Flying with a Mangum (and a Magnum)

This journey is a tightrope over a pit filled with schoolchildren and racehorses. There’s a balancing act, a fire breather, and a bearded lady. There aren’t many ways to describe Neutral Milk Hotel’s music, but a circus always springs to mind when “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1” switches on. Jeff Mangum, lead singer and bandleader of Neutral, has always seemed out of step with the mainstream music industry. Just as well, though, since if he’d gone any further in he might not have been able to surprise the indie world in the way that he did.

Mangum, born in Louisiana at the dawn of the 1970’s, previously played in groups such as Synthetic Flying Machine and Olivia Tremor Control. In 1991, he joined up with buddies Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss to form what would become Neutral Milk Hotel. This, however, would not be the definitive lineup the band would take, since recording sessions were often initiated wherever Mangum found inspiration and a microphone. His backup members often consisted of who was available at the time, and the work of Hart and Doss only consisted of a few efforts in the early 90’s. While he released the LP On Avery Island in 1996, his critically acclaimed work would not come until 1998, with the release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Jeff Mangum (2nd from Left) Holding an Angel

The album throws so many loops that it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what genre you’re listening to. At first it can seem like folk, maybe even freak folk, and then “Holland, 1945” hits and you’re back in rock ’n’ roll land. Here’s a few samplings of the lyrical content of this kaleidoscope:

“The only girl I’ve ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening, 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she’s a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
On empty rings around the sun
All sing to say my dream has come”
-“Holland, 1945”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

“Goldaline my dear
We will fold and freeze together
Far away from here
There is sun and spring and green forever
But now we move to feel
For ourselves inside some stranger’s stomach
Place your body here
Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine”
-“Oh Comely”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Now you might be asking yourself, “What kind of inspiration would a man need to be writing these outlandish lyrics?” Let’s here from Jeff on this, “…it ended up being a reference to Anne Frank, too. A lot of the songs on this record are about Anne Frank.”

You heard that right. Anne Frank. After a while of wrestling with the idea, the careful listener begins to connect the dots between Mangum’s reading of The Diary of a Young Girl and the creation of Aeroplane.

Discussing the writing process, Jeff claimed:

“…typically there are little fragments of specific words and images swimming around in my mind, and then at some point, I’ll sit down with the guitar and everything will fall into place. It’s like your brain is a drain with a bunch of words and images dropping into it, swirling around. The drain is stopped up, but you can feel these things dropping into it. Then at some point, someone comes along and pulls the plug out of the drain…”

After a year of touring to support this album, Jeff went on an indefinite hiatus from performing and recording that has lasted ten years. While he has appeared sporadically on stage with a few acts headlined by his closest friends, no one has seen a resurgence of the pre-Aeroplane Mangum since. So, either Mr. Mangum is one of the most innovative and interesting artists of the past 20 years or he’s the most insane. Whichever is true, the legions of Indie fans who view this album as their own Sgt. Pepper will not let him go into obscurity without a fight.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Here’s a bit from Mangum himself. See what you think!


1. Marci Fierman, “Pitchfork: Interviews: Neutral Milk Hotel,” Pitchfork,

1. Mike McGonigal, “orange twin,” Puncture,

Indie Jesus!

Indie people have recently come to my attention as the “new hippie,” though you could never get away with calling them that to their face. Well, along with the rest of Indie culture, we now have a savior for these mountain men, one who “doesn’t take no crap from the man.” While Indie Jesus may have kept his sacrosanct sandals and beard, he has been given a +1 Sweater Vest of Truth to replace his simple, white robes, and the addition of a vintage belt assures Him that He’ll be accepted at the next Pitchfork staff meeting.

I wonder if He stays up nights listening to Bon Iver? Now all we need is Hipster Paul of Tarsus.

Feed the People, Change the World

Have you ever wanted to make a difference to those in the world who are less fortunate than you but just couldn’t drag yourself away from the computer? Well now you can spread some good karma, as well as food, to those who need it.

Free Rice is a non-profit website that is a part of the UN World Food Programme. The site quizzes you in subjects ranging from Art to Chemistry to English to four separate foreign languages (French, German, Italian, and Spanish). The long and short of it is that for every question you answer correctly, FreeRice will donate ten grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme in order to feed the hungry across the world. Basically, you can brush up on the subjects you didn’t pay attention to back in school and help those in need at the same time!

Check it out!

The Beast of Burden

My friends, the end has come. The beast has risen, and its name is Conservapedia.

Now, for those of you who may be faithful adherents to this website, I do not profess to have seen all the content of their wiki, but I have seen with my own two eyes their “Conservative Bible Translation,” which mocks the Greek the New Testament was written in. Let me go through a few points with you:

1. The first two words of their main page are “Liberal Bias.” I think all of us can see where this is heading.

2. They outline three main “sources of error[]” in translations of the Bible:

• lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
• lack of precision in modern language
• translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

This part is especially laughable. Basically, these folks are claiming that since both languages are precise, neither can be relied on for a definitive meaning, and thus only Conservatives can bring out the “true Conservative meaning” behind the text. To solve this problem, these “translators” are working from the most definite language they can find: King James English. The accusation of a translation bias is also ridiculous, since this calls into question the merits and skill of the International Bible Society and the Wycliff Bible Translators, two of the most respected translation societies.

3. They offer ten guidelines for their work. Here are a few of the best:

Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias.

They give no specific examples of this “liberal bias” here, but one can assume they are referring to the multiple hippies referenced in Scripture.

Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these).

Apparently, the idea of including humans other than men in the term αδελφος is a blasphemy unto God that has been inserted by feminists wishing to subvert the chauvinistic Christ.

Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[4] Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.

Still out to stop the Red Scare, I see. I wonder how the word “miracle” needs to be updated, and how “peace” might have been misinterpreted for 2,000 years.

This last one is my personal favorite:

Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.

Jesus apparently was content to let the market fix itself. Why else would he have come to earth, if not simply to give us a pattern for how our governments should structure their economies? I guess they missed the parable of the talents and Jesus’s “redistribution of wealth.” That part must have been a redaction by the liberals of the 1st century.

As a translator and scholar of these texts in their original form, this makes me laugh, but also makes me question the motives of those who profess to be “Christian.” Politicizing Christ in this way is akin to placing an eagle on the cross in the place of Jesus. The creators of this “translation” have made the error of the Jewish zealots; they understood Jesus as coming to revolutionize their government and free them from political oppression. In reality, the message of Christ is about freedom from spiritual oppression, and any political undertones that can be found in Scripture are all subordinate to His spiritual message and salvific work.

Check out their translation of the Epistle to Philemon for a good laugh.

You Can’t Take It With You

Wonders abound in the worlds of religion and irreligion, but one of the most fascinating came to my attention today: a site dedicated to saving your pet in the event you get “raptured”. After taking a cursory glance, I figured this was purely a joke site that was made in 5 minutes by some atheists looking for a laugh, but it turns out that these guys actually get money for their work.

The contract is harmless enough. Here are a few snippets:

“In the event of the death of the subscribing pet owner prior to the Rapture the contract will remain in effect. EE-BP will continue to honor the contract for the remainder of the contract period. We do not adopt / rescue animals except as a result of the Rapture occurance.”

“Should a relative residing within the rescue location not be Raptured and opts to retain the pet(s), EE-BP will not take possession of the pet(s). No refund will be tendered.”

“If subscriber loses his/her faith and/or the Rapture occurs and subscriber is not Raptured (aka is “left behind”) EE-BP disclaims any liability; no refund will be tendered.”

Quotes taken from Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA – Contract and Payment

They do actually have subscribers, and members of their organization, confirmed atheists who have no worry of being taken should a rapture occur, will honestly uphold their end of the bargain. Also, a portion of the revenue made from their Google advertising is donated to food banks in their area. These guys are legit, and some people are worried enough about the rapture that they legitimately fear this. Seems like these guys are helping a lot of people, while helping us laugh at ourselves a bit, too. Check them out.

Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA