About a decade ago I discovered this awesome little cafe on 14th Street in San Francisco, an easy drop-in on my way to work. Scraggly 34-year-old skater boys and goth-damaged conceptual artists in fishnets and combat boots hung out in front smoking cigarettes, talking road rash and Agent Orange.
One day I wandered in and heard the most loveliest music ever to reach my ears since Robert, Jean and Gaby Casadesus played Bach’s Concerto for 2 Keyboards with the Cologne Concert Orchestra circa 1967. In fact, its dreamy lilt was so heavenly it made the entire Casadeusus family, the most gifted pianists every to lay claim to a harpsichord concerto, sound like heaving drunkards spewing Seagrams-and-Hawaiian-Punch on my Hush Puppies in a dark Juarez alley. This stuff made “Perfect Day” sound like an AM broadcast of I Like Traffic Lights. Srsly.
I fell to my knees. I wept. I howled. I cried, “Why, God, Why? Such beauty! The pain! The pathos! From this point forward all other things in life will seem like the cheap jokes of a brutal universe! WTF kinda music is this, thirtysomething skater barrista with goofy hair and Buddy Hollies?”
Fourteenth street was a lively place back then; I was far from the weirdest freak this bean-steamer had seen so far that morning, and it was only about 7:15. He just gave it to me straight, the way you’d tell a dying man that his underprivileged children would be seen to by the newly-married gay couple, Bruce Wayne and George Clooney.
Need I tell you what he divulged to me about the angel tap dance then occurring in my ears? Need I burden you with the knowledge that this product of God’s grace on Earth was none other than the Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an existential meditation on Anne Frank that can break the heart of a wannabe Jim Thompson knocker-offer, apparently, about as easily as it can ease a skate-cafe owner’s hangover?
Skate boy was playing it, mind you, on snappy-cracky vinyl; this cafe was so fargin’ hip that they only played vinyl. As I recall, they did not have a CD player. In fact, as it turns out, Aeroplane is a fave among retrazoids; it was the sixth best-selling vinyl album of 2008.
Anyway…it also turns out I’m not the only schmoe who Linda Blairs his ass into gooey nerdboy rapture at the sound of “Two Headed Boy.”
In fact, this one group of ukelele lunatics even tours the nation giving tribute performances where songs from Aeroplane are rendered unto the living by “members of Golden Bloom,” whatever that means; every performance is a sing-a-long, and yes, yes in fact yes I said ukelele, as demonstrated below at this fan-fueled freakazoidal clusterfudge version of “Holland, 1945,” Milk’s absolutely drop-dead inarguable anthem of nitrous-huffing alienated romantics with tattoos of Elie Wiesel quotes and half-completed Master’s degrees in History from Fresno State.
Or here. Or here. Or Fogel singing solo in an empty garage here. It’s all rendered with the extreme reverence of mid-1980s Blake’s Seven fanfic, without the goofy parts.
Apparently, there is a small but thriving underground of people who play Neutral Milk Hotel on ukelele and post themselves on YouTube doing it. These are the sorts of obsessions entirely alien to those who inhabit that strange, strange place some call “the real world,” where I hear there’s a concept called “reality,” if you’re into that sort of thing. This rocks harder.
Anyway, Neutral Uke Hotel is on tour. They hit Cleveland on August 16th, and The Cleve will never be the same, trust me. Like so many indie outfits, the band only goes South from there, or actually kinda due Northwest and then in a delirious zigzag through Ann Arbor, Newport and Lexington KY, Chicago, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Madison, Indianapolis, Columbus, DC, Eugene, and Portland, ending up at the Emerald City, the Gateway to the Pacific, Cobaintown itself — round about the end of the month.
If you’re a damaged romantic art nerd and these gents are hitting your town, then…well…
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