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January 31, 2006

Book Notes - Kim Cooper ("In the Aeroplane Over the Sea")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

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.

In her own words, here is Kim Cooper's Book Notes submission for Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea":

"Thank You, Friends" – Big Star
Since it's Chilton, this is probably satiric, but let's pretend it's not and revel in the sinuous melodic line and its celebration of the kind, close souls who help wonderful things happen. If there's one message in my book, it's that with the right circle of people who love and believe in you, the very stars are the limit. (see below)

"Siamese Twin Bus" – Waxflight (
Solo pop loveliness from Craig Ceravolo, late of Great Lakes and Snow Machine. Craig was my invaluable book assistant, an essential resource for insider information on the complex relationships within Elephant 6, keeper of the phone numbers, Athens chauffeur, expounder on the mysteries of sweet tea and Chic-Fil-A, and always a great friend.

"Sylvia Plath" – Peter Laughner
Jeff Mangum is not the first songwriter to develop a passionate affection for a doomed woman writer of a prior generation and to pay tribute in song. The late Laughner is more literal than Mangum, but hardly less heartfelt.

"Two Sisters" – The Kinks
Sisters are sisters, whether they're Siamese twins freezing in the forest until some beast gobbles them up or a staid suburbanite envying a swinger (standing in for Ray and baby brother Dave, respectably). Aeroplane's themes might seem esoteric and arcane at first glimpse, but when you dig in, they're universal.

"Song For Che" – Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra
An improvisational cover of this song was a regular feature in the late Neutral Milk Hotel live set list.

"Earl of Ruston" -- The Salvation Company
Capitol Records issued this soundtrack to a flop 1971 Broadway musical. Earl was a deceased eccentric hailing from the same Louisiana town where Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider were schoolmates. I never found a way to wind this strange artifact into the book's narrative, but this seems like the perfect place to mention it.

"The Donor" – Judee Sill
It's no mystery why freaky, progressive American people often balk at expressions of Christian faith, since our loudest churches are run by rats. But hating the faith builds a wall between you and some of the most beautiful art every wrought—not just in music, but architecture, sculpture, stained glass, literature and storytelling. So this one goes out to everyone who initially held their nose when Jeff sang "I love you Jesus Christ," only to discover it posed no danger to them, and truly was a gift. Judee Sill was an outlaw and a junkie, a mean bitch and a whore, a student of Rosicrucianism and the old Christian myths, and a conduit to some of the sweetest melodies and most stunning wordplay ever laid down on tape. Had she been a man, her legend would have eclipsed Keith Richard's, Gram Parsons' and Dylan's combined, because as an artist she took greater personal risks and delved much so deeper into her guts. And she died. But first, she recorded this stunning song to the universe and the god of her understanding who would fill her heart in dreams. "So sad, and so true." Essential.

see also:

More Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)