Friday, December 30, 2005

Book No. 42: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Kim Cooper

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.


Kim 6:17 PM, December 31, 2005  

Hayden, thanks for the lovely review. I've taken the liberty of including it on a page compiling critical responses to the book:

In the interest of full disclosure, the time I spent with Jeff Mangum was entirely on the telephone, and fairly brief, but I think a well-rounded picture of his character was revealed through the eyes of his friends. I'm glad you agree.


Hayden Childs 11:43 AM, January 02, 2006  

Thanks for the inclusion, Kim! If I'd known you were going to read this, I would have waited until my holiday driving hangover had passed to write it.

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