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.

JM1.jpg

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.

JM2.jpg

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.

JM3.jpg

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…

 

Dear Ben Folds,

There was a time—months—where I couldn’t get through The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner without crying. As a junior in college, there were several things I couldn’t get through without crying back then (the angst of puberty hit me very late—I needed your “punk rock for sissies” very much in 1999), but nothing really got me going like that album. I’d put it on in my bedroom while I attempted to write a paper, but the by time “Mess” was transitioning to “Magic,” I’d have my head down on my desk, sobbing quietly so my roommate wouldn’t hear me. You sounded so sad—my friends and I would say to each other, “Ben’s not okay,” our eyes bright with worry. You were simply “Ben” to us by then; we had all dispensed with formalities.

It feels like you’ve always been there as the background soundtrack to my everything, but there is a very bright line between Before Ben Folds (BBF; 1978–1996) and After Ben Folds (ABF; 1997–?). The first of your songs I ever heard was, like a lot of people, “Brick,” which was released right around my 19th birthday, and I have to be honest: I didn’t love it. A freshman in college, but not yet quite given over to the indie rock nerd I would become, I listened to the hard rock station in Pittsburgh almost exclusively and groaned every time your sad, slow song came on. Was it about abortion? Maybe? Did it matter? I didn’t know. Over Thanksgiving break, I went back to work at the flower shop where I spent most of high school working, and the most unlikely person answered those questions for me. My boss’ boyfriend Jim, a big lovable guy who listened almost exclusively to classic rock, defended “Brick” to me when it came on the radio. Fifteen years older than me, maybe the lyrics hit him in a place I couldn’t yet fathom. Or maybe he just had better taste. Whatever it was, Jim made me take a better listen to you. Thanks, Jim.

enhanced-16271-1447815643-2.png

I don’t remember when I bought my first Ben Folds Five album, and I can’t remember if I bought Ben Folds Five or Whatever and Ever Amen first, but it doesn’t really matter because I fell in love with you head over piano-rock heels. By summer 1998, I was watching you at the Y100 FEZ-tival in Camden, NJ, completely mesmerized as you slammed your piano/drum stool, against the front of your piano, hitting the keys so hard at the end of “Jackson Cannery” that all 10 years of piano lessons in me winced. You were an animal that warm Sunday afternoon in June. I loved it.

ben_folds_five_stage_a_l.jpg

I fell for you all over again when you released Rockin’ the Suburbs. Oh, I mourned hard when I heard that Ben Folds Five had broken up. But then! Then there was this gift of your solo album and suddenly it was all going to be okay. I think I listened most obsessively to this one; to me, it represents growing up in so many ways. I had just graduated from college and was working at my first of many dead-end jobs, living with the man who would become my husband. Rockin’ the Suburbs was released on September 11, 2001—do you ever think about that? At first I had to make myself listen to the CD, pull myself away from the news and conspiracy theories on the internet, but it became a balm of sorts to me during that time, those first notes of “Annie Waits” ringing out and lifting me out of whatever funk I found myself in. You sounded so much happier on this album; I was happy for you. It seemed like you were maybe finally settled, wife and kids. I felt myself sliding into that stage of life as well. Four years later, my husband and I had our first dance at our wedding to “The Luckiest.” We sang “Still Fighting It” as a lullaby to both our sons when they were babies.

As with all love stories, there are ups and there are downs—I don’t have to tell you that, do I? Has anyone ever taken you to task over “Bad Idea?” It’s the only song of yours I refuse to listen to and won’t let my kids hear. The R-word, man. Why? I get that it was 1996 and things were different, but even when I first heard the song during that wretched movie it was in I cringed. Now, as a parent of a kid with special needs, I just can’t even, you know? I once interviewed Adam Horovitz when he and Amery Smith were touring as BS 2000 and asked him what he thought about all the misogynistic lyrics the Beastie Boys wrote. It wasn’t a terribly original question, but he still answered it passionately, saying he was embarrassed by his younger self and regretted those songs and that they would never perform them live again. I don’t think you perform “Bad Idea” anymore but have you ever been asked about it? What would you say?

cats and dogs.jpg

Ben, I feel like you and I have grown up together, despite you being 12 years my senior. I haven’t even gotten to your other solo albums or the recently reunited Ben Folds Five record (record! Good work, you!), or So There (I’m getting into it…slowly) or your TV appearances (bad fan; I haven’t really watched much). Your music has matured as you’ve gotten older—the last time I saw you play it was in front of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (it certainly made me feel mature watching that performance), and I recently watched an interview with you on CBS’ Sunday Morning (because I’m at a stage in my life where I religiously watch CBS’ Sunday Morning)—but it always manages to weave itself into my life in ways the girl who hated “Brick” could never have imagined. Thanks for being with me all these years.

With love,
Jenn

P.S. I once watched a karaoke DJ in the Denver, Colorado suburbs absolutely and un-ironically kill it on “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” You know that growly part at the end? He was the embodiment of it. I think you would have loved the whole thing.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Underground

Mess

Still Fighting It

Hello William,

Not sure if you remember me… I met you 20 years ago before a Foo Fighters show at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio… You were walking through the line of grungy kids before the show when my older brother, Jim, and I spotted you and yelled “Goldsmith!”, “You’re William Goldsmith!”, “You’re the best drummer in the world!” I hadn’t been that star struck since I met Sugar Ray Leonard at a Hills Department Store opening in the late 1980s.

You looked like a greaser with black dyed hair, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket as you shyly approached me and my brother… You smiled, we grabbed you, and you said “Holy shit! I didn’t think anyone knew me”. We continued to praise and grope you and you remained humble and were totally cool about the whole situation…. Thank you…

William 1

To this day, you are still one of my favorite drummers and you have had such a lasting impact on me musically. When I am behind a drum set your influence on me is very obvious to other fans… Even when I am programming a drum machine it somehow sounds like I am copying your style.

Sonically, I have never heard a drummer who hits has hard as you while being so expressive and intricate with your rhythmic accents… I am a huge Brian Wilson fan and find you’re drumming layered and nuanced like a Beach Boys harmony. It tells a story on its own when you focus and isolate it within the mix…
While emotionally, I never experienced a drummer like you; For me, your drumming is raw and on the edge; you put everything into each down beat like a boxer trying to knock out it’s opponent with each punch.

William 2

I have seen you in concert twice with the Foo Fighters. Once at the Agora Ballroom (above) and once at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio also in 1995. Me, my brother Jim, and our buddy Jon, made the trip from Pittsburgh. The first Foo Fighters’ album just came out and Shudder to Think was the opening band on that summer tour. We met Craig Wedren before the show because we arrived at the club four hours before the show… When the doors opened we rushed up to the balcony and stood our ground for about four hours because we knew that was the best spot in the venue to see you drum. No food, no water, no bathroom breaks for hours, no problem…

The highlight of the show was a new song that you started with four rapid bass drum beats to each snare hit… It was My Hero, which was not released and we had never heard it before that show. You left it all out on the stage that night… Thank you…

William 3

Jim, Jon and I were dehydrated and disoriented as we wandered a supermarket in a strange town for food and hydration after the show. I grabbed the Taco flavored Doritos, Jim grabbed the Hostess frosted Donettes, and Jon grabbed a 1 gallon jug of generic blue drink. It was simpler and more carefree times; the days were golden and the nights sparkled with uncertainty, high hopes, and lofty Rock N’ Roll dreams of tour vans and small town takeovers.

Our Rock N’ Roll dreams never came to fruition. We grew up and apart and our musical relevance and coolness waned along with the rest of the Generation Xers… Everything we did and were that was not cool then became cool 10 years too late, which of course makes it totally uncool now…

William 4

However, “classic” Rock N’ Roll music holds up and can bend the space-time continuum… Whenever I want to escape to a world where Rock N’ Roll Dreams still exist, I put on Rodeo Jones. The beginning of the song is somewhat benign… It is like a warm up, which is helpful as you stretch the tired and dormant muscles that hide and hold the stress and tension of your true self; your sixteen-year-old self… You begin to tune out reality around and inside you as the groove continues….

The race starts at the 1:11 mark… Your body temperature rises, your muscles stretch, and your stress leaves your body as you are floating above the colosseum of your life as the mighty Sunny Day Real Estate is taking a victory lap at the 1:35 and 2:50 marks…

I don’t want to get too negative (edit, edit, edit), but what Dave did to you was not cool and the Foo Fighters have not been the same band (edit, edit), since you have not been a part of it. I am sorry that this happened to you… You deserved more respect.
It’s a shame, since I feel that you bring out the best in other musicians you play with. I love Jeremy’s music, but it is different without you… It’s missing something… In SDRE, Nate was like Mike Mills was to REM; he had a pivotal role in the band; his bass lines were interwoven into the melodies and rhythms and became the melodies at times. However, in the Foo Fighters, Nate is more like Michael Anthony is to Van Halen; his bass is buried in the mix, he is simply a body on the stage and bassist for the band’s promo pictures, since Rock N’ Roll bands have bass players…

When you were the drummer for the Foo Fighters, you were the artist that brought out the artist in Dave like Kurt had before… There is more to Rock N’ Roll besides loud guitars, banging drums, and screaming men. There is sincerity, vulnerability, and strength. All attributes can be found in you and your drumming and for that you are my (Rock N’ Roll) Hero.
Matt

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Sunny Day Real Estate: Seven

Sunny Day Real Estate: Rodeo Jones

Foo Fighters: My Hero (Early Live Version)

 

To Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch,

1992. I was twelve years old. My compact disc collection was infantile, my room still being full of cassette tapes. Music was always such a mood lifter for me that when I got grounded, it would be taken away from me and that was horror in my mind. End of the world, apocalyptic heart attack serious. In this day, akin to throwing away my hard drives and removing all wifi. Deserved, though, as I was a huge pain in the ass. That got the point across. The refreshment of getting back what means the most to you is indescribably elating. What meant the most to me in 1992, other than little girls and trouble, was my microcosm of a music collection. My first discs were Nevermind and Check Your Head. Monuments. 

Starters, I can still listen to this album today and thoroughly enjoy it. Not because of pure nostalgia, more so due to the awesome amalgamation that was/is Check Your Head. I had been a huge fan of Licensed To Ill and Paul’s Boutique, but never saw this coming. LTI was a trumped up braggadocio, bravado, intentionally in your face parade of hormones and hedonism. Paul’s was a total departure, and pretty much overlooked by most until further listening. Leaving Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin was a definite turning point, and opened up creative endeavors. The bouillabaisse at the end of that album should’ve prepared me.

As soon as the first track starts, I get goosebumps. You can feel the passion, angst, purpose, and love immediately. No major hip-hop acts were doing anything like this at the time. I was floored. So much so that I purchased this twice on VHS…

…and I still don’t have a copy due to pilfering after viewing, like the way loaning books means they’ll never return. The artwork alone sold me on this album. Browsing through music shops was much like grocery stores—design and packaging would lure me in. The design of this, prior to listening, made me want to grow up fast and create aesthetically pleasing things. Basically how you eat with your eyes first.

Beastie_Boys_-_Check_Your_Head

This was one of those meals that looked terrific and did not disappoint. Everything was about shedding light and peace and happiness, whilst sounding badass. Which, in my opinion, is as essential as altruism. I did not have a chance to be present for this tour but got to see the Ill Communication tour with A Tribe Called Quest. I get the polar opposite of douche chills just recollecting that.

(This is a taste, although a few years later:)

The energy and uplifting spirit of your output, particularly on this album, inspired millions. Most importantly, myself. The letting go, and just doing what you felt like doing in your hearts, comes through incredibly. Kicking expectations and outside judgments to the curb, and letting each member coalesce, conveying much in such little time, resonates to this day. Harmony. The thing everyone searches for. Somehow, my budding naïve mind could feel that, and still does.

You made me grow as a person, and I am forever grateful.
Dan

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Pass the Mic

Gratitude

So What’cha Want

Dear Justine Frischmann’s sneer,

justine.jpg

Thank you for writing me back! I feel like 1995 has gone soooooo sloowwwwwwly. Ughh will this stupid age ever end? But yes, I did have a smashing summer, thanks for asking. I’m really curious what London’s like. I’ve heard it’s dark – dark in the daytime. Do people sleep, sleep in the daytime?

Have you ever been to Middle America, Justine? Have you ever been to the Middle America of California, where hella fuckin tight trucks are lifted or slammed, depending on your level of anger? Have you been to the flatland labyrinth of Auto Zones, Jamba Juices, where Big Dogs have No Fear and the aforementioned trucks have nuts? It’s sooo sweet, you’d love it, and you wouldn’t have to worry about being mobbed everywhere you went because Elastica’s not big with cowboys.

But wait, I think you have been here – at least in a disembodied, spectral form, on MTV. Actually, I’ve seen you a bunch of times and I am smitten by your perfect sneer. It’s so good! I think the video editor may have been a teenage boy too, because that sneer loop is played over and over and I can’t get that image out of my head. Sneer sneer sneer (bats eyes). I want to live in that lip curl.

stills.png

I’ve been hooked on “Connection” – it’s an unexpectedly sweet confection spun from all my favorite contrasts. It’s laid-back while being totally showy and gaudy. Like a realist black-and-white film that is actually all neon squiggles. Atonal and counterintuitive while being highly melodic and naturally composed. It feels naïve despite being fairly sophisticated (how I fancy myself to seem). It’s also got the distorted “oooowhhhaa” approach that works so well in “Cannonball” and “Supernova.”

You and that video mean a lot to me, really. See, I never get celebrity crushes even though I’m a teenager and that’s the expectation. There aren’t any actresses or singers that stir unrealistic feelings. But uh… you, and this video, and this song, and this record… it’s made me go crazy for a potential world that may exist elsewhere, full of androgynous girls and boys who sneer, effortlessly make great pop records, have fantastic conversations, make cool art and make simple clothes like amazing, and don’t wear the kinds of sunglasses that make you look like you’re always angry. Does this world actually exist? Am I crazy? Is it just a well-crafted illusion?

damon-wink.png

I’ll admit, before your sneer came into my life, there was a “wink.” I was watching the “Girls and Boys” video and Damon Albarn – do you know him? – delivers the campiest, most dreadful wink to the camera (:35 in, nonetheless) and I absolutely fell in love with it despite knowing better. All of last year I was wearing my soccer warmup jumpers and trying to wear my hair like his but I ended up looking like a zitty Ringo with too-tight pants. I wanted nothing but to float around effortlessly in oversaturated colors dispensing devastating one-liners and bathing in my own glow. But I’m older now.

This letter’s getting a little long, so let me also say that you’re a total babe and that “All-Nighter” is what I put on loud when I want to thrash and jump around while also making myself really heartsick. Heartsick in the way that I dream that sometime in the next few years I’ll meet people that will be so exciting to me that I’ll want to stay up all night with them, running around until the sun comes up, hatching plans, making manifestos, chasing impossible romances, staying skinny from constant emotional/hormonal half-marathons. I’m looking forward to this, and if it doesn’t happen I’m going to be really really unimpressed with myself.

best.jpg

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my drawings and music and hopefully they’ll get me out of the Auto Zone and to a climate more fitting, where even if I start listening to Wire it won’t make me mad that you lifted their songs, it’ll actually put a big smile on my face.

Okay hope everything is cool in London! Looking forward to that second album, hope it’s as good as the first!

Wyeth

duowink.jpg

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Connection

All-Nighter

Never Here