Monday, February 15, 2010

Graeme Olsen: If I could be present during any moment in musical history I would be in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Oct. 18, 2008.

If I could be present during any moment in musical history I would be in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Oct. 18, 2008. At an Elephant Six surprise holiday tour, Jeff Mangum played the Neutral Milk Hotel song “Engine” and the music world came to a stop.

Some background
Jeff Mangum was the figurehead of arguably the most influential indie band of all time: Neutral Milk Hotel. The band isn’t for everyone. In 1998 Neutral Milk Hotel released the raptor jesus of an album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” Undeniably one of the best albums of the '90s. The album includes references to his personal life, death of friends and Anne Frank. Remember when I said this band isn’t for everyone?

To call Jeff Mangum “Nucking Futs” is as big of an understatement as saying “The Beatles sold a lot of records” or “Keith Richards did a lot of drugs.” Shortly after the release of Aeroplane, he dissolved the band and vanished. Then he came back, randomly popping up at shows related to Elephant Six (NMH’s record label). What did he do? Take the stage while the band was playing, murmur a few lyrics and then cry like a baby.Awesome.

Then he decided “Well all I do in America is disappear and cry so I’ll move to Bulgaria and join the circus to study ants.” Am I joking? Look it up. He released new music in 2001, and all the indie kids peed their pants. Then they realized it was Bulgarian folk music. Thanks again, Jeff.


Since then information has been scarce, one or two contributions to terrible/indulgent nonsense bands and the occasional rumor that he was either dead, killed a bunch of people or seen at a random show crying because he remembered the Earth is round.

One of the most influential musicians alive and all he can do is flee and cry. Brian Wilson anyone? I don’t care how cool you are or how obscure your music is, because if it has anything to do with indie it has been influenced by Jeff. Death Cab? Jeff. Modest Mouse? Jeff. Random boy at a party trying to get into your pants by calling himself a songwriter? Jeff (well maybe less Jeff and more Dave Matthews).

On October 18th 2008 in Pittsburgh, Jeff Mangum was in the audience at an Elephant Six show and decided it was high time he stopped being crazy, borrowed a guitar and a saw blade ( no joke) and performed the song “Engine” which was the B-side to the single “Holland, 1945” from “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” He did it in-between sets. The crowd was instantly silent (save for one douchebag in the bootleg copy of the performance who was cheering, LOUDLY). The performance was perfect, he said thank you and then promptly left. He did this at a few other shows in October and then once again vanished. You still got it Jeff.

I know the video is for the 19th but this has the clearest sound quality.

I remember October 18th. My friends and I were talking online at around 2AM. I was getting ready for bed when I got a text from my friend Sean who told me to go back to the computer, and gave me a link to a YouTube video of Mangum playing earlier that night. I almost cried. Then we showed Brett, then I woke up Patrick.

I lost my shit. Magnum is bonafied crazy that was the first time he had performed live in 7 years and the first time without weeping like a child in 10 years. I don’t know if he will ever perform live again.

I posted this with hopes that you’ll write about where you would be if you could be present during any moment in music history. Don’t be cliché, don’t say something expected like “The first Led Zeppelin concert” or “When John Lennon got shot.” That’s what everyone says. Unless one of those is really your moment I guess, but that’d be weird.

I’m looking forward to it.

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