Monday, June 27, 2005

Neutral Milk Hotel 33 1/3 book

I've pretty much completed my little book on In The Aeroplane Over The Sea for Continuum's 33 1/3 series, pending a few facts being checked by Robert Schneider and Bill Doss, and I'm really happy with how it's turned out. This is the longest piece of reporting I've ever done, and it was wild to see how the story revealed itself in pieces, with each person I spoke with polishing up a new facet on the gem, until it was so perfectly clear what form the book had to take.

The book includes recollections from Lance Bangs, Jeremy Barnes, Ross Beach, Chris Bilheimer, Laura Carter, Ben Crum, John Fernandes, Geoff George, Jamey Huggins, Julian Koster, Martyn Leaper, Bryan Poole, Robert Schneider, Scott Spillane, Jason Norvein Wachtelhausen and Briana Whyte. It was midwifed by my assistant Craig Ceravolo and by Mike Turner, Eric Hernandez and Leslie Dallion-Superstar, who put us up in Athens and helped us secure a few key interviews. Julian Koster and Robert Schneider especially were generous with their time and their memories.

A few trusted friends have read it and responded well, and it almost made David Smay cry, so I think it's really a book. The release date is supposed to be around Xmas, though Amazon still says September. Stay tuned for an official date.

My editor David Barker (who has a nice blog) is letting me include a dozen photos, and with the help of Laura Carter, Robert Schneider and Brian Dewan, I've pulled together a great batch of never-before-seen ones, including pics of the major locations in NMH lore, an unused Dewan illustration commissioned for Aeroplane, performance photos, tour snapshots, a horn chart from the album and a couple of posed band photos that I don't think were ever used.

The story of Neutral Milk Hotel revealed itself to be one of faith and love and trust, of a bunch of talented kids who believed in each other and made magical things happen. It's an inspiring tale, and I think one that has a lot to offer young people who want to be artists, but are unsure of how to go about it or how much to rely on their friends and collaborators. They could do much worse than to follow the Elephant 6 model.

The book is organized chronologically, geographically and thematically, with sections on Ruston, Louisiana (where the players first came together), Athens, Denver, the On Avery Island recording sessions, Queens (where the Jeff-Jeremy-Julian-Scott band manifested), the In The Aeroplane Over The Sea recording sessions, an analysis of each of the songs on Aeroplane, an account of the designing of Aeroplane's sleeve art, life on the road dealing with the band's increasingly popularity, and concluding with the aftermath of the 1998 world tour, how the band ceased to be, and Neutral Milk Hotel's continued influence.

For those reading this who've never heard this extraordinary album, I emphatically recommend that you pick it up, whether you intend to read my book or not. If you think you might want to read the book, all the more reason to get the songs in your bones before you do.

It's funny... In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was a ringer on the wish-list I sent to Continuum, one of a few semi-contemporary albums chosen intentionally to modernize a list that was otherwise shamelessly retro. I'm so glad David Barker commissioned me to do it. I can't imagine I could have found such rich, untapped material had he said yes to Astral Weeks or Happy Sad or Liege & Lief or Big Star Third or Horses or The Who Sell Out or Grievous Angel or Funhouse or Live at the Old Quarter Houston or the Anthology of American Folk Music or Odessey & Oracle or Scott 4 or Lolita Nation or Promenade. (Notorious Byrd Brothers... maybe. We'll see when Ric Menck's book comes out.)

I've also never written anything that is so eagerly anticipated. Usually Scram stories reach a small audience and I hear nice things face to face. It will be interesting to see how unknown people who adore the band react to reading their story.


thomaspatrickwheatley said...

I'm looking forward to checking it out. I'm a young Athens academic emigre and a fan of NMH, so anytime you can read into how the band worked is great.

Congrats on the book and all the best.

Dan said...

For real? I may cry. No, not just for rhetorical effect.

shannon said...

i'm really eager to read this, seeing as i had a sort of bit part in the ruston part of the story. No, I'd say I was more of an "extra" than a bit player. Or somewhere in between. At any rate, some of the people you mentioned interviewing are my friends, and I look back fondly on those days in the early-mid ninties. I've just posted something on my blog ( )that you might find interesting. Have a look :)