Dear Mark Hollis,

I bet you thought I’d write you about how good Spirit of Eden is. Or maybe about that masterpiece that was The Colour of Spring. Like everyone else does. Or even if that story about your A&R man being asked if he’d heard Laughing Stock by his boss and was it named after him was true?

I could have written to you about any of those really, or to ask you how a punk rocker who says he started “not able to play anything” could create such beautifully crafted music. Or to ask when you realised that having hits in Germany wouldn’t fulfil you anymore and that it was time to stretch your wings. Was it about the time you did you did Montreux with the jazz band…

…and stretched out “It’s My Life” into a 12-minute jam? (The video to that is blocked where I am but other people might be able to see it and dig what you were up to.)

But it isn’t that I’m writing to you about actually. I’m writing to you about the amazing and beautiful album that is Mark Hollis.

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Titled as simply as that. It doesn’t need more.

It’s sometime been called “the quietest album ever made” but it screams at me when I hear it.

Somebody said that Miles Davis was once advising another musician (I forget who) and said its not hard to know when to play, just hard to know when not to. I think your record understands this perfectly.

Silence and space are assets.

Especially if you decorate them perfectly.

But with wild musical invention.

And clarinets.

Forever I was in love with the song called “A New Jerusalem”…

A New Jerusalem

…and I don’t mind telling you it spoke to me. It had something very English about it. Now I live away from home and thrive on that.

“Reserved” might be the world, but not “shy.”

Certainty and strength are features but it’s so thin it almost crumbles.

Like the magic of Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops put into a manageable chunk and with a song attached.

And you sing it so well. With soul.

Like Vicar’s Son soul.

But this year I have been unfaithful to that masterpiece.

And been reading up on the Great War.

And this year, Mark, I have rediscovered “A Life (1895-1915)” which is dedicated to Charles Sorley.

A Life (1895-1915)

This song is a bit like “A New Jerusalem” in that it almost disappears before it starts, and is full of pastoral regret and melancholy.

All that in itself is true of Sorley, a brilliant poet who died too young. He wrote several poems that challenged the myths of Empire and duty, and dared to suggest Germans were human too. He wrote these words, which ironically seem to apply to him as if he knew his fate:

“Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat: 
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean, 
A merciful putting away of what has been. 

And this we know: Death is not Life, effete, 
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen 
So marvellous things know well the end not yet. 

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death: 
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say, 
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?” 
But a big blot has hid each yesterday 
So poor, so manifestly incomplete. 
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped, 
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet 
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.”

These are words for the ages.

Words of wisdom.

And words that fit with your soundscape.

Even though you chose not to use them.

They are words of wonderful poignancy especially when read as this plays, which is music used in a totally different way – but just as heart wrenching.

So thank you Mark Hollis, your album is something I return to again and again.

It conjures up a different age. And its wonderfully musical.

And thank you for making me search out Charles Sorley. I recommend him to others.

I hope people remember your work in 100 years.

Yours,
Tony

PS: I suppose I could have written to you asking if there will be more. But I am sure you are retired and happy. Its just we’d all like it please.

Dear Mr. Byrne,

Hello! This letter in is regards to the spoken words of the 1980 track “Seen and Not Seen” on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. This letter is also about lowercase-a art.

My belief is that art—I’m including books, movies, music (live and recorded), fine art, architecture, dance… probably not street art—is an existential wayfinding system for us to navigate and understand the universe. Or at least that’s what good art does, lord knows bad art can blindfold us and point us towards a ditch. Good art can take us over and direct our attention, like the fungal parasite that takes over ants’ heads and turns them into zombies.

Flashing back.

When I was younger, my parents would occasionally drive me to the record store after soccer practice. In the fall of fourth grade, I clomped cleats-first into The Wherehouse in Fresno, CA, shinguards sagging, and picked out Remain in Light. A year before, an uncle had given my brother and I his sun-yellowed, dashboard-melted cassette of Fear of Music, and when allowances allowed we expanded our Talking Heads collection. The ‘digital masks’ cover was instantly appealing, and I liked the upside-down A in the title (thanks, Tibor.) At home before I was called to dinner, I popped in the tape and my eyebrows were instantly raised. Ha ha – whaaa, what was this? It was instantly bewildering, but entrancing.

There are too many ideas in Remain in Light to mention, but the concept that wedged itself deepest in my psyche, without me really being aware, were the words to “Seen and Not Seen.”

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Maybe we can change our faces. I liked that idea.

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We can change our personalities.

I thought about the digital masks on the cover. What were they for? Had Talking Heads changed their faces? Did they change their personality change to fit the new appearance?

I thought about faces a lot when mine went to shit four years later. Heavily unkind skin on my face and body put my personality into retreat. Crazy acne had made it difficult for me to look at myself and I would go days avoiding the mirror. I grew my stupid floppy hair out so it would cover my eyes, and a fragile ego fell under the spell of self-loathing 90s alt rock. Teenage dismay oozed out of every engorged pore, oxidized by tears and multiple rounds of accutane. I mostly stayed indoors when I wasn’t at school, making drawings and playing guitar. Any time I caught a glimpse of myself I could only think about how badly I wanted to see something other than what I was looking it. Something in the Paul Newman – Robert Redford continuum would be great, thanks.

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Flashing forward.

Medications and the march of time pulled me out of the worst of it in time to leave home and head to college. I left the west coast for the witchy weirdness of Providence, RI, a place where no one knew me or what I used to look like. There was a moment on my first night in the dorms, sitting on the edge of my bed, paralyzed by indecision – I wanted to stay in the room and hide, I wasn’t able to shake the darkness by myself. It felt like sleep paralysis, being unable to move a muscle on your own accord, stuck in your body. A wonderful individual from Ohio who became a dear friend burst into the room to invite me out, and I jumped up. And at that moment, a concept popped into my head that I didn’t remember ever learning:

You can change your personality. You don’t have to stay the way you are.

Oh – and you can maybe change your face, if you concentrate real hard on it for long enough.

In that moment, I was able to willfully flip an internal switch from introverted/sulky to extroverted/excitable, and I haven’t gone back. I learned to appreciate my face, and I’m very happy that there is someone special who seems to like it too.

Thinking back now, I can’t help but ask – did you, David Byrne, ever envision a scenario in which a child takes the thesis of “Seen and Not Seen” and applies it to his life, over the course of two decades? Would I still look the way I do if I never encountered this song? Would I have been able to shift my personality? Is ‘force of will’ a real thing? Is there anyone else born in the early 80s who has done this, and if so, what kind of results are they getting?

Thanks for listening, and thanks for the good art. I’ve experienced the world through a Talking Heads-shaped lenses for many years and enjoy the vantage. I haven’t even gotten to the ongoing significance of “Don’t Worry About the Government” and the line ”I’ll be working, working, but if you come visit I’ll put down what I’m doing, my friends are important.”

Love,
Wyeth

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Seen and Not Seen

Tentative Decisions (CBS Demo)

Big Business (Live 1983)

Dear Mssrs. Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman:

I didn’t have cable television growing up; we lived in the middle of the woods with a driveway longer than the cable company’s ability to bury a line up its length. My brother and I were relegated to what we could get to come through the rabbit ears on channels 3, 6, 10, and our beloved PBS station, WHYY. Sometimes, if it was raining and particularly windy, or, weirdly, one of us was sick, we could catch grainy movies and syndicated Gilligan’s Island reruns on channel 17. It was on fuzzy station that I squintingly watched 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Incredible Mr. Limpett, and a little film called Mary Poppins.

We started taping it halfway through, hastily shoving a blank videocassette into our pop-up VCR, about the time Mary, Michael, and Jane meet Burt in the park and are admiring his paintings, not quite believing what we were watching (and no, I’m not referring to Dick Van Dyke’s accent or make-up). By the time Mary and Burt were dashing through “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” I thought I might never watch another movie again. You know how there’s those drama kids in high school who live in Phantom of the Opera t-shirts? You two were my elementary school Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Richard and Robert, the music you wrote together and separately was the soundtrack of my childhood. Shortly after that jolly holiday with Mary, it seemed like you two were everywhere. Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Snoopy Come Home, all those Winnie the Pooh movies… you were everywhere my little ears turned. The premiere of The Disney Sunday Movie on channel 6 in 1986 really ratcheted up your exposure in my little world, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I put it all together with a little help from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

My older son was pretty obsessed with old-fashioned race cars when he was three, but I had no idea what I was getting our family into when I innocently dropped a Chitty Blu-ray into my Amazon cart close to Christmas. We watched it on Christmas day. We watched it again on Christmas night. We watched it again on Boxing Day. And so on. A friend made him an old-fashioned racing cap and upcycled a set of pool goggles to resemble driving goggles. We watched Chitty while he wore those. Sometime close to his fourth birthday, he slipped on one of the toy race cars he used to line up down our long hallway, cutting his lip on a heating grate. While we waited in the ER for him to get stitched up, he climbed up on a bench and gave the entire waiting room a performance of his own Chitty revue.

I, too, got pretty obsessed with Chitty (I also have a bit of a thing for Dick Van Dyke, to add another layer to this whole thing); my husband and I routinely quote it (a slight squeeze on the hooter is always a good safety precaution); and now both of my kids point out “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” cars whenever we see a classic car out for a Sunday drive. It’s a masterpiece because of you.

I was so saddened to learn that Robert had passed away in 2012. I have no idea, but I want to believe the funeral was joyful, filled with music and love, reuniting old casts, and everyone sang “It’s A Small World (After All)” at the end. It only seems fitting.

It’s A Small World (After All)

With love,
Jenn

To “Left of the Dial” and to my friend, Dan McLane:

I knew about this song for ages before I actually listened to it. Ever since I started reading and writing about music in a serious way, the name would keep popping up. It always seemed like it’d be right up my street—I’d been raised on Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, and discovered The Ramones and The Clash right around the time I was graduating from high school. I liked The Jayhawks, Los Lobos, and The Old ‘97s—bands who wore their hearts on their flannel sleeves. But somehow I didn’t get around to it right away.

Then I met Dan, my senior year of college. Dan was in a band—The Harmonica Lewinskies. People talk about first impressions; with him, I don’t remember having one. I didn’t know him, and then he was my friend. Suddenly, I was part of a scene, hanging out at sweaty venues in Lower Manhattan, dancing to music that was exuberant and raw and good-natured. Even after I left the city, I kept in touch.

Here’s where this song comes in. I was reading some article that mentioned it, and I thought to myself, “This is silly; I should just listen to it already.” Those chiming first bars kicked in, and I took off on the galloping drums and chugging bass as if I were on horseback. “Heard about your band/ in some local page…” Instantly, I thought of Dan and the Lewinskies. I thought of all of us, young and charging headlong toward the unknown horizon. I closed my eyes at the bridge, letting that high note fill my head.

“Pretty girl keep growin’ up/ playing makeup, wearing guitar/ growing old in the bar/ you grow old in the bar.” At the time, the spring of 2014, I was living in D.C., and it was becoming clear to me that I needed to get back to New York. I was turning 23, and I knew if I didn’t make the reckless decision then, I’d never make it. In June, just after I got back, Dan took me for drinks. He asked me if I listened to The Replacements, and I admitted I hadn’t delved very deeply. “But ‘Left of the Dial’ is a great song,” I said. His blue eyes lit up, and we clinked glasses.

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Brooklyn, NY. Summer 2014.

Over the rest of that summer, and into the fall, I went to as many Harmonica Lewinskies shows as I could. Winter came, and things weren’t going well for me, so I sort of faded from the community. On the occasion that I did make it out to see them, though, I had a good time, and they were always glad to see me.

Fast-forward to April of 2016, just a few weeks before my 25th birthday. It was a Thursday night, and I was packing for my cousin’s wedding. Around 9 p.m., I took a break to browse the internet. I was idly scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post saying that Dan had died. At first, I thought it must be some kind of prank. But then I got a message from one of our mutual friends, and the world shifted.

Somehow, I managed to get myself to the airport the next morning and fly down to Atlanta. I’d told my parents, but I didn’t want the bridal couple knowing. It was their day—a day of life renewing itself. So I put on a silk dress and a smile, and sat in the soft, humid afternoon, watching as they took their vows. And then I thought of this song, with its mention of “sweet Georgia breezes.” I thought of how he’d looked at me in the bar. I tried to hold it together.

I flew back to the cold, rainy city. I went to Dan’s funeral, and hugged and kissed and sobbed with his bandmates and all of our friends, even people I’d been too shy to speak to in the past. I tried not to think of the ten thousand conversations I’ll never have with him, or all the times I should have stuck around after shows. I listened to this song at work, trying not to cry out loud.

Even in the short time I knew Dan, we shared a great deal—this song was only the beginning. I keep thinking of the first time he kissed me on the lips: just a peck, like a deluxe “hello.” He gave me the gift of seeing myself reflected in someone’s eyes as something beautiful. He might not walk the earth anymore, but I can find him in the realm of music, with this song’s rowdy romanticism as my guide. “And if I don’t see you there/ well I’ll know why/ but I’ll try to find you/ left of the dial…”

With all my love,
Nicole

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

The Replacements: Left of the Dial

The Harmonica Lewinskies: Good Man He Come

Dear Sinead,

I want to be totally transparent with you. I would prefer for you to stay alive for selfish reasons. I am defining my reasons as selfish because:

  • I don’t actually know you
  • I am a fan of your music
  • I have no idea what it is like to be you

Here’s what I do know:

I know that you have impacted my life in a positive way for the last 20 years through your music and performance.

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I know that there are many female artists who I would define as personal heroes but that many of them (Ani Difranco, Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, and Kate Bush) do not continue to release albums that resonate with me year after year. To avoid any ambiguity, every album you have released has songs on it that mean a great deal to me. Also, I am not trying to shit talk those ladies. They are all amazing too in their own ways. But, from my humble perspective, your discography has been more consistent.

I know that based off of what I can gather from watching interviews and the like, you are a complex person who has often been pigeonholed and maligned. Why do we as humans like to try to sort people into categories and then mock them if they fall into a category that is unknown, not understood and/or not recognized by society, and consequently react to them as if they are bad or dangerous? Why is being unique and/or fluid often a threat to society or religion or any organized group with rules and expectations?

Here’s what I think:

You are a bad ass, but I think you are also extremely shy and sensitive.

You speak your mind and you do bold things to get your point across. I love you for this.

You are physically and spiritually beautiful.

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You defy convention, maybe sometimes on purpose and maybe sometimes just because you are doing your thing.

Your outfit, haircut, dancing and singing is inspirational on the “The Value of Ignorance.” During that time in your career/life were you able to appreciate your coolness? I hope so. If not, feel free to appreciate it now.

I am so sorry that you have experienced trauma in your life. So many people are victimized as children. So many people are victimized as adults. I would wonder if adding fame to the mix might make things additionally painful or difficult. How do you integrate the pain(s) of the past and keep moving forward into the future? How does trauma affect your outlook on the world? Over the past 20 years that I have listened to your music I can see that you’re trying. You experiment, express, evolve, break down, and keep moving forward. You are brave. You are an example to others. I hope that being called an example doesn’t feel like too much expectation. The same goes for brave.

I appreciate that you have continued to write and perform music throughout the ups and downs. Sometimes it is also okay to take a break. Has anyone directly told you that you could do that if you want to? Sometimes it is also okay to take a different path. Has anyone directly told you this as well? If you need to hear it I will say it to you. If you want to keep on keeping on in the world of music of course I (and a load of other people) will be thrilled. But, I want to tell you that you are of value regardless of where you focus your energies. If you need to focus your energies on resting and regrouping that is a valuable way to spend your time. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

I hope this letter didn’t come across as too preachy or too cheerleaderesque. I don’t know you. I don’t know what it is like to be you and move through each and every day of your life. I can only tell you that I appreciate you. Your music has bettered my life. I’m glad you existed and I hope you will find a way to continue to exist.

Be safe (love you),
April

Thanks for writing and recording the following songs:

Jump In The River

Troy (recorded live in London)

This Is A Rebel Song

Dear John,

How these three albums came out of a man that should have been completely jaded with the record business at this point in his career is something miraculous, and a true testament to perseverance. I’m talking about American Fool, Uh-Huh, and Scarecrow by the man of many monikers, John Mellencamp.

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Listen to “Cheap Shot” from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did and you would never expect his next album to be a commercial breakthrough. (Actually, American Fool was almost totally scrapped by his label.)

Who would question the output of a wise ass such as this:

Labeled as heartland rock and the next Neil Diamond, while this totally mocks a culture and barely anyone got the joke.

That being said, American Fool kicked (and still kicks) some serious ass, in listenability, lyricism, and sales. Fitting for him, the title track was among the songs that were nixed from the initial release. Nose-thumbing and still succeeding in the business—admirable today, much more so then. My tender ears could feel the honesty in all three of these albums, which were a large part of my 80s listening pleasure. In “honesty,” I mean the evidence of his love/hate for what he’s doing. I think there are a bunch of singer-songwriters out there that owe a nod to this dude, but refrain for odd reasons. Maybe they’re waiting until he kicks the bucket, in true industry fashion. Regardless, I love this man. As a child, I wanted to be him, he was the shit. Anyone who listens to “Weakest Moments” and hates it is a person I’d rather not speak with.

In walks Uh-Huh. This one was the kicker for me. I can still remember my parents showing my sister and I how to turn on the receiver, place the record on the turntable and set the needle. This album has a special place in my heart, I can remember jumping around to “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” like it was yesterday. And the delightfully playful “Jackie O,” which was done with John Prine. I used to stare at the album art and wish I was cool, not even fully comprehending the messages in the songs. Now, I like them even more. “Forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar.”

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And then, Scarecrow. Another beast of an album, telling people everything they should already know within an awesome rock and roll album. From the horse’s mouth in 1985: “I wrote a song called ‘Stand For Something,’ but I never did say what you should stand for— except your own truth. That song was supposed to be funny, too, and I hope people got that. But I think that’s the key to the whole LP —suggesting that each person come to grips with their own individual truth—and try to like themselves a little bit more. Find out what you as a person are—and don’t let the world drag you down. People should have respect for and believe in themselves.”

This is the reason his music resonates and transcends generations. I know people decades older and decades younger than me who appreciate his work as much as I do. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Mellencamp, whatever—I love you. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Dan

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Danger List

Crumblin’ Down

Justice and Independence ’85

A love letter to “Pet Sounds”*

When listening to Pet Sounds, it’s hard to think about anything but the total gorgeousness of the music, and all the insanely deep emotions it provokes in me. Which is why I never felt comfortable saying it had any influence on me. It’s an incredible piece of work, musically and emotionally, and that’s that. It’s so advanced that I find it rather embarrassing when the average mostly-amateur indie musician claims to be influenced by Pet Sounds. Really? It’s like the Ramones claiming to be influenced by Bach. I get that you listened to Pet Sounds and loved it, but come on. You’re not operating on anything close to that level.

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But as I’ve spent more and more time with Pet Sounds, I’ve started to notice the elements that make it powerful and important to me other than its sheer musical beauty. One is the way it uses the idiom of sixties pop music to aim at the kind of grandeur and high-art beauty formerly reserved for classical music, opera, etc. Sure, Phil Spector and his many imitators had done pop grandeur before, but it always seemed to me to have a crassly commercial bent, a cynicism and tongue-in-cheek element that diluted its power. And of course, it never had Brian Wilson’s musical inventiveness and dexterity. The Beach Boys, in Pet Sounds, found a deeper sincerity in their music at the same time as they scaled dazzling new heights compositionally.

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Brian Wilson’s coinage of the phrase “teenage symphony to God” around this period shows where his head was at. That phrase and the whole cluster of associations it evokes—artistic ambition, spiritual sincerity, bubblegum music trying to become something grand—is the big way that Pet Sounds had an effect on me as a songwriter/musician, aside from its devastating effect on my heart and mind as a listener.

Ezra

* A portion of this essay previously appeared here

SLIGHT VARIATIONS ON SONGS YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW

Hang On To Your Ego

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

God Only Knows

To the magnificent “Rip It Up,”

My first encounter with you was in 2010 at Lit Lounge in Manhattan. Despite being filthy, sticky and way past its prime, the place was packed and brimming with the unmistakable loud of drunk people screaming to be heard over music. I was drinking a nightcap with friends, attempting to stay enthused despite my preference to drink nightcaps in an actual bed.

The sweet sound of your synthesized bassline broke through the din and constant stream of indie dance pop which permeated the city’s bars back then: Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem, Chromeo, The Juan MacLean, et al. Fine enough artists on their own but taken en masse it’s easy to overdose.

I expressed my intrigue to the gang and all I got was “You’ve never heard this song before?” and “Something about it reminds me of ‘Genius of Love,'” neither of which was much help. My ears were on high alert, not unlike a dog hearing it’s owners voice. I struggled to make out your lyrics so I could Google them in the morning and answer some burning questions: Who wrote you and when? Is that crooning I hear over your quirky disco sounds? Are you trendy throwback or a genuine original? If you’re an original, where have you been all my life?

Despite being a few drinks deep and up hours past my bedtime, I managed to get home and eventually wake with “I hope to God you’re not as…” swimming around in my brain. I couldn’t complete the lyric but, brimming with excitement, took to Google with high hopes.

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Thankfully other people had found themselves in a similar situation which allowed me to piggyback on their quest and get some answers.

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Who wrote you and when?
Orange Juice in 1982. Orange Juice was a Scottish post-punk band fronted by your writer, Edwyn Collins, who would later go on to record the ubiquitous 90s hit “A Girl Like You” (fittingly included on the Empire Records soundtrack; slightly less so on Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle). For the general public, that song’s success far eclipsed his previous work. Edwyn seemed like a one-hit wonder to most people, despite having a treasure trove of distinctive music under his belt.

Is that crooning I hear over your quirky disco sounds?
Indeed it is. What would Sinatra have thought if he’d come across you back then (assuming that as a 67-year-old he did not trifle with edgy young Scots)?

Are you trendy throwback or a genuine original?
You, my friend, are fortunate enough to be a genuine original. Edwyn must have known you were an oddball, coming from a band who was previously known for their jangly guitar-driven sound. Still, he went with his gut and recorded you, making you the only Orange Juice song to hit the UK charts.

Where have you been all my life?
Hidden in plain sight. I recall a conversation from 2005 where a friend asked “Have you listened to Orange Juice? They were a big influence on Belle & Sebastian.” The answer was no, so the same friend kindly introduced me to “Falling and Laughing” and “Simply Thrilled Honey.” Both songs are enjoyable, but do they take me to that special place you do? Not exactly.

So thanks to you, I dug deeper into the Orange Juice catalog and eventually learned about Edwyn’s remarkable recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage. I want to give him and all his songs a great big bear hug. It’s impossible to count how many times they accompanied me on the way to work or the number of times your melody and lyrics have happily stuck in my head.

Crooning and disco. Who woulda thought…? Your sound isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for me.

xo,
Christine

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Rip It Up

Dear Jeff Mangum,

It was Seattle 1999. Many days of rain and clouds led me back to the video store down the street from my house (they still existed then!). My love for film led me to bump into a fellow film and music obsessive who at first I called “video store boy.” As video store boy and I also both frequented a place called Cranium—a coffee house, another Seattle survival tool—we discussed films and then started to swap mixed tapes (yes these still existed then too!).

Geeking out over lattes and comic books and old-school toys at Cranium, I was handed the first mixed tape, and heard your song with Neutral Milk Hotel, “Oh Comely” off your album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. When you sing, “Thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums / The music and medicine you needed for comforting” it speaks to me of the time I saw you play live.

Fast forward to 2013—where my family and I lived and still live in Oakland, CA—when after a long hiatus (I thought I would never get to see you play) you announced the tour and your reunion with Neutral Milk Hotel and I saw you sing your heart out at the Fox Theatre. The words of “Oh Comely” literally came alive for me as the theatre was transformed into a psychedelic-indie-folk-punk church with everyone singing, crying and laughing in utter joy.

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It is so cliché, yet it was one of the most musically spiritual moments of my life. I felt I somehow knew everyone in the audience and I knew you too. To hear your raw, shaky, soulful, authentic voice filled with melancholy, hope and wisdom in real-time instead of on our record player at home or in the dark, damp basements of Seattle was a dream come true and a checked off box on my bucket list. Thank you Jeff for following your creative darkness as well as your creative bliss to flourish back in Ruston, Louisiana.

Backtrack again to the late 90’s in Seattle, as I struggled to get through school and find my place 3,000 miles away from my family in the never ending grey skies, your music was a golden thread to validation for being outside the box, for being able to see the deep, dark beauty of the world and for it to be okay.

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After playing your music on long road trips with my husband, he also became a convert. When I had the flu and gave his best friend my ticket to see you in Neutral Milk Hotel instead of solo, I knew he would represent my devoted love at your concert. My husband and his friend still talk about the amazing synergy of the horns (bagpipes too), the vocals, the audience love, the “thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums” to this day. They were so grateful for the introduction to your music.

I still am holding out to see you in Neutral Milk Hotel as part two of my bucket list. Please, please come back to the Fox Theatre in Oakland. I feel you may have gone back into your bear cave which I understand of course. How else could your brilliant lyrics be written? As in “Someone Is Waiting” on the album On Avery Island; “Someone is waiting to swallow all the halos out of you / As your face blows / Through my windows / Sending pieces flying all around the moon / And I love you / And I want to / Shoot all the superheroes from your skies / Watch them bleeding / From your ceiling / As their empty anger falls out from their eyes / All alone….” I know you need to continue to create yet I beg you don’t stay in your cave too long. Please don’t sequester your magic alone anymore, share it with the world and know you are loved.

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You’ve even touched the heart of my five year old son Kirin. He heard “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” come on today and he jumped up, left his Legos (what!?) and began to dance. After twirling and spinning and making up cool dance moves, we had a beautiful mother-son dance inspired by you. My nine month old Saoirse claps and smiles with her two teeth which is her way of saying “Keep on keepin’ on.” And as they say out here in Oaklandia, “You are my spirit animal Jeff Mangum!”

Your obsessed fan and admirer forever,
Heather

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Someone Is Waiting

Tip 1) Listen to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea from start to finish as it is a reflection on the Diary of Anne Frank. The album tells a haunting and creative story that is illuminated listening from the beginning to end.

Tip 2) Neutral Milk Hotel Pandora station is really enjoyable as you will deliciously swim in the sounds of Elliott Smith, Jose Gonzales, The Shins, Violent Femmes and so forth…

 

Record Store Lovers of the World Unite!

Have you ever really loved a music store? I mean really really loved it? Am I lucky to have grown up during a time where even in a small rural town in eastern Pennsylvania there was a (very cool) local record store? Am I thrilled every time I return home and I visit said record store and it smells EXACTLY the same as it did when I first began frequenting it in middle school? I will do my best to answer all of these questions (and more!) in this letter.

The store I love is Record Connection in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. You’ve never heard of Ephrata you say? Well put visiting it on your “to-do” list and make sure to visit on a Friday so you can also hit up the Green Dragon farmer’s market which is conveniently located across the street AND which also happens to have a huge fiberglass green dragon as part of its sign!!!!

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Legend has it that you if go into Record Connection and tell the clerk “El Dorado” they will give you some of what is spelled in yellow on the sign.
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The back room in all it’s glory

The first time I ever went into Record Connection was in 6th grade. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, had been going there for a few years and buying used copies of albums such as “Houses of the Holy” and “90125” on compact disc. He had also been occasionally taking CDs from the family collection and trading them in without telling anyone, but that’s another story for another time. On my first visit I bought a John Lennon t-shirt and my first used album “The John Lennon Collection” on compact disc (do you see a theme here?). I wore that John Lennon shirt religiously. I was a girl, in the 6th grade, in a small rural town, who wore an oversized John Lennon shirt at least once a week. Let me be clear, everyone else was wearing shirts featuring Guns n Roses (if you were male) and Janet Jackson OR Paula Abdul (if you were female). I did not fit in.

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My beloved oversized John Lennon shirt

In 9th grade, my fervor for Record Connection really gained momentum when I became friends with someone who was also female AND who was likewise obsessed with music. Millennials, you have no idea how easy you had it/have it. These days it is completely socially acceptable to be female and be a music fan (even in small towns? You tell me. Because…I’d love it to hear about it). In the 1990s in little ol’ Denver Pennsylvania I assure you this was not the case. My friend and I were most certainly the minority. Thankfully, our love of music triumphed over our desire to be socially accepted. Wow! This letter is really about to take a crotchety old-timeresque turn when I tell you that on the day “In Utero” was released we walked 2 miles from her house to RC so we could purchase the highly anticipated album. I bought it on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman while I walked to school; she bought it on compact disc. We walked the 2 miles back to her house and listened to it in her room with a passion for Kurt Cobain pumping through our veins (there was probably some incense burning going on as well).

There was a period of time where she and I regularly traded in albums in order to buy new items. This process began in 9th grade and continued through our four years in high school. I have two very clear memories of specific trades/deals that were cut during this time. The first one involved me trading in “Pleased to Meet Me” on cassette so that I could buy “We’re Not Gonna Take it” on 45 (by this time I had a record player and was interested in vinyl). Needless to say, I was mocked. I remember the guy who worked there at the time who my friend and I privately referred to as “the young guy” (there was also an “old guy”) loudly commenting “She traded in a Replacements album so she could buy a Twisted Sister record!” A-hem! For the record (pun intended) I still stand by this trade today. I love the Replacements to death, but in my opinion the production on “Pleased to Meet Me” is turd city. Need proof? Listen to a demo or live version of “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Guitars trump horns Jim Dickson!

My other standout high school trading memory involves me repeatedly taking the Therapy? album Troublegum to the store and sneaking it into my trade piles until one day the “young guy” said, to no one in particular, “She just keeps bringing this in. Fine! I’ll just take it!” I think that maybe he gave me $2 in store credit that day. I can’t remember if/how I spent it.

Record Connection has been, for me, a lot like the tree in that Shel Silverstein book. As I have aged, it has continued to meet my needs. Whenever I return home to visit my parents I try to squeeze in a visit. These days I typically leave with a stack of $1 albums and/or some $1 bootleg CDs. God how I love this store! When you use the bathroom you are sitting the same room with the vinyl soundtracks which allows you to look for Beat Street immediately after you finish taking a leak.

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Just in case you’re wondering what the discs look like inside, they are all CDRs with the album name hand written on them

How can I fit it all in? The way that the “old guy” starting referring to me as Cyndi somewhere in the middle of 9th grade because I would always buy Cyndi Lauper albums/memorabilia. How I probably spent a significant amount of money throughout my high school years on the new old stock 80s pins they kept in a plastic bin on the front counter. (Yes, I do have a Goonies pin featuring Cyndi Lauper and yes I am bragging.) And how recently I was in the store and someone asked “the metal guy” who (still!) works there how he was doing and he replied with, “Eh. VG minus.”

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The “metal guy”

Record Connection, I love you. Please, never ever change. Keep on being great! You’ll always be a VG+ in my book!

Love,
April