I lost a whole year. I am sitting here, listening to my favorite record, thinking about how just a year ago I got to see Jeff play a show, and musing on what he represents for me, and reading reviews and shit and wondering how he’s toured two years running which would be so strange for him. But I didn’t see him last January. I saw him in January 2012. I’ve had a whole baby since then, and he’s 17 months old today. Some people think I’m smart but clearly the evidence proves otherwise.
Jeff Mangum. The On Avery Island tape (yes tape) sat on my desk at Epic for some time before I gave it a listen. And when I did I didn’t get it. Not at first. It took time. And then it had me. Got into my pores, deep in my marrow, and has been part of me ever since. I became a super fan. Stalked him even. Followed him to Philly just to sip hot tea with him in a diner before a show where there were more people on stage than in the audience. I felt so lucky to be there. His voice cut through me, told my secrets for everyone to hear. I never felt so exposed by someone who didn’t know me at all.
When someone is terminally ill, as much as you force yourself not to contemplate the inevitable, you take these pictures with your mind. Its awful. I still do it, its like a remnant of that time I can’t shake. Like, I was sitting in the car one day, and my mom wanted me to stop and let her run into a store for something while I waited outside. At that time it was hard to do this because I was so worried about her passing out somewhere but I wanted to be respectful and let her retain her independence and dignity for what time she had left. So she crossed the street on a sunny November morning and I waited. Naomi from that record played on the car stereo. I took that cassette everywhere at that point. I snapped my photo. My mind’s eye freezing her frail yet radiant beauty in that moment for the rest of time.
I’m watching Naomi, full bloom
I hope that she will soon explode
Into one billion tastes and tunes
One billion angels come and hold her down
They could hold her down until she cries
Please, Please don’t leave me.
Then my mom died. I went to see Olivia Tremor Control that weekend. That night I think actually. Didn’t want to miss them. Remember chatting with the band and saying “Yeah, my mom died this morning.” What a fucked up thing to say. But I was in shock, and hiding in plain sight. Jeff was there, being weird and musical genius-y in the corner. I have a mental photograph of that night.
I saw Neutral Milk Hotel as many times as I could that year, 1996. And the following year. And then, as if Jeff Mangum somehow knew that the quiet after the storm really is the worst part of losing someone, NMH released In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It was my constant companion. My therapist. My aural journal. I can barely listen to the first notes of the last song without tears welling in my eyes.
Depressed yet? Yeah, I’m sure it sounds terribly sad. But when you lose someone like your mother, for those who thankfully haven’t, it never really gets un-sad. You just get better at carrying it around and cramming it in ever smaller spaces. When there is a thing, a book, album, poem, movie, whatever, that accesses all those feelings and lets you cry your cathartic yelp you are grateful. You have a place for it, once and for all, or for a moment at least. And that place is beautiful. Far more beautiful than it is in your mind all boxed up and seeping out unexpectedly, unwelcome by all but the most evolved friends who can bear to watch you crack and shudder and know that you are still ok, that’s its the best you can do.
I don’t listen to the music all that often. Its kind of exhausting to do so too often. But I would never miss the chance to see him play live. It was TWO years ago that I saw him play at BAM. Jenny was next to me. It was a packed house but every person there seemed to feel like me. He was singing pages of my diary. It was beautiful. Tomorrow night Nikki and I will see him play the Cap. There are so few people I want to share him with. Nikki and Jenny make the short list everyday.
Jeff is a bridge. He connects me to a time when I put a tape into my desktop system and thought, “what is this fuzzy shit?” I could never have known how much his music would come to mean to me. How much love and beauty and sadness and life would pour out of me as I listened to it over some 18 years.
I bought two of Jeff’s drawings for the boys’ room. They don’t know what they are yet but they mean the world to me. I can’t wait to play them his music. Well, Colton at least. Lucca I think will always prefer Rage. And I love him for that.