with the tiny musical notes on the gameboard.

Recognizing that just spinning and moving ahead would be boring, the game designers introduced a little plastic guitar with a rubber band for strings. When a player landed on a whole note, he had to pick up the guitar and start strumming and singing the "Hey Hey, We're the Monkees" theme song. Each time the verse was completed, that team could advance eight additional music notes, until either it was their turn again or some other team landed on a whole note, snatched the toy guitar, and started singing.

As an observer, it was quite amusing to see the players singing, and I enjoyed the fast action as the guitar was rapidly passed from one set of hands to another. For the participating players though, the experience was less satisfying.

The Monkees Comments

Ani: Monkees suck. Gameboard lacks aesthetic qualities. The notes are too close together.. This is like school. I was no good in music class

Abigail: C-, too humiliating and confusing. Thank God it sped up at the end and was over faster.

Jen: D. Evil!!! It was stressful and panicky when singing.

Jeff :C+. Just move by spinning with some awkward, embarrassing, and pointless FORCED SINGING! Big disagreement, over whether having to sing, or getting to sing, is good or bad. I think this game was rushed to market without sufficient R & D, to take advantage of the Monkee craze.

Suzanne: B, exciting, but utterly trivial.

Ray: I was told there wouldn't be any singing.

1971--The Partridge Family Game

This was another "racetrack" game, where one shook the dice and moved ahead, with the winner being the first to reach the Partridge Family bus. For added excitement, one could land on a Partridge square and draw a card. These cards were quite amazing, with each having a bit of Partridge trivia that appeared to have no relevance to the instructions it gave. Some examples:

Laurie has a great curiosity about everything--Move back 2 spaces
Chris has a great appetite for pancakes--Move ahead 3 spaces
Laurie belongs to the "Now" generation--Lose one turn
Danny has gone off zipping on his bike--Move ahead 4 spaces
'Danny enjoys eerie horror movies--Lose one turn

There were four markers in this game, representing Keith, Laurie, Danny, and "Mom." Chris and Tracy were not represented, nor was Rueben, the group's manager. There was a brief pre-start skirmish, as most players wanted to be Danny.

The game itself went relatively quickly, as one only had to travel a path of 61 squares while using two dice. Mom started this game with a huge lead, but Keith, with an exact role of 11, ended up reaching the bus ahead of everyone else. Overall, this game was the one geared to the youngest target audience, with several players noting the similarity to Candyland. It was very simple, yet oddly enjoyable, perhaps because of the cheerful, early '70s graphic design.

The Partridge Family Comments

Ani: Better than the Monkees

Jen: I like making fun of the characters--each has led such a colorful post-Partridge life

Abigail: B+. Cards were entertaining, even though they made no sense. Helps to listen to "I Think I Love You" and dream of Keith. So cheap that they only used one photo for box, board, and pieces

1973--K-Tel Super Star Game

Yes, K-Tel actually produced a board game in addition to all those budget compilation records that were heavily advertised on television. This game was unique among the four played, as it was the only one to address the role of business in the music world. The goal of Name That Tune was to identify five songs in a row. The Monkees and Partridge Family games required you to race along the path and become the first to reach your vehicle. The goal of the K-Tel Super Star Game was to amass a fortune by game's end.

This was the only game to come with play money, unfortunately of an inferior quality, without any fake famous people on the bills. The game was very similar to the popular Game of Life. Players progress along the track, and follow the directions of whatever square they landed on. One has the option of buying insurance (for protection from stolen musical equipment), and instead of collecting money via regular paydays, one earns increasing dollar amounts by passing special concert squares.

By purchasing a record company, player have the option of releasing singles and LPs into the marketplace. When this happened, one went to the stereo and placed the needle onto a special multi-tracked 45 RPM record. The record would then announce either "It's a Hit," "It's a Flop," or "Break Even." If the result was a hit record, the player would collect a special miniature plastic record token--perhaps the coolest thing about this game--which was redeemable for more play money when you reached the end of the track.

But even with the introduction of cool golden records, this K-Tel game bored everyone stiff. The game track, although very brightly colored, was 153 squares long, and took forever to traverse--especially since the game came with only a single dice. The instructions on each square were boring, simply instructing the player to collect or pay money. Even playing the hit-predicting 45, which should have been entertaining, ended up feeling quite anti-climatic.

Sample instructions on the board game and the various "Fortune" cards:

Pay motel bill $100
Bootleg album, lose $10,000 in sales
Swindled by phony guru, pay $10,000
Sell life story to teen magazine, get $1,000
That's a no-no, pay $30,000

Near the end of the game is a square that says "You're chosen musician of the year--Congratulations," and oddly enough, there's no mention of monetary reward at all. Perhaps that was what was wrong with this game. With the constant focus on money, it felt like you should have a calculator nearby to keep track of your financial status. You'd think a game based on rock 'n roll would have been interesting, but the lack of famous rock celebrities, or even fictitious characters, meant that the emphasis was on money, money, and money.

In an ill-fated attempt to increase the excitement level, I went down to the basement and brought up an old color organ project made in junior high electronics class. But even those swirling colors from the '70s were unable to excite the players. This game was so boring that everyone decided to quit before even making it through the outermost ring of the track.

K-Tel Super Star Comments

Ani: Records are cool; K-Tel game drools

Jeff: This game promises to go on as long as Monopoly, or Risk. Much too ambitious for its own good, or ours. Cries out for two dice, instead of the one it comes with, to PICK UP THE PACE.

Suzanne: B+, a bit long, but engaging, like Life for deadheads.

Jen: Too many rules for a simple concept. Too long and tedious. Much like Monopoly. Yawn. The accompanying record sucks and is pointless. Just wanted it to end

Summary:

Oddly enough, everyone agreed that the oldest game, Name That Tune, was the most enjoyable. A bit of research showed that this was a very popular game in the late '50s, and a second edition was created with a new record.

The Partridge Family and Monkees games were fun, but this seemed partly due to the joy of having people sitting around a brightly colored board-game, conversing and interacting. Half the attraction of these games is the pop culture fascination with musical celebrities. The K-Tel game, lacking the celebrity aspect, was much less interesting.

Overall though, everyone agreed that board games are still entertaining, especially when played with a bunch of fun people. Most importantly, almost all boardgames can be played late at night, under candle light, during the next power outage. Your computer might be dead, but as long as at least two members of the Partridge Family are able to travel around the board, there will be hope in the world.

Reviews part1

Reviews for Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

by Kim Cooper


 

Alt.Culture.Guide, July 2006

In The Aeroplane Over The SeaWriter Kim Cooper, editor and publisher of the charming and informative pop culture zine Scram, has made a career out of championing the underrated and ill-fated musicians of days past. Both with her zine, and in wonderful books like Lost In The Grooves or Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Cooper evinces a great deal of affection for, and insight into, the music and musicians she writes about. Thus it should come as no surprise that Cooper has hooked up with Continuum to write one of the better books in the company's esteemed 33 1/3 series about one of the more obscure, yet deserving albums in rock & roll.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea offers more than just Cooper's take on the landmark 1998 album by cult faves Neutral Milk Hotel. Cooper delves into the band's roots, setting up the relationships between all of the musicians that made up the Elephant 6 collective and bands like Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. She outlines the collaborative efforts of the players, the travels necessary to bring them all to certain points (and places) in time, and the work behind the loose-knit collective's various projects. Finally, she focuses in on Jeff Mangrum, the multi-talented musician and songwriter who is the spark behind Neutral Milk Hotel and the man mostly responsible for the short-lived band's two excellent albums.

With her easy-going narrative, Cooper achieves one of the hardest things to do when introducing readers to perfect strangers: she infuses each of the main players with a personality. When finishing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea -- a quick read at a too-short 104 pages, a hallmark of the 33 1/3 series -- the reader not only has a sense of who Jeff Mangrum and friends are, but also what they were trying to accomplish with their music. Although both the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and its 1996 predecessor On Avery Island are dense, textured and maddeningly obtuse works, Cooper manages to shine a new light on both albums.

Although I must admit to no more than a passing familiarity with either Neutral Milk Hotel album, Cooper's book made me go out and buy both CDs, dammit! A perfect companion piece to the album that it dissects, Cooper's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea explains why the album's audience and importance grows with each passing year while doing a fine job of also relating the music's immense charm and...dare I say it...magic. Both the book and the album are highly recommended for anybody searching for meaningful music beyond this week's trends. (Rev. Keith A. Gordon)
 

Never News, July 24, 2006

While Colin Meloy's Let it Be was a intimate work (sort of an exploration of the album by way of personal memoir), Kim Cooper's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a more clinical, journalistic book. Which makes sense, because Cooper is a journalist type (she edits Scram) .

But the book isn't lacking certain personal moments—the whole thing is filled with intimate moments, based on both the very nature of the album and Neutral Milk Hotel's family (Elephant 6, if you're a layman).

The book explores the formation of the family, in part, from Ruston, Louisiana to the final homes of Denver, Colorado and Athens, Georgia. We're given a brief overview of Jeff Mangum's work pre-formation of the band we'd learn to know and love as Neutral Milk Hotel, from his sound-experiment tapes (under the same moniker) to his stints in other bands. She then gives us a point by point map of how Jeff gathered his players who would, ultimately, perform as both recording musicians and the touring band for both On Avery Island and Aeroplane.

The book is insightful, but never forcibly so; Cooper may lead us by the hand, but only so we can come to understand how the band, album, and music work, never so that she can show us why it does so.

We're given plenty of first-hand accounts on the rise and not fall, but end of NMH—right up to one of the big 'mysteries' of music; where Mangum went. The answer to that puzzle is surprisingly unsurprising; he simply stopped. Cooper gives us a comparison to Cobain's slow self-destruction, and how Jeff managed to avoid it.

Each song of the album is explored not as a critical consideration (which Cooper, sadly, does give us near the end) but as it was happening—how the songs were recorded (Oh, Comely, which has found its way into my head every day for the last three years, was recorded in one take, it would seem—when Mangum was doing a sound check, he played it perfectly straight through—the over dubs being added later—this story suddenly makes sense of the 'Holy Shit!' we hear at the end of the track).

On top of the deep examination of how things came to be, we get such an interesting history (which, I'll admit, I was craving) behind what (I'll dare say it) became the best album of the last sixteen years.

Each one of the entries of the 33 1/3 series that I read just excites me to read more; my first two (Let it Be and this one) were chosen because of the interest I had to either the writer (in Meloy's case) or the album (here). Given that they have such a mammoth release list now, I'm sure I'll find another such case (Harvest, for instance). But, even if that's not the case, the series warrants a full read; I yearn to just pick up each book (and corresponding album) in order and digest until my brain is muddied by all the full facts.

 

Portland Mercury, May 25, 2006 

It all happened in a hot magmatic flash; Neutral Milk Hotel dropped Aeroplane on February 10, 1998, met the drooling rock media head on, and then vanished by the end of the year. Nowadays all that's left is two full-lengths, an EP, and news of singer Jeff Mangum hermiting off in a monastery (or doing field recordings of Bulgarian folk festivals.) Kim Cooper sums up the story in three quick pages, then starts back at the beginning, winding up to the birth of Aeroplane—a messy, alive-sounding, psychedelic "fuzz folk" record with clattering production, a brass section, and a beautiful, sad, surrealist narrative based around the life, death, and reincarnation of Anne Frank. Cooper sits back and lets the band members, fans, and other sideliners tell the story, and the result is more oral history than rock criticism. A damn fine read. ADAM GNADE

Harp, May 2006

The premise of Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series is this: Esteemed music writers devote a good 100 or so chapbook-sized pages to albums of cultural and/or personal impact, exploring how they came to be and what they might mean.

In the case of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea—a cult album of mythic proportions—Scram editor Kim Cooper isn’t going to do all the hard work and tell you what it all means (drat!). In fact, only eight pages are devoted to dissecting the songs one by one. Cooper’s less interested in demystifying this very mystifying record, with its Anne Frank obsessions and ecstatic declaration of “I love you Jesus Christ!” than in presenting an oral history of its making, beginning with band members’ early days in Ruston, La., and the geographically diverse sprouting of what would become the Elephant 6 Collective.

The conversational tone of the book makes for a breezy, casual story, except we never hear from the person who fans want to hear from most: frontman Jeff Mangum. His is a grand absence, to be sure, but at least it preserves his status as an elusive figurehead. The closest you’ll get to understanding why he broke up NMH at the height of its popularity comes from girlfriend and band member Laura Carter. But just as Cooper wants you to listen to this album to find your own meaning in it, you’ll have to read this book to find out, what little you can, about the mystical proprietor of Neutral Milk Hotel. (Mia Quagliarello)

PopMatters, 4/7/06

Given Neutral Milk Hotel's shifting lineup and frequent moves in the years before and during Aeroplane, Cooper commendably maps out their story within a spare hundred some pages.

by Anne K. Yoder

The fans of Neutral Milk Hotel are insatiably hungry. For more music, for unreleased demo tapes, for a reunion tour. And for the band's history. Their album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which has in recent years dominated the critics' lists of best albums from the end of the century, was released from seemingly out of nowhere, for most fans, in 1997. By the end of 1998, the band had broken up, long before the album had a chance to disseminate by word of mouth, and before its aural delights filled the ears of so many fans to whom this album means so much. The album barely had time to register before the band dispersed, and yet Aeroplane has only gained esteem in its brief life. Kim Cooper's new book on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the first to chronicle the album and the band's past, traces the band's development from central figure Jeff Mangum's childhood to its ultimate disintegration. It fills in the gaps, offering conversations with band members while tying together the sprawling story, and should take the edge off the appetites, at least for a while.

When Jeff Mangum left Neutral Milk Hotel and the public realm of music in 1998, his retreat spawned a fascination that's only grown since. Mangum was the creative force behind the band as the main songwriter, with fragments of songs circling his mind for years before he recorded them. Until now, the only way to piece together the band's story has been to sift through the fan sites, the message boards, and the smattering of interviews, profiles, and articles available online. Most were written while the band was still together, with a trickling stream of gems appearing afterward. Mangum's appearances post-Neutral Milk Hotel have been brief and scattered: a tenure of nine shows as a DJ on the New York freeform radio station WFMU, a lengthy interview on Pitchfork in 2002, and a disc of Bulgarian folk music recorded with Josh McKay and released by Orange Twin. Since then the well has been fairly dry.

To give you an idea of the excitement generated by Mangum, even in the briefest of appearances: At the Olivia Tremor Control show last summer at the Bowery Ballroom, when the crowd recognized the voice of Mangum, whose face was shadowed by a baseball cap as he descended to the stage from the wings, a heated cheer filled the club. And only hours after he joined the band for two songs, his appearance made online news headlines at Pitchfork, Spin, and Billboard. It's as if Mangum's spiritual presence in his music has heightened the awareness of his physical absence.

Perhaps that explains why Cooper's volume on the band and its music has sold faster than any of the other books in Continuum's 33 1/3 series. Released at the end of November, it has already entered its second printing, and has outsold books on both David Bowie's Low and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. But unlike Low and Born in the U.S.A., albums that do not lack for documentation, and whose creators are still very much making music and performing in public, Aeroplane is virgin territory. Kim Cooper's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea pulls the band's itinerant history together, and in doing so delves deeply into Jeff Mangum's musical development. It recounts Mangum's childhood friendships with fellow Elephant 6 members in Ruston, Louisiana, including their high school days running the local college radio station, and follows Mangum and the band's frequent moves between Athens, Georgia, New York, and Denver.

Through careful documentation and many conversations with Mangum's band mates, Mangum's former girlfriend Laura Carter, and many other musicians in the Elephant 6 community, Cooper relays a tale of how their close-knit friendships provided the fertile soil of experimentation, stimulation, and trust from which Neutral Milk Hotel blossomed. Band member Julian Koster emphasizes that the community of friends provided a haven that made such an album possible: "I think what Elephant 6 meant for us is very simple: there's something pure and infinite in you and wants to come out of you, and can come out of no other person on the planet. That's what you've got to share, and that's as neat and as important as the fact that you're alive."

Although Mangum's voice is noticeably absent from the book, he is its guiding force. The band's name comes from one of the various home recording projects Mangum started in high school, and the band's first album, On Avery Island, is very much his. In fact, Robert Schneider is the only other musician from this album who also appears on Aeroplane (as both the producer and as a musician). The book emphasizes Schneider's role in Aeroplane's sound, as an influence that's often overlooked. According to Koster, Schneider's vision helped define the album: "the sound of the album was a marriage between Robert's recording aesthetic and the band's sound, because the four of us had grown one--a confoundingly distinct and powerful one that we all recognized."

Given Neutral Milk Hotel's shifting lineup and frequent moves in the years before and during Aeroplane, Cooper commendably maps out their story within a spare hundred some pages. When it comes to analysis, though, Cooper is admittedly standoffish, as she feared "sucking all the mystery out of the lyrics and spoiling their effects." The requisite run through of the track list is pithy, and Cooper is so aware of not imposing her interpretation on readers that she includes a disclaimer before she proceeds.

For the musician and the admirer alike, anecdotes and details of the band's adventures and recording habits are bountiful. Much of the flavor comes from the stories that only those involved with the project could tell, such as when Mangum moved into Koster's already crowded New York apartment: "there were tape loops strung all over the apartment, enormous tape loops strung all over the room. You'd come in and there'd be pencils and cups and the tape would be stringing along." Or then there's the retelling of the "Scott Spillane Pizza Hut Incident": horn-player Spillane once forgetfully left a backpack filled with the band's tour profits --totaling ten to twenty thousand dollars -- at a Pizza Hut they'd stopped at while on the road. The bag was recovered with the money inside, but it incited panic in the few hours it took to return to the restaurant. Like a family, they recall this mishap that ended well with amusement, and all grudges, if there were any, are seemingly forgotten.

This little book deftly pulls together the band's past, finally coloring in a much-deserved telling of Aeroplane's background story. A history of Jeff Mangum's musical development as much as it is a companion piece to the album, the book also sheds light on his desire to shun the spotlight. Mangum, according to Laura Carter, "wanted to drop out and be like Robert Wyatt--be a recluse and then come out with an album every ten years and shock everybody." For musicians who enveloped themselves in a cocoon of likeminded friends, who lived and played together and buffered each other from the "real world" pressures of making money and finding practical jobs, it's not surprising that Mangum would want to retain the elements that fostered his music in the first place.

LA Weekly, 3/22/06

BLAH BLAH BLAH
Local author Kim Cooper has written a book on the making of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, often considered the “masterpiece” of the Elephant 6 collective (see also Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control). Like the ’98 album, her book — part of the 33 1/3 series of pocket-size LP histories — is a sleeper, outselling the series’ Springsteen and Bowie books!

You edited the anthology Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth. What’s the E6-bubblegum connection?

COOPER: Bubblegum is a geeky, joyful, unselfconscious scene, and so is Elephant 6. None of the Neutral Milk Hotel players were at all cool, and they were flabbergasted when cool kids started turning up at their shows. (Which happened for the first time in L.A., actually.)

Get much fan mail? I’ve received lots of very sweet messages from people who were moved by the book. My favorites are the ones that say, “I was dreading this book, but I ended up loving it.”

Where does Aeroplane fit in the catalogue of Jesus-inspired freak-folk? In the annex where faith is more implied than slathered, and all people are welcome who have ears to hear.

Will you tour? Here’s a scoop: [I will be making] an Elephant 6 documentary, and plan to travel to many important places in the E6 mythos. I’ll set up readings in as many of those towns’ book or donut shops [as possible].

Final thoughts? This book surprised me by being not so much about a rock band but about friendship and love and faith and art. Cooper reads at Vroman’s in Pasadena, Saturday, 4 p.m., with Ben Sisario, author of a Pixies Doolittle tome. (Kate Sullivan)

L.A. ALTERNATIVE, 2/3/2006

Author Kim Cooper gives us the Neutral Milk Hotel we always knew existed, by Evan George

If you listen closely to your favorite albums, occasionally you can hear the swish of traffic in the back of the mix. Sometimes it’s a conversation during the session or a serendipitously missed note in a solo. These secret moments are narcotic to a fan, like a glimpse into the recording studio, a backstage pass. But often, without the aid of a biographer privy to the inner circle, these sounds go completely unnoticed.

Kim Cooper has given me one of these moments. In the closing seconds of the lonely, acoustic opus “Oh Comely,” as someone at the mixing board is fading out, you can hear the band Neutral Milk Hotel and friends burst into cheers as an exuberant member yelps, “Holy shit!” after a seamlessly moving one-take by front man Jeff Magnum. Expecting only a 15-second sound-check, the group was wowed when Magnum came forth with the entirety of the song, clocking in at more than eight minutes of tortured warble and beauty on the spot. When pointed out, a two-second snippet like this can enrich appreciation for an album as secretive as In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Hailing from Luston, Louisiana, Neutral Milk Hotel became an odd, outsider-rock sensation after the celebration of Aeroplane, their second full-length. Led by sole songwriter Magnum, they played low-fi, hi-ambience masterpieces with fuzzed out guitars, trumpet solos and poetry steeped in religious iconography and transformative magic that touched the spine of entranced listeners. After the accolades and impressive word-of-mouth publicity, Magnum chose to return to anonymity, retiring NMH for good. His last musical project involved traveling the Eastern Bloc, making field recordings of traditional Eastern European folk musicians for posterity’s sake.

Cooper’s 2005 book on NMH and Aeroplane (which shares a title with the album) is part of the 33 1/3 series that treats cult-classic albums like dissertation fodder, and hers does a particularly stellar job of demystifying—as much as possible—the destitute and devoted dudes behind Neutral Milk Hotel’s underground stardom.

As editor of Scram magazine and co-founder of the 1947 Project—a website devoted to the underbelly of L.A. history—Cooper levels her unflinching detective’s eye at the band. Through exhaustive interviews with the infamous recluses, she details everything from high school friendships to the humble beginnings of the preeminent ’90s indie label Elephant 6, and the touring that ultimately proved the last public appearance of the band. Unlike many of the other books in the celebrated series, her extensive analysis of the album’s origins and content is by no means the majority of the writing. Her strengths as a social historian lend this read a certain depth that most Spin writers could never muster. Somehow, she miraculously manages to do an album of this ilk—as resistant to the bitter end as it’s been to the spotlight—poetic justice.

On Wednesday, February 8th, Cooper will read selections from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea at Book Soup in West Hollywood.

L.A. Alternative: How’d you seize on Neutral Milk Hotel, a seemingly biography-averted band, to do this sort of book on, and how did the project come about?
Kim Cooper: Andrew Hultkrans, a contributor to David Smay’s and my anthology Lost in the Grooves, had written a 33 1/3 book about Love’s Forever Changes. The idea of the series was catnip for me, so I asked if he’d put me in touch with his editor, David Barker, which he did. David encouraged me to submit a wish list of albums I thought were worthy of a book, and I strung together a list of mainly psychedelic, folk and proto-punk disks… then at the last moment added two semi-recent albums, just so it wouldn’t seem like I was trapped in the past. One was Lolita Nation by Game Theory, the other In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Using some mysterious editorial voodoo, David determined that Aeroplane and I might be a match, and he asked me to expound on that choice in a formal pitch. As I wrote the pitch, I realized I was much more excited about writing about this placeholder album than any of the ones I thought were my favorites, but which had already been subject to extensive analysis by dozens of other writers. I mean, really, what was I thinking, wanting to write about Astral Weeks in the wake of Lester Bangs?!

LAA: What was the interaction with 33 1/3 people like? Your book seems to read differently than many of the more analysis-driven ones. Was that a choice of yours, to not follow the standard format?
KC: Every (reasonably disciplined) writer should have an editor like David Barker. He didn’t inhibit or direct me in the slightest way, but made it clear that he wanted me to write the book I needed to write. I never did take him up on his offer to bounce partly written chapters off him—I’m private when I work. But he was always there with an open ear when I had a question, and made a few smart suggestions about tweaking the final manuscript, all of which I followed.

I didn’t know what form this book would take until I talked with the people who lived the album. Over the course of the interviews, it became clear that the story of Aeroplane was one of friendship and community, and that the voices of the players and their friends and their fans had to be integral to the book. Once these voices were slotted in, the story told itself.

LAA: In the book, you describe the supernatural reaction of fans to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. What was your first relationship with the band and that album, as a listener?
KC: I remember being very moved by the album. It’s easy to remember this feeling, because it has never left me. But I didn’t realize how much depth it had, or what a cool world it reflected, until doing this research. I liked NMH from the first album, but never made the effort to see them live—which, of course, I feel pretty foolish about now.

LAA: Is their a cult around Jeff Magnum that seems over-blown, or do you think more people should be exposed to this kind of album?
KC: I think Aeroplane deserves all the accolades it gets. If my book adds one idea to the common currency about the album, I hope it’s that this lovely piece of work is not something that can be purely credited to Jeff Mangum. The songs are his, but the production and arrangements, which have such power, are collaborations.

Reviews part2

LAA: You play detective in some ways for the 1947 Project. How would you go about tracking him down if you were going to?
KC: Well, I did track him down, before starting work on the book. I would have been uncomfortable poking around in the life of such a private person without first explaining my intentions and ideally receiving his blessing. And actually, it wasn’t too difficult: a few emails and calls to friends and associates, and he agreed to talk to me. It would have been a little trickier had he not wanted to be found!

LAA: Was this your first stint in music journalism and how did you find the experience?
KC: This was my first solo book, but I’ve been editing Scram, a journal of unpopular culture, since 1992, and co-edited two pop anthologies, Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed and Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth.

While the skills I’ve honed interviewing folks like Emitt Rhodes, Linda Perhacs, P.F. Sloan, Colin Blunstone, Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, etc., came into play, writing a book that tells the full story of a band is a very different process than writing a magazine feature. It was challenging, scary and inspiring, and a lot of work.

By the way, I’m working on a feature for the next Scram comprised of some of the interview material that didn’t make it into the Neutral Milk Hotel book.

LAA: Were you surprised with how much people involved, friends and band members, were willing to open up about it?
KC: Happily so, because until I spoke with Jeff, and he presumably determined I was not a stalker or a jerk, I wasn’t really connecting with many people from his circle. But once we spoke that changed, and everyone was extremely generous and open.

LAA: What do you think is the attraction to the ‘behind the music’ aspect of this kind of writing?
KC: If you mean the attraction to dirt, gossip is at the heart of human relationships. Only sociopaths are disinterested in the complex and scandalous actions of others. But personally, I’d rather wallow in the dirt of the long-dead—like James Boswell’s London Journal—and maintain a bit of mystery around living artists whose work I love.

LARGEHEARTED BOY, 1/31/2006

Of all the books in Continuum's 33 1/3 series on seminal albums, I have enjoyed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea the most. Kim Cooper not only details the recording of one of my favorite albums, but she also captures the formation of the Elephant6 collective that created (and influenced) so much of the music I love. (click to read Kim's playlist of songs to accompany her book)

SHEPHERD-EXPRESS, 1/2006

One anecdote collected in Kim Cooper’s wonderful In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Continuum Books), the story of the making of Neutral Milk Hotel’s groundbreaking album of the same name, perfectly exemplifies the type of commitment that the band instilled in its fans. During a 1998 tour stop in Chattanooga, Tenn., a girl drove from Arkansas to give bandleader Jeff Magnum her grandmother’s rosary. She talked with Jeff for a few minutes and then started the long journey home—without even seeing the show. Even today—nearly 10 years after the record was released—people are still raving about this particular NMH record. Check out any of the numerous message boards devoted to the band (or the comments on Amazon.com) for evidence of this loyalty. People are rabidly fanatical about this band.

In many ways, it is this utter dedication to music that makes up the core of Cooper’s fascinating look at Magnum and his band mates. For while Cooper collects the musings of all NMH members, this is truly the story of the mystery of Jeff Magnum: how he wrote a collection of songs that touched so many so deeply, and how he walked away from it all after the release of Aeroplane. The fanaticism displayed by NMH fans, as Cooper shows, was more than matched by the fanaticism that Magnum brought to his music. Here was a man completely devoted to his craft, to the point that it seemingly cost him both his physical and mental health.

Much of Magnum’s devotion to music appears to be a result of his struggles with religion, and Cooper notes how religious questions seemingly played a vital role in both the songwriter’s rise and fall. Cooper, for example, notes that Magnum’s childhood experiences at a religious camp played a major role in his emotional and artistic development (Magnum would later startle indie kids by singing, “I love you Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do” on the track “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three” from NMH’s seminal album). Cooper also pays close attention to Magnum’s obsession with Anne Frank, whose presence haunts many of Aeroplane’s songs. To Magnum, the story of Frank, and the Holocaust that took her life, undoubtedly shook his belief in a benevolent God. It is therefore not surprising that Magnum could not find the motivation to record another album after Aeroplane.

Sadly, we never learn exactly what motivated Magnum, as his voice is remarkably absent from this work. Yet this book, along with recent albums by such bands as the Decemberists, the Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade (all of whom clearly draw from the sounds of NMH), reminds us that his band continues to be relevant in the 21st century. And perhaps we haven’t heard the last from Magnum. Laura Carter, who played in NMH as well as Elf Power, has said that she believes Jeff’s plan was to “be a recluse and then come out with an album in 10 years and shock everybody.” Aeroplane came out in February 1998. That gives you a little more than two years, Jeff. (Michael Carriere)

FLAGPOLE (ATHENS), 1/18/2006

Ghost, Ghost: A New Book Examines Neutral Milk Hotel's Landmark Sophomore Album, interview by Chris Hassiotis

Mapping the intricacies of any album's creation can be like signing up for a class in headaches. This is particularly true when the album being examined is Neutral Milk Hotel's 1997 release In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; the band's second album was cultivated in the heart of the loose Elephant 6 collective, whose members swapped instruments, stages and rooms, and whose personal lives overlapped just as much.

In her new book In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Continuum), Los Angeles-based writer Kim Cooper, editor of the long-running Scram!, unravels the rumors and demystifies much of the legend that has wound itself around songwriter Jeff Mangum since the Athens band's 1998 breakup. In speaking with the band's core - Mangum, Julian Koster, Jeremy Barnes and Scott Spillane - as well as others involved in its production, Cooper effectively reminds readers that Neutral Milk Hotel was a band of real people - dear friends - playing instruments, but reinforces the idea that Aeroplane and its songs are a unique document of a time, place and creative community. "The songs are beautiful and fascinating, the playing unpredictable and soulful, the production sympathetic and effective," Cooper writes. She spent a good amount of research time in Athens (even crashing at the house of Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records), and allows those involved to step to the forefront of their own story - save for Mangum, who declined to be officially interviewed.

After only six weeks, the book has gone back to press for a second printing. David Barker, editor of the series which focuses on individual albums, says, "It's fantastic to see Kim's book off to such a great start, and outselling our books about Springsteen and Bowie. The story is clearly resonating with a lot of fans."

Flagpole recently spoke with Cooper from her home in Los Angeles.

Flagpole: Let's start at the beginning. How did you come to write a book about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?
Kim Cooper: I was doing a book called Lost in the Grooves, an anthology of people celebrating great "lost records," and when I asked for bios from all of our contributors, [music writer] Andrew Hultkrans told me about a book he was doing for 33 1/3, and I got excited and wanted to read it. He put me in touch with his editor because I wanted to pitch some stuff.
David Barker at Continuum said, "Send me your wish list," and I put together what you would expect from someone who's mainly written about bubblegum, psychedelia and weird thriftstore records. It was very much a '60s, early '70s list. And then kind of as an afterthought, and to escape being pigeonholed, I put on a couple of new things: Lolita Nation by Game Theory and Aeroplane, which were the two more recent records that I thought deserved a book that I felt passionately about. David wrote back and said, "Hey, these are a bunch of great records, and I think Aeroplane might be the most interesting for us."

Flagpole: How long did the entire process take?
Kim Cooper: I think a couple of years. It took a while to really open up the lines of communication with everyone involved in the group, and I didn't really know what it was going to be until I talked to everybody, and then it all kind of fell into place.

Flagpole: You never formally interviewed Jeff Mangum, and he's never directly quoted in the book, but his presence is felt throughout. Was that a compromise you had to accept, or something you were open to from the beginning?
Kim Cooper: I had a nice conversation with him before I did anything else, and let him know where I was coming from as a writer and let him know that I had no intention of exploiting his story or his friends' lives and that I would be happy to talk with him if he wanted to go on the record, but that he didn't have to. I think we both went back and forth on whether to do it, and we emailed a lot about it.
I can certainly see that having him in the book as just another member of Neutral Milk Hotel would be a big challenge, because everything he says comes under such incredible scrutiny and just raises different issues. I didn't want to him to be a ghost in the book, though, but I like how things turned out.

Flagpole: Do you think the way it turned out will just feed into the hermit-madman mythology building around him?
Kim Cooper: Yeah. But at the same time, his friends really know him well. As with any popular rock musician, the people in the inner circle and the people in the outer circle, their perceptions of any musician, Jeff in this case, may be more real than what the person is experiencing or more revealing that what they have to say about themselves.

Flagpole: In the book's introduction, you write "Neutral Milk Hotel first impressed (On Avery Island, their 1995 debut full-length), then astonished (1997's In The Aeroplane Over the Sea)" Was that your initial reaction to the album?
Kim Cooper: I don't think I recognized it as being a total classic right away, but I thought it was really, really powerful, and it got to me immediately. And I was just happy they had a new album out. I didn't really know that much about them. Never saw them live, unfortunately.

Flagpole: A number of fans seem to have a rabidly personal relationship with the album. That's an important part of the album's legacy, and you discuss that well. However, one of the few people not directly involved with the band you interviewed was Jason Wachtelhausen. Did you consider talking to other fans?
Kim Cooper: I put out a call to people who'd written things on message boards and some other people. I found Jason because I was trying to find out about the Dog Museum. Laura remembered it as a group of people in Victorian clothes who followed them around the country, but when I asked Jason about it, he was like, "Uh, no."

It seemed like there was an interesting community that had sprung up around their live shows. And then people like Briana [Whyte, who's quoted in the book] wrote a really beautiful post about the music that obviously resonated with others.

Flagpole: Did delving this deep into the specifics of the album's creation change your opinion of it in any way?
Kim Cooper: It's funny, because the record doesn't sound any different at all to me. You know how those annotated books, like The Annotated Alice [in Wonderland] or The Wizard of Oz, where after you've read it, you can't help but think about the footnotes, somehow the record seems to stand apart. I know much more about it, but it hasn't lost anything.

Flagpole: One thing that hasn't been explored as in depth anywhere else is how big of a contribution Robert Schneider had in the album's production.
Kim Cooper: Oh, my god! Robert is so, so important. He was a really good friend to Jeff.

Flagpole: An appealing factor of the book, and something you're particularly able to convey, is the open-ended sense of collaboration between musicians, not just in Athens, but at that time in Athens and with that group of people.
Kim Cooper: There was a really nice openness. Nobody in my interviews felt like they had to be the star of the book, and it seemed like when the album was being made was a really special time. You're lucky to live in a town with so many people like that.

NIGHTTIMES, 1/15/2006

Virtually unknown to the mainstream, Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is by far an all-time favorite album for critics and indie music lovers alike. And this crowd are all no doubt drawing a big smile and jumping with joy that Kim Cooper (Scram magazine editor and publisher and co-author of Lost In the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide To The Music You Missed) has written about this epic album for Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series--a collection of pocket-sized all-out tributes to favorite rock and roll albums.

Since Aeroplane was released in 1998, the album still steadily sells purely on word of mouth. Popular culture magazines never understood the genius of singer/songwriter Jeff Magnum's bizarre yet powerful lyrics, or his heartfelt, if off-key delivery. But fans read the lyrics from and listen to Aeroplane as if they're receiving the gospel. Jamey Huggins (Of the band, Montreal) describes in the book's introduction that Aeroplane is like listening to a religious man speaking his bit of the liturgy. He admits, "I've cried while listening to the album."

Fans have many different interpretations and analyses of the lyrics of this album. A reoccurring motif is Anne Frank and the Holocaust. Magnum was heavily influenced by Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl while writing this album, carrying her diary around with him even after he finished.

Author Kim Cooper does a marvelous job offering interpretations of the lyrics without opinionated views. She says, Consider the following as a series of cover versions, a layering of possible and partial interpretations that are needed to be transparent. One of Kim Cooper's best and most intellectual interpretations was referred to the closing line in the album's sixth track, "Holland 1945."

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

Kim Cooper points out, for example, a WWII reference about the "White Roses," a group of martyrs in Nazi Germany that used to write negative letters about the Nazi party to German citizens.

The book starts with Jeff's childhood and his relationship with the rest of the band members (also people from the Elephant 6 collective). Then, like a biography, the book follows the lives of the band members until the actual recording and writing process of the album. Aeroplane closes with what has happened with the band since this monumental recording and what became of Jeff Magnum. (Since this album's release, he has only played one post-Aeroplane song).

Kim Cooper did an excellent job proficiently analyzing one of the most misunderstood albums of our time. Not overlooking a single aspect of the album, there is even a chapter on the artwork. The interview tidbits and short stories from the band are quite interesting and flow well with the rest of the book. Fans of the album will adore this book, and is a great reminder of one of the best albums ever made. (Michael Mofsen)

FROM HERE TO OBSCURITY, 12/30/05

What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me

If you're like me, you love Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea with a passion that few other albums achieve, and you have been looking forward to the 33 1/3 book for as long as you've known about it. Well, ok, there's probably only 1000 or so people in the country who fall into that category, but MAN, what a great album and what a great book about it.

Kim Cooper (the editrix of Lost In The Grooves, Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and Scram Magazine) gets to the heart of the story about this album. As NMH fans know, Jeff Mangum produced only one prior NMH album, On Avery Island (released in 1996), which was pretty much created without a band, then brought in a group that became the NMH that we all knew and loved. NMH put out the amazing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in 1998, went on a short tour to support the album, then more or less disappeared. I remember when they came to Chapel Hill on that tour, but I didn't go see them because I thought I'd have plenty of options to see them again. I was wrong.

Cooper spent some time with Jeff Mangum while researching the book, and it shows, despite his unwillingness to be directly quoted, in her insight into his elusive genius. She also spoke with the other major members and friends of the band, who provided her with the in-stories that show exactly how this band bottled the lightning in 1998. Cooper's depth of research and sympathy for her subject are wonderful to read.

I pitched Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights to 33 1/3, and I can say with confidence that this is exactly the sort of book I'd attempt to write about that album if the editors give me the go-ahead. Some of the other 33 1/3 books have been too much about the ego of the author; Cooper disappears into her narrative, and her book is infinitely better for it. (Hayden Childs)

BLOGCRITICS.ORG, 12/29/05

The popularity of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea never really registered with me until recently. I had assumed it was an album that a lot of people had heard, but the latter-day cult phenomenon surrounding it had eluded me. This book, 29th in Continuum's 33 1/3 series which examines "critically acclaimed and much-loved albums" (think liner notes expanded over a hundred pages), informed me that 50,000 copies of this record have been copped over the last two years - over a third of the album's total sales. Considering Aeroplane was released in 1998, the figure is a little staggering. If Aeroplane isn't seen by everyone as a classic, it seems that the more time passes, the more it will be cemented as such: unpretentious, complicated, postmodern without the sag of postmodernism, it's certainly a word-of-mouth success whose momentum only seems to be growing.

Kim Cooper edits Scram magazine and co-edited a couple of books you might have heard of. And given the dearth of reliable information on the band and the album, she deserves major credit for constructing an oral history this detailed. Her information and quotes come from almost all of the people involved, with the exception of Jeff Mangum himself, who predictably declined to be interviewed (but gave his blessing). And so the most valuable thing about the book is that it cleans and polishes the murky circumstances that hang around Aeroplane. The so-called myth machine of Neutral Milk Hotel is enormous; that Cooper's book is able to clear a little of the smoke around the character of Jeff Mangum, the making of the album, and years of message board speculation is extremely welcome. And it's a good story: full of endearing and eccentric musicians you can't help but admire, Cooper's prose seems to fall with a miraculous ease over their words and personalities.

The book is slim little volume, short and steadily paced: it begins with Jeff and company in elementary school, moves into the formation of the Elephant 6 Collective, then breaks into a gallop when In the Aeroplane Over the Sea begins to form into something palpable. The richest chapter describes the recording sessions for Aeroplane: producer Robert Schneider's detailed explanation of the hows and whys of the recording sessions illuminate not only how an album gets made, but the deeper nature of the recording, the somewhat magical way a constantly changing group of songs by a motley crew of musicians got channeled into an album. And luckily, the griefs that might be raised about the book are few: some might find Cooper's song-by-song analysis a little indulgent, if forgivable, and it certainly doesn't offer anything solid about Jeff Mangum's reasons for dropping out of sight. In fact, because he doesn't offer any words toward it, Mangum is drawn as a mysterious character: built out of his actions and the words of his friends, the introverted and emotional bandleader behind it all is a little sketchy. It's too bad he can't be delineated more than he is, but after all, the book isn't a biography, and Mangum's reclusiveness is part of the allure (make sure to check out the bit about the obsessive fans).

These are just minor quibbles, in other words, and Kim Cooper's book gets an "A" for doing exactly what it sets out to do. If you're a fan, this is essential reading; if you're a little curious and you find ten bucks in your pocket, this is an illuminating little volume. And if you're not convinced by Aeroplane, and you feel like Jeff Mangum's music sounds like an off-key dude singing nonsense, this might help you understand why it's so beloved. (Jon Cameron)

This review is also posted on the Modern Pea Pod.

EAST BAY EXPRESS, 12/14/05

The Aeroplane Flies High
The devout, ever-multiplying cult of Neutral Milk Hotel should perhaps prepare for a second coming.
By Rob Harvilla

The most influential indie-rock record of the past decade reverently declares I love you Jesus Christ, features the songs "Two-Headed Boy" (parts one and two) and "The King of Carrot Flowers" (part one, then parts two and three combined), uses semen as a lyrical motif, crushes heavily on Anne Frank, lists a zanzithophone player in its liner notes, and whips up an unholy racket like several punk rockers and a Bulgarian wedding band trapped in an elevator together, desperately screaming for help. Stranger things will never happen.

Fortunately, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a carefully guarded secret upon its release in 1998, has been happening ever since. The record's vibrant, chaotic Salvation Army Marching Band sound and surrealist wordplay has inspired current big-shots from the Decemberists to the Arcade Fire to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Mysterious NMH mastermind Jeff Mangum -- who all but disappeared shortly after Aeroplane's release -- became a full-fledged reclusive genius deity, a beloved Salinger for the Pitchfork set. Pitchfork itself, meanwhile, recently deep-sixed the tepid Aeroplane review the online rock-crit site had originally run and replaced it with a fawning, triumphant 10.0 coronation.

Seven years later, the record's influence and capacity to fascinate have swelled to gargantuan proportions. Now, Los Angeles-based writer and critic Kim Cooper -- a devout lover of bubblegum pop and so-called "unpopular culture" via her zine Scram -- has taken the first real crack at unraveling Aeroplane's mystique, penning a tome for Continuum Books' immensely popular 331/3 series. Each selection is a pocket-sized hundred-or-so-pager devoted to the genesis, construction, and aftermath of one record, and although the series has enjoyed success with paeans to classics like the Smiths' Meat Is Murder and Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Cooper's Aeroplane volume might be its biggest hit yet.

The record's ongoing critical revisionism has helped, of course, but Kim insists that word of mouth has slowly turned Neutral Milk Hotel from near-unknown to near-mythic. "I think it's just based on how many people love it," she explains. "People get very evangelical about this album. A record review can't do that. Who really cares if the record's got a 10.0, compared to sitting down with a friend who plays a song for you and it blows your mind?"

Kim's book is a fairly straightforward rise-and-fall narrative, beginning with a gang of Louisiana college radio rats who migrate on a whim to Athens, Georgia, while slowly coalescing into the Elephant 6 collective, a loose-knit crew of psychedelic-pop artistes who've found success with bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Of Montreal, but undoubtedly peaked with Neutral Milk Hotel. In-depth interviews with friends and collaborators -- including pop aficionado Robert Schneider, who produced Aeroplane at Pet Sounds, his Denver studio -- fill it out, but the famously distant Mangum transcends and haunts it all. He doesn't talk to Kim on the record -- "He didn't immediately say no, and ultimately he didn't say yes," she explains -- but you get just enough of a sense of the guy, from his affinity for rehearsing in the bathroom to his night terrors to his apparent obsession with Anne Frank's harrowing WWII artifact, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Aeroplane perfected a psychotic carnival sound (from expertly fuzzed-out barnburners like "Holland 1945" to sweet, cryptic ballads like the title track), but Mangum's surrealist lyrics still dominate, filled with lovesick two-headed freaks floating in jars, semen-stained mountaintops, and flaming pianos, apartment buildings, and human heads. Cryptic Anne Frank references abound, but on the chilling "Oh Comely" -- a showcase for Mangum's mournfully strummed acoustic guitar and braying, famously polarizing voice -- he careens though verses of fantastically twisted imagery before settling on the shockingly direct:

And I know they buried her body with others

Her sister and mother and five hundred families

And will she remember me fifty years later

I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine

The Jeff/Anne love affair is a strange and sometimes uncomfortable pairing. "Picture the Franks in their Dutch hidey-hole, 1944," Cooper writes. "Picture the Elephant 6 gang fifty years later, rock 'n' roll and road trips and DIY. Incongruous worlds, but the sets collide, and somehow fit perfectly together." Maybe not perfectly -- though plenty of critics hate E6 and Neutral Milk in particular, it's doubtful they've ever seriously considered genocide.

Over the phone, Kim explains it a bit more convincingly. "I think it was a personal connection with her as a writer and as a person, this really lovely adolescent who was just kind of flowering and becoming an adult and an intellectual, and it was all just wiped away by forces so much more powerful than her," she explains. "Some people think that he was in love with her."

Does she think so? "I think he loved her the way that you love anyone whose story really touches you. You want the best for them, and you can't help them, and that's where you get I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine."

At first it's off-putting that Kim largely avoids probing the meaning or backstory behind Aeroplane's beguiling lyrics -- she tacked on a track-by-track analysis at her editor's request -- but ultimately it makes sense to leave all that to your own inclination and imagination. Mangum's seclusion is also a fuzzy affair, but though his refusal to record, perform, or submit to interviews shortly after the album's release was partly due to private, personal issues, Kim's book heavily implies that much of it was showbiz, borne of Mangum's desire to go out with a bang, slowly work his devotees into a deifying lather, and then descend from the mountain years later with a spectacular follow-up. Urban legend insists he's gone completely bonkers, but the facts suggest he knows exactly what he's doing -- in her text, Kim makes the point of noting that Mangum is alive, lucid, and sane.

"If you listen to the music, it's obvious that there's a lot of thought that goes into everything," Cooper says. "It's not very random. ... There's a certain elegance to just walking away and leaving this kind of resounding note in the air."

And lo, just as Kim's book comes out, new Neutral Milk Hotel demos surface online, capping a year that also saw Mangum show up onstage with old E6 buddies such as the Circulatory System and Olivia Tremor Control. The Aeroplane revival has reached critical mass, and the Great Comeback may in fact be upon us.

"That's certainly what [paramour and, coincidentally, zanzithophonist] Laura Carter thought he was doing," Kim concludes. "That he was echoing artists from the past he liked who disappear for periods, and then come back when nobody's expecting something, and really blowing people's minds. I hope he does." Whether you know it or not, so do you.


NEW YORK PRESS

BRIEFLY NOTED

By Brian Heater

In the final chapter of Kim Cooper’s meditation on Neutral Milk Hotel’s album In the Aeroplane over the Sea (Continuum Press, 104 pages, $9.95), the author tells of visibly fatigued frontman Jeff Mangum getting up in front of a crowd, apologizing for the “sick parts” and introducing a new composition, then launching in to what, to date, is the only post-Aeroplane song he’s performed in public, ending with the couplet “Knowing God in Heaven never could forgive him / So I took a hammer and nearly beat his brains.” The words, coupled with Mangum’s physical state and his subsequent retreat from the public eye may not help in a defense of Mangum’s much-debated sanity. They are, though, the stuff of rock legend, and Aeroplane is lousy with the stuff. Issued in 1998, its cult following has grown ever since. Neutral Milk Hotel’s sophomore record means an awful lot of things to an awful lot of people. This may not be Let it Be, but it certainly warrants the in-depth treatment that is the 33 1/3 series’ forte.

The book’s opening chapters relate the history of the Elephant 6 Collective, beginning with Mangum’s humble beginnings in the tiny college town of Ruston, La., as told through interviews with fellow Collective members including The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider and Scott Spillane of The Gerbils and NMH. (Noticeably absent are any quotes from the notoriously reclusive Mangum.) While the back story is thin, Cooper works with what she has, telling some nice stories about musicians sharing boom box recordings.

A later chapter finds Cooper analyzing the record track-by-track, offering some compelling readings of the album’s often impenetrable imagery. The book concludes with an account of Mangum’s suspected psychosis, using quotes from his close friend (and longtime Elf Power bandmember) Laura Carter to refute them. When it’s all over, there seem to be more unanswered questions than we started with. Still, the ride is certainly worth the price of admission.


REAL DETROIT WEEKLY 12/7/05

By Keith N. Dusenberry
Up and Over: Neutral Milk Hotel

In 1998, Neutral Milk Hotel released their second and final album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It is among the best records ever made: a twisted, surreal world of fuzzy acoustic guitars, horn parts in turns blaring and mournful, unusual background instruments and the wavering but sure voice of bandleader Jeff Mangum. The album’s lyrical topics range from Siamese twin sisters to cannibalism and religion … with a deep, recurring focus on Anne Frank.

For a small community of obsessive fans, these aren’t songs, they’re hymns. Jeff Mangum’s near-total disappearance from public life shortly after Aeroplane’s release only fuels the fires of their intrigue. Much of the Neutral Milk story has been pieced together over the years, but never as comprehensively as in Kim Cooper’s Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.

The latest release in Continiuum Publishing’s 33 1/3 series, Cooper’s slim, pithy book traces the band members’ younger years before settling into an exploration of Neutral Milk's development within the circle of Athens, Georgia musicians (including Elf Power, Apples In Stereo and The Gerbils) collectively known as Elephant 6. Through extensive interviews and thoughtful research, Cooper details Neutral Milk’s evolution from Jeff’s solo bedroom project to the bands’ group incarnation, Aeroplane’s recording and the band’s dissolution at Jeff’s behest.

The book’s greatest strength comes from Cooper’s ability to avoid mythologizing while remaining sympathetic to the band’s highly protective fans. “I was very hesitant to seem like a peeping Tom and to seem like I was exploiting them,” Cooper says. “I feel like what there is to be said about [Neutral Milk] is that this doesn’t have to be unique. They have so many fans — so many people love this record — and I wish that every one of them who comes to this book will come away from reading it thinking, ‘This is not something special that only rock and roll stars can have — this kind of connection with my friends, this kind of creative garden where we can all work together and help each other be what we were meant to be. It’s not only possible — it’s essential.’”

Despite what fans fond of the outsized Neutral Milk legend want to believe, Cooper — who spoke with Jeff a number of times regarding the book and got his blessing, though he declined to be interviewed on the record — says the band’s normalness is part of the appeal: “They’re so ordinary. They’re not like these bigger than life people … that’s what’s so cool. It’s not like they went away into some little secret room and they came out with something brilliant and then showed it to the world. It’s more like they were able to make music and beautiful art surrounded by noise and chaos and people poking their heads in the door and seeing what they were doing. There was no privacy and there was no expectation of, ‘Quiet please, genius at work.’”

Ordinary or not, the question that looms large in Neutral Milk fans’ minds remains: Will Jeff Mangum ever again release music to the public? Cooper doesn’t know for sure, but says, “I got a sense that he’s still a very intellectually lively and creative person.” | RDW

Email a two-headed boy: keith@realdetroitweekly.com.


Amazon.com reader reviews

Five Stars - Surprising answers to FAQ's, January 27, 2006
Reviewer: Scott Bresinger

The story of the creation of Neutral Milk Hotel's masterpiece "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" is interesting in itself--especially if you're a music lit junkie--but just as interesting (and mysterious) is what came after. After the album's release in February '98 and the subsequent tour to promote it, NMH mastermind Jeff Mangum has recorded precisely...nothing. He just disappeared from the music map even quicker than he appeared. This has of course led to all sorts of wild speculation--chief among them that Mangum has gone insane Syd Barrett-style and is incapable of resuming his career. Writer Kim Cooper's history of the Neutral Milk Hotel enigma answers that particular FAQ and many others as well, but be warned--the answers are more surprising, and surprisingly mundane, than you can imagine.

Since this book is part of Continuum's 33 1/3 series--short books about the making of famous or influential popular music albums--the scope is limited somewhat. In this case, Mangum is the main "character," although many of the people who know or worked with him are interviewed. Interentingly enough, Mangum himself declined to be interviewed directly, but we are told he supports the book nonetheless. Those hoping to see the complete lyrics for "Aeroplane" will also be disappointed, but there is at least one web site that has them (thank you Google!). Despite these seeming shortcomings, the narrative told here is clear, precise and illuminating. In one chapter, Cooper speculates about what the lyrics might mean, which the reader can choose to ignore, although for me it clarified some areas that I found problematic.

For instance, while I'm a huge, even obsessive, fan of the album, the first time I heard it I got a bit worried by the beginning of "The King of Carrot Flowers Part II & III," where Mangum sings "I love you Jesus Christ..." Now, as a proud and unrepentent atheist, this is bound to be a problem for me. Cooper acknowledges that this "is the spot where aggressively non-Christian listeners have to make a conscious decision to stay with the music." Before this book, I'd have to basically ignore that part to fully enjoy the album. Cooper makes clear, however, that whatever Mangum's beliefs are, and no matter how earnest and sincere (and they are), Mangum's approach to Christ is very different than the fundementalist lunatics who are currently ruining this country for everyone else. In fact, in his embrace of a wide array of music, thought and philosophy, Mangum is something like a Christian Buddhist, if that makes any sense. Of course, if you expect it to make sense, then this definitely isn't the album for you, and Cooper's book won't help you any. For fans and fence-sitters alike, this book is essential reading, however.

Now, about Mangum's vanishing act. In the final chapter, Cooper delves into what caused it and even raises the possibility (however remote at this point) of his return. The short version is that Mangum just felt like doing something different, and just decided not to "ride the circus wheel," as one lyric goes. While this thought has occured to many different musical geniuses, like Kurt Cobain, Mangum's exit is definitely more peaceful, and not as final. The example of Soft Machine founder Robert Wyatt is mentioned; during his mid-70's peak, he disappeared for several years, only to return more prolific than ever. I guess you could also throw in Patti Smith, who at one point left her solo career behind to become a full time desperate housewife. Whether Mangum will choose to follow suit (except for the housewife part, of course) is anyone's guess, including Cooper, but the very mention of that in this book is tantalizing. In the meantime, fans can satisfy themselves with this short but fascinating book, and as always with the small but brilliant body of work that Mangum has provided.

Five Stars - An incredible book, December 7, 2005
Reviewer: Chris Molnar (Grand Rapids, MI)
Let me first say this: I am incredibly biased. ITAOTS is one of my all-time favorite albums, and I have many memories inextricably tied to it. I would argue, however, that appreciation of the album is not even a prerequisite to enjoy the book. Kim Cooper has compiled a beautiful account of a group of friends who, through good fortune, a wealth of talent, and most of all an undying belief in the power of music, created one of the most powerful records ever set to tape.

Obsessively detailing recording techniques, the origins of the songs, and the background of all involved, Cooper interviews all principles (except for elusive singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum, though I maintain that this only adds to the power of the book), creating a complete and fascinating story. She has a novelist's eye for the necessary detail and for plot development, and we become incredibly attached to the hugely intelligent and friendly Elephant 6 clique that helped the album to fruition.

This book is obviously a must-read for all interested in the Elephant 6 Collective or Neutral Milk Hotel, but at the same time it is too good to remain within those crowds. That would be like preaching to the choir. We have here an inspirational document of the continuing power of music, something that should be on required reading lists in every music program in every school. This here is proof that all outcasts and misfits who have found solace in the healing properties of music can succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Jeff Mangum may or may not produce an album again, but ITAOTS is good enough for now. This book is not only a worthy tribute, but an accomplishment in and of itself. Congratulations, Ms. Cooper, you have written a masterpiece.

Five Stars - Fantastic Overview of a Legendary Band, December 2, 2005
Reviewer: J. Kuykendall (Madison, WI USA)
I dreaded this book so much. I assumed it would be another convoluted attempt to interpret Netural Milk Hotel's surrealistic lyrics and connect them into a narrative that exists only in one person's imagination, offering no insight into the band itself, not to mention its ringleader and savant singer/songwriter, Jeff Mangum--the sort of thing that generally keeps me away from Neutral Milk Hotel messageboards and fellow fans. But Kim Cooper devotes only one very brief chapter to that hopeless task, and spends the rest of the book chronicling the history of the creative musical collective that surrounds Neutral Milk, "Elephant 6," and showing how Mangum was always at the center, until, after his sophomore album's unexpected success, he suddenly retreated from the spotlight, which caused some to unfairly (and inaccurately) label him the indie rock equivalent of the mentally ill Syd Barrett.

Cooper interviews Robert Schneider (Apples in Stereo), Bryan Poole (Elf Power), Ben Crum (Great Lakes), and Laura Carter, Scott Spillane, and Julian Koster (all of NMH), as well as others connected to Elephant 6, for a pretty complete history that follows this constructed family of musicians from Ruston, Louisiana to Athens, Georgia, with stops in Denver and New York City. (Jeff Mangum declined to be interviewed, which gives the narrative the odd feeling that its central character is deceased.) There are some vivid and funny anecdotes about life lived in uncomfortably close communal quarters with little food and money, with Mangum sleeping in a haunted closet (which informed the song "Ghost"), or working out songs in the bathroom, of life on the road, and Spillane almost losing thousands of dollars in tour money at a Pizza Hut.

I've been an Elephant 6 fan for a long time, hung out at concerts, obsessively collected limited edition vinyl singles, et cetera., so I devoured this all in a sitting, but I was surprised to find how deeply moved I was. I felt stunned. Kind of like listening to a Neutral Milk Hotel album.

Five Stars - A definite must-have for the E6 junkie., December 2, 2005
Reviewer: R. Settle
It's great to see Elephant Six being represented in this consistently insightful series of books.
Cooper reveals so much about Jeff Mangum's early life as an artist and music lover that will satisfy even the most obsessive NMH fans. There is also a slew of never before seen photos. You can't love Neutral Milk Hotel and not read this.

Review Policy

Scram Magazine is currently on hiatus as a print publication, with new content and reviews being posted occasionally online on the Lost in the Grooves blog and here at the Scram website.

At Scram, we are committed to reviewing the records/CDs, books, zines and DVDs that our contributors enjoy. Nearly every Scram review is positive, because life is too short to form cogent opinions about stuff we don't dig.

You are welcome to submit material to Scram for possible review, with the understanding that reviews are neither immediate nor guaranteed.  

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Reviews

Quirkily irresistable guide to the best records you've never heard. 4/5 stars.

It's a great idea. Somewhere in the overflowing cut out bin of a dusty store in Scuntthorpe, lies your favourite record - and you don't even know it exists. To help you locate it, a bunch of American fanzine writers have nominated their own neglected 'classics' in a book designed to 'nudge the cannon so that lost records tumble out'.

They've come up with a fascinating list, full of records too demented and generally out there to have round mass appeal. Not all of the 200 or so reclaimed masterpieces are in the same league as Nick Drake, and quite why the editors "want Mekon fans to check out Kylie Minogue" is never clear, but there's enough unhinged zeal in the writing to make you want to track down most things here.

Uncut readers will take some convincing that they have unfairly overlooked David Cassidy Live! all these years. But it's a resounding 'yes' to Joe E Covington's Fat Fandango, Ron Nagle's Bad Rice, John Phillips' The Wolf King of LA and Bridget St. John's Songs for the Gentle Man. The latter appeared on John Peel's Dandelion label in 1971, and makes you wonder why the great man himself never wrote a book like this.

If your own lost classic isn't included, don't sit there fulminating. Get in touch via www.lostinthegrooves.com <http://www.lostinthegrooves.com> because they're planning a follow up. (Nigel Williamson, Uncut)

“Pop-culture zine Scram presents an anthology of bite-sized essays about obscure, overlooked and flat-out bizarre albums. As a Cliffs Notes of the outré, LOST IN THE GROOVES is a stone gas, placing genuine curiosities like CHEVROLET SINGS OF SAFE DRIVING AND YOU alongside jaw-droppers like Marvin Gaye’s 1978 divorce cycle HERE, MY DEAR. Now-mainstream oddities are avoided for less obvious ones; Lou Reed’s METAL MACHINE MUSIC isn’t here, but THE BELLS is. The result is like a midnight bull session with your inner, ADD-afflicted rock geek. (Magnet, Jan/Feb 2005)

True record-geekdom means championing music that no one else likes or even knows. It's easy to pour on the irony in gushing about some chintzy garage-sale find, but what makes Lost in the Grooves a really groovy read is the honest passion its contributors exhibit for their lost-and-found faves. Doug Harvey tells of accidentally buying Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band thinking it was Lennon's same-titled LP, and growing to love it. Others rave about deserving MIAs, from Harry 'The Hipster' Gibson and Buckner & Garcia to Sylvester and The Loud Family. Can we please draw the line at Aaron Carter though? (Jeff Tamarkin, Mojo, 4/5 Stars)

Bushwhacking the Vinyl Jungle: 'Lost in the Grooves' a field guide to forgotten greats By Sara Bir

Record geeks cherish the moment when they encounter an album no one else knows about. This is less about one-upmanship than the thrill of discovery and the intimate connection between artist and listener, a lifeline that keeps neglected music vital and alive.

Kim Cooper and David Smay of Scram magazine, understand this thoroughly, as evidenced in their recently released Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed (Routledge; $19.95). The editors refer to the book as "your own portable geek," meaning it can be a trusted friend to point obscurity-seekers in the right direction. And obscure in the context of this book is less about rarity in physical numbers than it is about rarity of appreciation.

The somewhat star-studded cast of contributors includes rock historian Ed Ward, novelist Rick Moody, cartoonist Peter Bagge and the formerly Santa Rosa-based Tim Hinley, who's been producing Dagger zine for nearly two decades.

The entries vary widely in genre--Flo and Eddie's The World of Strawberry Shortcake shares a page with the Flesh Eaters' A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die--but most fall into two basic categories. First, there's "Where the hell did this band come from?" These are artists whose releases will probably never cross the loading dock of a Virgin Records Megastore. Sharp-eyed readers will note the inclusion of John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America's The Communists Are Coming to Kill Us, hailed by contributor Chas Glynn as "both annoying as hell and insanely captivating." The album was released in 1984, before Trubee left Southern California for the calmer environs of Santa Rosa, where he continues to compose and record music.

The second category is "Hey, I never heard of that Who album!" These entries appear to compose roughly half the book, creating a great space for us to reconsider purportedly substandard issues by popular bands. Pink Floyd, Dolly Parton, the Ramones, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman all rack up mentions. Considering these folks have collectively recorded a zillion albums, it's not surprising that a few great ones have fallen through the cracks.

I was alternately bummed and smugly pleased to spot a few albums that I already own--for instance, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane over the Sea. I bet at least half of the people who purchase this book not only own that album but count it among their all-time favorites. It's a good reminder that we're in emotional territory here.

Despite the obvious camp appeal of some recommendations, even a casual read of the reviews will indicate that the authors wrote about these records because they honestly like them and cherish their existence. Owning cool music does not make you cool; loving great--or, as the case may be, crummy--music does.

Studded throughout the book are reprints of vintage reviews from classic early music magazines like Creem, plus sidebars of well-selected lists for those who crave to know the "Top 10 Non-Goth Albums Goths Listen To."

(Is Duran Duran's Rio part of that list? Hell, yes!)

Lost in the Grooves is hardly encyclopedic. You could ask 75 other rock critics to divulge their favorite overlooked records and come up with a completely different list. It's sort of implicit that Lost in the Grooves, Vol. II is to be carried out and added to by the hands of eager crate-diggers and attic-explorers that keep the story alive and make it their own. It's a dusty-vinyl chain letter!

I'll add three entries to get you started: Nino Ferrer's Enregistrement Public, Scrawl's He's Drunk and Bert's (yes, Bert the Muppet) Best of Bert. Now get going!(North Bay Bohemian, 2/16/05).

*

Cashews Get Their Due: George Pelecanos is somewhat taken aback when asked to talk about his contribution to Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. “I got an e-mail from my agent a couple years ago,” says the Silver Spring–Êbased writer. Scram, a magazine “dedicated to rooting out the cashews in the bridge mix of unpopular culture,” wanted him to write a piece about underappreciated music. “I just sent it. I never talked to them or anything,” he says. “Then this book shows up.”

Lost in the Grooves compiles essays—sometimes of just a few lines—about perennial critics’ darlings (the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane), odd faves of odd people (Vivian Stanshall’s Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead), albums you weren’t supposed to like (Alvin and the Chipmunks’ The Alvin Show), and whatever else its writers—including locals Ken Barnes (USA Today, ’70s zines Flash and Fusion), and Vern Stoltz (Cannot Be Obsolete) and Memphis, Tenn.–based Washington City Paper contributor Andrew Earles—favor.

Pelecanos wrote about Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 Curtom release Back to the World. “I just picked a record that I thought was really underappreciated in its category, especially coming after Superfly.”

The overlooked disc “was of a time when people were making records that were sort of thematic,” says Pelecanos, and it’s easy to see why the crime novelist and story editor of HBO’s The Wire would relate to lines like these: “In these city streets—everywhere/You got to be careful/Where you move your feet, and how you part your hair.”

Pelecanos’ review ends with a shot at the dean of rock critics: “Robert Christgau gave this a ‘C.’ Another reason, in my opinion, to check it out.” Pelecanos is quick to point out that he has nothing against Christgau, but, he says, “I object to that kind of criticism.... A guy, or a woman, sits in a dark room for a year and writes a book, and then someone blows it off with a D-minus or whatever.”

Pelecanos’ appreciation for music is almost as well-known as his novels, which chronicle a Washington far from filibusters and presidential coronations. The “tour music” section of his Web site offers a playlist much like that in Lost in the Grooves: When he hits the road to promote his new book, Drama City, in March, his CD wallet will be stocked with Slobberbone, Lalo Schifrin, the Isley Brothers, Iron + Wine, War, and Graham Parker. And his previous novel, Hard Revolution, featured a “soundtrack” CD given away at readings.

Next for Pelecanos, besides the book tour, is news on whether The Wire will be picked up for a fourth season. The future of the drama may be grim, given HBO Chair Chris Albrecht’s quip that “I have received a telegram from every viewer of The Wire—all 250 of them.” Perhaps Scram should cover unpopular TV in its next book. (Pamela Murray Winters, Washington City Paper, 2/11/05)

*

Geek Factor: Obscure Great Recordings: How many of you are unmitigated music geeks? A person for whom each obscure album that gets a glimmer of praise becomes a new holy grail, becomes an excuse (not that you need one, really) to go to every second hand shop within a 150 mile radius or endlessly surf the net, because you MUST have this slab of bliss? More importantly, you don't just hoard your latest find. You then make the rounds stopping by friends' flats or calling them to spread the news (and perhaps play the thang), and hopping on to e-mail lists and bulletin boards, to share this wonderful, new-to-you music that has made your life just a bit better.



If this description is in any way accurate, then let me recommend a book to you. Lost In The Grooves will keep you busy for a while. Let me also recommend buying some small Post-Its or some highlighter markers, because it's possible you might destroy the book if you just dog ear the pages every time your interest is piqued.

This tome is the latest inspired creation from Kim Cooper and David Smay, the folks behind Scram magazine and the editors of the excellent book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth. The premise of this book is quite simple – have a bunch of music experts write about their favorite obscure and overlooked albums. There are no other restrictions. Going alphabetically by artist, the book ranges far and wide, from outsider music to jazz, from bubblegum (natch) to ‘80s college rock, from funk to power pop.

The quality of the writing is surprisingly high. There are a few dud reviews, where the writer either just mailed it in, or simply didn't adequately describe the work to allow for even a scintilla of appreciation. However, most of the entries are well done, and give you a firm understanding of why the writer is still ga-ga about the record. Indeed, the book is saturated in enthusiasm – these aren't, for the most part, guilty pleasures, but secrets that have remained secrets too long.

Cooper and Smay have tapped a wide variety of writers (though I suspect they could have easily filled 200 pages with their own personal entries), including some musicians and other inspired choices. Off the top of my head, I recall that Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rourke (who praises the dickens out of Propaganda by Sparks – my kinda guy!), The Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn, Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek, The Long Ryders' Sid Griffin, Deke Dickerson, Doug Gillard and cartoonist Peter Bagge have some entries. (NOTE: Speaking of cartoons, props to Tom Neely's excellent illustrations, which meld the indie style of Bagge with a ‘50s jazz record sensibility). There are plenty of first rate rock writers, including the late Greg Shaw, Gene Sculati, Domenic Priore, Carl Cafarelli and Fufkin scribes Gary Pig Gold and Michael Lynch. Heck, even novelist Rick (The Ice Storm) Moody contributes.

Let me string together some entries, just by randomly opening the book. Starting on page 139, you go from the arty power pop of The Loud Family to the hi-fi organ of The Magic Fingers Of Merlin And His Trio, to the Mickey Mouse parody rock concept album from Frenchman Michel Magne. Let's go to page 64 – Swamp Dogg's oddball soul, Johnny Dowd's dark country sounds and the Dream Lake Ukelele Band, followed by the rap group Dream Warriors. One more for the road – page 179 starts with Brit folkies Pentangle, followed by the one and only Pere Ubu, and then the song poems of dental assistant Linda Perhacs, and next, the top Papa, John Phillips. Here is where someone can defend Yes's Tormato in the same volume that Buckner and Garcia's Pac-Man Fever gets sincere props. (Mike Bennett, Fufkin.com, February 2005)

*

"To point out that the staff at your local indie record store are about as tightly wound and implacable as the Taliban has already become a cliché. In contrast to that stalwart stance, Scram Magazine has become known for a distinct lack of smugness while digging through the dollar bins of history. Most pop-storians are obsessed with the failed, marginal and forgotten. Scram understands that the successful, populist and forgotten can be just as mysterious, and in this collection of reviews and essays, you'll never be scorned by a pale, weedy boy for liking Terence Trent D'arby. In fact, its writers (including star nerds Jim O'Rourke and Rick Moody) will encourage you on in your bold and (un)original taste.

If hipsterism is a temple built on Big Star and Stooges box sets, then Lost in the Grooves aims to tear down the walls with the clarion call of Kylie Minogue. Pop, after all, is about being popular, and if you want to understand popular culture, why waste time with Captain Beefheart when you can reassess Poco? Yes, the forgotten sons of California rock get multiple mentions here.



But calling for a Poco revival isn't the boldest thing in this book by far. Moody will have you reconsidering The Tubes, and Kris Kendall rights the wrongs dealt to the Dream Warriors by both industry and history. Unlike some music writing, these reviews are carefully written -- as opposed to sounding like rewritten press releases -- and recall Creem Magazine at its most prickly and acid. Should the comparison not be apparent to the reader, excerpts from Creem are reprinted, wink-and-nod-like, throughout its pages.

Walk away right now and go back to your mid-period Sonic Youth records if you think this is irony. Lost in the Grooves is as sincere as disco and just as satisfying, providing a final home for music -- from The Auteurs to Aaron Carter -- that only wanted to be loved. Maybe that's the pop difference; music that isn't too cool to say "I love you." Do you have the balls to say it back? (Brian Joseph Davis, Eye Weekly, 12/02/04)

*

For the ones that got away

IMAGINE the scene: a rock magazine is compiling the World’s Greatest Punk Records to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Slaughter and the Dogs’ first gig. The editor looks through his well-thumbed list — Anarchy in the UK? Check. Clash? White Riot will do. Somebody suggests Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited has a bit of a punky attitude.

The editor looks fidgety, beads of sweat appear on his brow. “And the Beatles?” he asks. “How are we going to fit them in?” This is not how pop writing was meant to be. What we deserve is the grand tradition of informed enthusiasm and unwarranted bile which stretches from Nik Cohn and Lester Bangs, through punk sage Jon Savage and sly brainbox Simon Reynolds. What we get is a cover-stars-by-rote version of pop history — people who rate Nirvana as slackers with one good idea and a pretty face are royally bored by twice-yearly definitive histories.

A giddy new book called Lost in the Grooves, on the other hand, is exemplary pop writing. “It’s always a treat to find something new that really blows your mind. I think that’s what every music freak is looking for,” explains editrix Kim Cooper. Lost in the Grooves is a collection that has grown out of her and co-editor David Smay’s Scram magazine, dedicated to digging deeper than the familiar Elvis/Beatles/Pistols/Nirvana saga. At the same time, the editors are no obscurants, placing albums by Paul McCartney, Prince, Pentangle, Lou Reed, OMD, the Kinks, the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys alongside the Dream Lake Ukelele Band’s one shot at fame. They just don’t pick the albums you read about on every other list.

Paul McCartney’s 1980 album McCartney II, for instance, came after a foolish drugs bust in Japan that effectively meant the end of Wings. He discovered synths and went all DIY and electronic. The juddering insanity of Temporary Secretary made it a hot Hoxton item 20 years on, Summer’s Day Song is warm honey, while Darkroom imagines Cabaret Voltaire re-jigged by Jonathan King. As for the bubbling Tomorrow’s World-ish instrumental Front Parlour, I’m proud to say I once played it at an electronica night and three people asked what it was.

Nobody has time to listen to everything, and this is where Lost in the Grooves becomes invaluable as a trigger. I’ve pored over the works of the Bee Gees and Beach Boys to the detriment of my soul and my social life but had still never heard either Mr Natural (the one before Jive Talking) or LA Light Album (the one with Lady Lynda), both LITG inclusions: they were officially uncool and I’d been conned. Now I’ve heard them both and I’d say the former’s Throw a Penny is a match for How Deep is Your Love, a natural-born guilty pleasure. Lost in the Grooves is written with such zip, enthusiasm and love of music that you can’t help but get sucked in.

For Cooper “it’s all about lauding the brilliant underdog and discovering unfamiliar glories. Part of the reason I love John Cale’s Paris 1919 so much is that I can still listen to it with fresh ears, where I overplayed my Velvet Underground albums to saturation point.”

Cooper and Smay first came to prominence with the groundbreaking book Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth four years ago. It revived the spirit and endless inquisitiveness of late Sixties/early Seventies fanzines such as Teenage Wasteland Gazette and the late Greg Shaw’s Who Put the Bomp with contributions from the originals (Shaw, cartoonist Peter Bagge) and the latterday pop-culture mavens.

The book was greeted with relief — essays penned with a mixture of gravitas and glee normally reserved for undiscovered Springsteen outtakes were on subjects such as the Monkees, the Sweet and the Archies. Roots and authenticity, touchstones of the musically bankrupt, counted for nought. Cooper describes the Archies as “masters at evoking the nervous excitement of adolescent sexuality . . . Sugar Sugar has one of the sexiest moments this side of Tim Buckley when vocalist Ron Dante explodes ‘like the summer sunshine, pour your sweetness over me’.”

The end result of this hoo-ha was the Bubblegum Achievement Awards in New York, the genre’s spiritual home. Such luminaries as Ron Dante, Toni Wine (fellow Archie and author of Groovy Kind of Love) and Mark Volman of the Turtles were awarded Gummies. Presented by Cooper, the Gummies are “beautiful custom trophies of a golden woman holding aloft a real pink bubblegum ball. This music has brought so much pleasure to people, it was really cool to give some of that back to the people who made it.”

Smay and Cooper describe Lost in the Grooves as “a capricious guide” that may not have a sequel. Neither says they want to declare war on the world of Q and other classic rock publications. “I don’t get angry,” says Smay, “I just shake my head that people choose Thriller over Off the Wall, or misunderstand Mick Taylor’s contribution to the Stones, or missed the Everly Brothers’ mid-Sixties career.”

Cooper tries “not to worry too much about what the canon holds. It seems to me that the canon is becoming less and less meaningful.” Her work means that the odds on the Archies making the cover of Q some time soon are still slim, but just a little less slim. (Bob Stanley, The Times of London, 1/28/05)

*

Serious music dweebs may very well adopt Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed (Routledge) as their rare vinyl-collecting bible. The lisping indie obsessive who gets teary-eyed at Belle & Sebastian concerts ... the thrift-store-foraging Napoleon Dynamite who smells of dust and rotting cardboard ... Steve Buscemi's character in Ghost World ... the Kermit the Frog-voiced fellow who knows the whole discography of bands he doesn't even like ... they're all guaranteed to bust a blood vessel over this one. It's a guidebook written by geeks, for geeks, that makes rock 'n' roll seem almost not cool, grouping fans alongside other nerd cliques who fixate on comic books or Star Trek.



That said, the average music enthusiast will also find Grooves an informative and pleasurable read. The book, edited by Scram editor Kim Cooper and contributor David Smay (also the authors of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears) contains a wealth of far-out performers who never got their due, forgotten albums by big-time artists, and impassioned defenses of maligned records even the Salvation Army can't get rid of. The emphasis here is on vinyl, including many records that never even made it to CD. Writers here include Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek, Angry Samoan Metal Mike Saunders, old-school rock critic Richard Meltzer, producer Jim O'Rourke, filmmaker Sean Carrillo, and a swap-meet-sized gang of freelance critics and music-zine whack-a-doos.

So what do they preach about? Kim Cooper tells the engaging story of the very obscure (and very short) musical career of Beverly Hills dental assistant and tripped-out songwriter Linda Perhacs, whose creative efforts didn't bloom until she fell in with the laid-back Los Angeles hippie crowd. One of her patients was film composer Leonard Rosenman, who in 1970 helped Perhacs record her only album, Parallelograms, which Cooper describes as "delicately layered love poems to the natural world and the charged erotics of youth."

Also forgotten in music history is the New Orleans piano-pummeling eccentric Esquerita, whom rockabilly singer Deke Dickerson hails as "the source for the bizarre/flamboyantly gay/mega-talented/hollerin'/screamin'/rhythm and blues archetype that Little Richard would take to the bank alone." Though signed to Capitol, Esquerita was too much for the general music-buying public of the time, and original copies of his 1958 self-titled debut are extremely difficult to find.

Epidemiologist and former radio DJ Max Hechter writes about blue-collar punks Cock Sparrer, a '70s act that almost hooked up with Malcolm McLaren, a deal that didn't work out reportedly because he failed to buy the band a round of drinks. McLaren, of course, went on to manage the Sex Pistols, while Cock Sparrer's catchy debut was released only in Spain after the band's label, Decca, went bankrupt.

Too obscure? David J. Schwartz focuses on a somewhat forgotten aspect of Johnny Cash's storied career. As a young ruffian, Cash wasn't afraid to piss people off. When country radio ignored the song "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" from his 1964 album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard indicting the music industry for its desire to "wallow in meaninglessness."

Still, the unknowns rule the roost here -- for hardcore record collecting freaks looking for new, obscure obsessions, Lost in the Grooves hails little-known acts such as voodoo shrieker Exuma, Wichita rock quartet the Embarrassment, the Italian wannabe Hawaiian act Nino Rejna and His Hawaiian Guitars, French ex-beatnik popster Michel Polnareff, '60s singing duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and the Yiddish-sung American standards of the Barry Sisters. The book also champions traditional rock-critic favorites such as the Brit-pop Housemartins, the always-adored Mekons, the hardworking Poster Children, New York post-punkers the Feelies, the deathless avant-garde crew Pere Ubu, the beloved duo Sparks, Elephant 6 deities Neutral Milk Hotel, and snappy Seattlite pop-punkers the Fastbacks.

Lost in the Grooves doesn't have much to say about jazz or metal, and the few hip-hop write-ups appear to be penned by folks who hardly qualify as fanatics. Otherwise, most musical genres are well covered, though the writing is occasionally subpar and skippable. But most writers succeed at promoting their favorite obscurities, leaving you to wonder, "Should I really seek out a copy of Buckner & Garcia's Pac-Man Fever or the Bee Gees' Mr. Natural?" The answer, of course, is yes. (Adam Bregman, East Bay Express, 1/5/05)

*

Scram magazine, housed in Los Angeles, California..., pays homage to all the players too eccentric or obscure or off-beat to find a home in the Madison Avenue media machine. Scram is truly a resource for those musicians just outside the windows of top-forty-land, those songwriters and guitar slingers looking for an outlet for their own particular brand of art.

Accordingly, Lost in the Grooves takes up where Scram leaves off -- a compilation of ruminations from 75 critics and music aficionados detailing their favorite slices of the scene:

"Jadek is a flat-out weirdo. No one knows who he is, and the guy is either making up his own chords or just doesn’t care how his guitar is tuned. Jadek is like an alien trying to play music after hearing it described to him once. Blind Corpse is his masterpiece...His lyrics reveal a man suffering from a pain so oblique that the listener must simply allow him to revel in his misery. Jadek doesn’t need us for comfort..." (Hayden Childs -- Page 120)

These little known stories about the sometimes shadowy figures of the music world are a hoot to discover; more than anything, this book is like picking an old Rolling Stone and reading for the pure enjoyment of the ride.

However, Lost is important for another reason: as a diary of the hidden streets of the American Music scene, the pieces come together to give true historical perspective to the influences behind the echoes shedding light on the faces behind the old ghosts. Just as much as all the big-time dollar bands, these unknowns serve to bring shape and continuity to the history of our sound:

"Forget the hilarious GTOs. Forget even the mighty Shaggs. Suckdog captures adolescent female adrenaline-fueled angst and aggression like no recording artist I’ve heard before or since. This is not a record for the squeamish..." (Russ Foster -- Page 228)

Lost in the Grooves is not a book for fans mad about one band or one particular singer. Instead, this is a book for the serious music fan, for those serious students of the art form curious about who-influenced-who and what sound rose out of what region. Like turning on a radio station and listening to a feverish wounded-voiced DJ tell you the reason behind every record you never heard, there’s 20 new things to be learned on every page here.

Recommended to all libraries in the public sector and at the college level as general reference text. Also will appeal to serious music fans of all generations - there’s some new stuff here for all tastes. & thanks to Routledge for perhaps forsaking pure commercial motive and releasing an invaluable teaching tool. (John Aiello, The Electric Review, March/April 2005)

... A month or two after I finished Kill Your Idols, I discovered another recent book, Lost in the Grooves (edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay), almost by accident. If upending the rock canon is a worthy goal, this book has the approach I like: positive, off center, championing the underdog even when he turns out to be Paul McCartney. The book is a series of capsule reviews of uncelebrated favorites, and although the pick with which I agree most, Spirit's Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, isn't all that obscure (it went gold, after all), more than half of the book is stuff I've never heard of at all. There's a bit of the anti-canon thing – Jim O'Rourke writes that he'd rather hear about Sparks's Propaganda than Pet Sounds, but, to balance that out, I can't help being amused by O'Rourke's comment that "Propaganda is the standard to which I hold myself and everything else." (Imaginary dialogue: "Well, Jeff, I guess A Ghost Is Born is shaping up pretty well. But it's no Propaganda.")... (Patrick Buzby, Jambands.com)

*

One of the great things about collecting rock and roll music is that there is always an undiscovered gem lacking from your collection just waiting for you to discover. This year (2005) celebrates the 30th year that I have been such a music junkie. LOST IN THE GROOVES is a book that celebrates albums that fell through the cracks in the "classics" description. Included are albums that: might have sold well initially but are now pretty much ignored ("McCartney II"), works by artists that were not taken seriously at the time (Herman's Hermits, etc), obscure artists of merit, and generally lost gems that demand reevaluation.

I had quite a few of the discs mentioned such as: "Muswell Hillbillies", "No Dice", "Klaatu", "L.A. (Light Album)", "McCartney II", "Subterranean Jungle", "Face Dances", "Pacific Ocean Blue", "Hillbilly Deluxe" - just to name a few. But, I found many more that I now need to hear! I only take issue with one entry: Pink Floyds' "The Final Cut". I bought it when it first came out and 20+ years later still say its crap!

I've already given LOST IN THE GROOVES several readings and, armed with a yellow highlighter, have made note of which albums I need to add to my collection. This is the perfect book for the advanced record collector/music fan! (Ronnie, Ear Candy)

*

This could be considered both the anthology and encyclopedia of the not-so-popular music scene. Written in clever, whimsical, tongue in cheek style, the book is a wealth of trivia and facts about hundreds of albums and singles which never made the Top Ten or Hit Parade in the last forty-plus years, some by obscure artists and some non-hits by well-known artists. Because of the alphabetical arrangement of the numerous reviews the juxtaposition of the aritists, styles, and genre of the music is outrageously interesting in itself! For anyone who ever shoved nickles into a Juke Box, any music lover of any kind, and any pop-culture enthusiast, this book Rocks! Tom Neely's delightful cover design, illustrations, and caricatures of some of the artists will delight any reader. (Real Travel Adventures)

Lost-And Found: As countless new CDs continue to push existing music out of the racks and into the cutout bins, used stores and (gasp) even the trash, plenty of worthy albums get unjustly overlooked. In fact, pop-music history is littered with artists both famous and obscure whose work stands defiantly alone—too quirky, too unorthodox or just too demented to appeal to either a mainstream audience or even so-called fans.

Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed (Routledge), edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay, sets out to right those wrongs by spotlighting more than 100 musicians whose art—and in some cases, careers—simply don’t slot neatly into any one category. With pithy, smartly written essays by contributors to Scram magazine, a self-acclaimed quarterly “journal of unpopular culture,” Lost in the Grooves is structured alphabetically in an encyclopedic format. That makes finding the Dream Lake Ukulele Band’s self-titled 1976 album just as easy as locating Terence Trent D’Arby’s 1993 Symphony or Damn. The Beach Boys, John Cale, Glen Campbell, Marvin Gaye, the Hollies, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Prince and Dwight Yoakam all get nods here; and fans of lo-fi garage rock, French avant-garde, roots rock, psycho folk, proto-punk, ’80s soul and bubblegum pop will all find something to discover within these 304 pages.

Readers won’t, however, find many recent releases. Rather, Scram’s writers seem particularly partial to vintage children’s music (Flo & Eddie’s The World of Strawberry Shortcake and The Alvin Show by Alvin and the Chipmunks) and novelty records (Rock Fantasy, a concept album from K-Tel that explores animals’ psychological character traits; Chevrolet Sings of Safe Driving and You, a circa-1965 musical set of rules for new drivers performed by an outfit called the First Team; and The Wozard of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey by Mort Garson & Jacques Wilson).

Many featured titles are only available on vinyl; indeed, part of this collection’s charm is the way writers call these albums “records,” not CDs, and make references to Side One and Side Two. Still, it would have been helpful for editors Cooper (who also edits Scram) and Smay (co-author of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears) to indicate which titles eventually did make it to disc—even if they’re currently out of print.

Interspersed throughout the book are intriguing sidebars that excerpt original record reviews from the likes of Creem and Flash, and compile such lists as the “Top 10 Non-Goth Albums Goths Listen To” (topped by Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around) and the “6 Greatest Midget Rock & Roll Records” (with Bushwick Bill’s Little Big Man topping the list).

The book’s contributors, although keen on putting any given album and its artist into some sort of context, have a tendency to knock well-known critics who panned these records upon their initial release or to go over the top with their effusive praise. That said, this book does what any good music journalism should do: It makes readers want to seek out—or maybe, at least in a few cases, rediscover— some of the records that people who love records truly care about. As contributor Brian Doherty writes in his assessment of Loudon Wainwright III’s 2001 album, Last Man on Earth: “Discovering it … makes you wonder what else everyone is missing.” (Michael Popke, Shepherd Express)

There will always be that cool kid who lives to drop the names of some unheard band on their friends, maybe set the needle down on a scratchy vinyl disc, and enlighten the world to a long forgotten track that's the epitome of rock, punk, soul or whatever. Lost in the Grooves is the Bible for that kid who's out to save, or at least educate, the world.

For the rest of us, though, Lost in the Grooves [Routledge] is just a good, fun read. In the introduction, called, Reconsider, Baby, we're introduced to a group of passionate zinesters that see Lost in the Grooves as “a collection of miniature love letters to albums.” And that's right-on. The voice of zines has always been one that's a little more personal and experiential than those high-fallutin', glossy, corporate publications. And face it, just like a rock and roll Stepford Wife, they look pretty--but without the rough edges, without the intensity and the feeling, they have no soul. Throughout the book, the Scram gang works hard to build amusing and solid cases to justify sometimes hard-to-believe albums, like Buckner and Garcia's 1982 release, Pac-Man Fever [CBS Records].

One of the best of more than 75 writer/critics includes editor, Kim Cooper, who always adds a personal touch--things like, “I was a teenage Velvets freak who overplayed their records until they sounded like dishwater sloshing around the room.” Among the 250-some entries, a lot of these writers, like Brian Doherty, will take you right into the song-it doesn't matter if you've heard it or not--because he gives it to you with full description, lyrics, and where and how to annunciate. It's amusing as all hell to read and really, just great writing. There are even a couple reviews [Pere Ubu and The Tubes] by the famous novelist, Rick Moody, who's been known to dabble in music from time to time.

Lost in the Grooves hits on all kinds of music across all genres, and the thing is that even if, say, you don't listen to country, you're going to want to read the review for its entertainment value alone. It's easy to pick up and put down without having to follow any story line, and hey, if you're that kid who needs to be The Enlightened One: well, here you go. (J. Gordon, Nighttimes.com)

Book News

E6townhall members discuss the book here. You can weigh in, too.

Neutral Milk Hotel on the map.

7/27: Continuum reports that copy #5000 of my Aeroplane book sold yesterday, and that it is currently the 6th best-selling title in the series. Not bad catchup work for the 29th to be released! The third printing should be in stores soon.

7/15: On Stella's show on KXLU last night, Russ Forster called in and we announced our plans to collaborate on an Elephant 6 documentary. The film will be made in a highly unusual fashion inspired by E6 itself. Stay tuned for much more info soon. 

6/12: 33 1/3 series editor David Barker posts an updated sales chart on his blog today, and the Neutral Milk Hotel book has eased its way into the top 10, comfortably nestled between Love and Neil Young. 

4/7: Closing a 33 1/3 week at Popmatters, Anne K. Yoder reviews Kim's book and conducts an interview.

3/27: Tune in to WNYC's "Soundcheck" program (11am-noon Pacific, 2-3pm Eastern) for discussion about NMH and the Aeroplane book featuring author Kim and producer Robert Schneider.

3/25: Kim reads and signs at Vroman's in Pasadena, CA, 4pm with special guest Ben Sisario, reading from his new 33 1/3 Pixies book.

3/24: A short interview with music editor Kate Sullivan in the L.A. Weekly includes a big scoop. It's archived on our reviews page.

2/11: The Book Soup reading was a great success. Click here to see photos, hear a podcast, and learn how to contribute to the dialogue with a podcast of your own.

2/8: Kim reads and signs at Book Soup in Los Angeles, at 7pm.

2/5: In the LA Alternative, Evan George opines: "Somehow, [Kim] miraculously manages to do an album of this ilk—as resistant to the bitter end as it’s been to the spotlight—poetic justice."

1/31: Kim contributes a mixtape for her NMH book to Largehearted Boy, who says "Of all the books in [the] 33 1/3 series... I have enjoyed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea the most." And Michael Carriere calls the book "fascinating."

1/24: Nighttimes says "fans of the album will adore this book... excellent."

1/20: I spoke with Chris Hassiotis of the Athens Flagpole about the writing process and the positive side of Jeff not being interviewed.

1/7: The first printing of the book is nearly sold out, so if you want a first edition copy, pick it up quick!

12/30: Hayden Childs says "Some of the other 33 1/3 books have been too much about the ego of the author; Cooper disappears into her narrative, and her book is infinitely better for it."

12/20: The first eBay auction of a numbered, limited edition copy of the book ended at just over $100, and went to a nice young man who is surprising his wife for Xmas. Book #28/30 has just been listed on eBay, with the opening bid the cover price of $9.95.

12/14: Rob Harvilla reviews the book in the East Bay Express, suggesting "although the [33 1/3] series has enjoyed success with paeans to classics like the Smiths' Meat Is Murder and Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Cooper's Aeroplane volume might be its biggest hit yet." And Brian Heater weighs in in the New York Press.

12/8: There is a limited, signed edition of 30 copies of the book, 25 of which are reserved for the members of the band and others who helped with the project. #30 is now up for bid on eBay, in a 7 day auction starting today.

12/7: My interview with Keith N. Dusenberry appeared today, illustrated with one of the rare photos from the book. He says: "Much of the Neutral Milk story has been pieced together over the years, but never as comprehensively... The book’s greatest strength comes from Cooper’s ability to avoid mythologizing while remaining sympathetic to the band’s highly protective fans."

12/1: I did my first interview about the book today, with the very thoughtful Keith N. Dusenberry at Real Detroit Weekly. It was cool to talk with someone who had read the book so carefully, and I'm looking forward to reading his story, which should appear on 12/7.

11/21: Visit the World of Neutral Milk Hotel interactive map for a sneak peak at the book contents, and a chance to comment or add your own locations to the psychic map of the band's existence.

11/11: On my editor David Barker's blog, he's previewing two of the original photos included in the book. Individual advance orders on the book are the best in the series thusfar--nearly 1000 people have pre-ordered Aeroplane from Amazon.com and the Continuum website.

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