And One Day We Will Die And Our Ashes Will Fly: "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea"

Several (many) months ago I made this statement, which has periodically resurfaced to haunt me ever since: Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" is the greatest folk song of our time.

I knew it was risky, ooh did I. "Greatest folk song of our time" has got to make a statement, something really insightful about "our time", because that's what great folk songs are all about right?

 And I just don't know.

Sometimes it hits me when I am bending over to tie my shoes, or reaching into the grocery store case: IS Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" the greatest folk song of our time? 

I'd say I need to get a hobby, but I think I've got one.


Here's my supporting evidence for why I said this in the first place:

1. It's tied with "Postcards From Italy" for Song We Conducted The Most Off-Key But Enthusiastic Dorm Room Singalongs Of. 

But even though "Postcards From Italy" had the advantage of the ukulele, nothing ever quite matched the fervor we could throw at "with MEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeee".

2. That fervor: what was behind it?

Listen to those lyrics, kaleidoscoping between transparent hope and wonder and sneering nostalgia and just plain nihilism and ending up simply with

"can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all".

3. The singing saw sounds like a dolphin.


The song: Neutral Milk Hotel, "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea"; 1998

The greatest folk song of our time would require an "our time", which is why I am hesitating here. But I think what we've got on our hands IS a generation, and like all generations while we are figuring out what our generation is we're relying slavishly on the ones that came before.

The problem is that we're immediately preceded by some Generations, man, some Generations who define the concept of "generational identity" -- define it even to a fault. (And yes I am looking at you, Baby Boomers, you are SO not as great as you think you are.)

They've called it "Gen Y" to which I say, ugh, love ya Gen Xers (no really I do) but nope this does not appear to be a simple linear progression,

but I do kinda like "millennials". Because if there's one thing that appears to have defined our lives so far by my understanding, it's some millennial thinking in the sense that THE SKY IS ALWAYS ALWAYS FALLING.

To give one example that occurred to me recently, as I was watching the Opening Ceremonies for the current Olympic games I was listening to the announcers plather on about how this will inspire a new generation etc etc.

Undeniably the Olympic games do that and I am as much a sucker for the Olympic spirit as anybody. I remember my first Olympics clear as day.

It was the one that was IN America, where like every other little girl I became obsessed with watching the women's gymnastic team, and oh yeah it was the ONE THAT GOT BOMBED.

"Oh hello children, I am the Olympics, I bring peace and excitement and new frontiers for your young minds and lots of promotional crossover with Coca-cola and fifteen-year-old tiny ladies wearing AWESOME SCRUNCHIES and. . .some weird guy setting off a huge bomb because of. . .socialism and. . .abortion? But let the Games go on!"

And this sort of thing was always happening when we were young and impressionable, and what's more we lived alongside the fear of it -- I'm 24 years old and I can't hardly remember a time when the "threat level" was below orange; I remember the times when you had to look up movie listings in the newspaper MUCH more clearly.

What is a "threat level" anyhow?

Maybe it's why we all loved singing the line "what a beautiful dream/that could flash on the screen/in the blink of an eye and be gone from me".


I don't want to lean too heavily on this theory, because at its heart it is just something I blurted out to impress somebody, ha ha. But there's something about it that I come back to when I look around and I wonder, who the hell are we? (Besides people who are kind of sort of holding our collective breath because this 2012 apocalypse thing we might actually believe it? I know I am not the only one.)

We're young people living not only at the turn of the century, always a crrrrrrazy time, but also at the turn of the millennium (don't think it wasn't crazy the first time around too) and also at the turn of an age -- to the age where any information you want is at your fingertips if only you know the right search keyword.

And it's fucking terrifying, at least to me, and I think to others too, which might explain the obsessions with Mason jars and Mad Men and Marilyn Monroe and twenty-three-year-olds getting married and having babies and lumberjacks and classic whiskeys and DIY and all of this retrograde morass we call "Pinterest".

In a time like this, how strange it is to be anything at all.


4. It's a little too old for us, as I am somewhat defining us here as a generation, but that just fits right in.

5. It's good and strummy. Can't have a good folk song without some vigorous strumming.

6. It's weird. But can you blame us?