Friday, August 26, 2011

Neutral Milk Hotel :: Wild World of Beards Incorporated

walkingwallofwords.com

Below the Jump is a mix of Neutral Milk Hotel Rarities. I like to call it "Wild World of Beards Incorporated" (hear: "World of Wild Beards Explanation") or "Sweetness Sings From Every Corner." Some of the live tracks and rarities fill in the gaps to explain the long, long radio silence from the band. There's an interesting little explanation that you can listen in on at the end of the live track for "Everything Is..." on the mix.

There's another track called "Conversation With Robert Schneider (Will Cullen Hart)" on the Beauty recordings that has a very tripped out introspection between a guy who has all the answers and a guy who has none of the answers. Jeff Mangum is talking about this puzzle he bought when he was a kid that he could never finish. He was particularly perturbed by one piece that he thought had flowers on it, but he could never be sure. The following quote has a prophetic element to it:

"I mean, and I guess if I had a record company or something that could like take my photo and make it look like my flower was together then I'd be ok, but I'm not, I don't want to do that because then all these people with their flowers pressed together would be coming to me like, treating me like I was someone who had my flower put together when I don't, and it would be a big lie..."

After In the Aeroplane Over the Sea came out, Jeff suffered what he called a nervous breakdown. After their 1998 tour, Neutral Milk Hotel was "disbanded" for all intents and purposes. Jeff would play a stray show here or there, but nothing ever big. In the 2000s, things started to change and he played some secret living room shows. And in 2011, the vinyl boxed set appeared. Jeff played a lot of solo shows and festivals and then the band reunited and Neutral Milk Hotel toured (something that I thought would be impossible to cross off my bucket list before I died). So, the 13 year hiatus did a lot for their mystique. On stage, Jeff looked like a tortured man with a grizzly beard and piercing eyes, which was an interesting contrast to childlike Julian Koster, bouncing around in a circle with his banjo.

Jeff's breakdown was probably the best thing for him. Celebrity is a crazy thing for anyone to deal with. But this clip about Jeff feeling guilty about pretending to have his flowers put together seems to put things in perspective. There have been so many followup albums that I've been disappointed by because you can just feel the pressure of audience and critics seeping into the music. I like having a crazy story surrounding one album than eight subsequently mediocre albums. Neutral Milk Hotel have a whole nother album, some "eps" and a lot of demo material to explore too. It still doesn't keep me hoping for the quartet to drop a surprise new release on the world.



Here's more of the transcript of that track. It's quite humorous:

"I thought it was a flower. But it wasn't, ok? It was part of the rat on the treadmill and it was this dude's legs watching "The Price is Right". Ok? And it was part of the blender. And I - I convinced myself for so long that it was a flower, I mean I spent years and years and years convincing myself that these puzzle pieces added up to a flower when it wasn't at all and then once I woke up I realize: how do I trust other pieces? How do I take new pieces and put them together with this much you know, vigor as I once did? Because what if, what if they're not a flower either, they're just like -

W: They've got to be animal pieces, they might be animal pieces. Pieces of goats?

J: Well, that's what I was trying for! There was like, a rat and a goat in the whole thing and the goat just like didn't have any hands

W: And you bought this at Wal-Mart?

J: And that's all I wanted. That's all I wanted, I mean since I was a kid. Since I was a kid! And you know, and it was just -

W: So you never have gotten the puzzle together?

J: No . . .

W: Ever?

J: No . . . they're all these disjointed pieces that I convinced myself to be flowers

W: You have a serious problem, young man

J: I know I do. But I don't think I'm much different than anybody else. I bet everybody else has got a bunch of like, pseudo-flowers in their pockets that are really just pieces of this weird puzzle that aren't supposed to fit together

W: No

J: I mean I hope I'm not alone in this thing, you know?

W: You are

J: Well, it sure feels that way, you know when I go to the newsstands and stuff and read the magazines and everybody seems to have their flower so perfectly put together, you know? Because what they do is like, they can take you into a studio and they can take your photograph and make it look like you've got pieces puzzled together really well, you know, and they can do anything these days. They way you package -

W: It's all computers. They've got their shit together

J: Right, they can make it look like you've got your flower together when you really don't. But it makes the people who don't have their flowers together feel really small and insignificant

W: You are . . . but that's what makes all the difference. You're an artist

J: But I'm not insignificant. Because my flower isn't any more pressed together than anybody else's flower. I mean, and I guess if I had a record company or something that could like take my photo and make it look like my flower was together then I'd be ok, but I'm not, I don't want to do that because then all these people with their flowers pressed together would be coming to me like, treating me like I was someone who had my flower put together when I don't, and it would be a big lie. And then I'd be doing Swanson TV Dinner ads when I was 15 and be real smug and commit suicide on the Brooklyn Bridge. There wouldn't be much point in that, would it?

W: No . . . you're an artist. I've told you a hundred times. You see, the part that you don't understand . . . . what is there to not understand? I, I, it's so hard for me to explain it to you because, I see that you, you're a bit off actually

J: I'm very off. I didn't realize how off I was until I pulled my pieces of my puzzle out of my pocket and saw it for what it really was..."


Download the tracks here.