My Neutral Milk Hotel: A GenXer’s Perspective

I did not go see Neutral Milk Hotel at First Avenue last night. I won’t go tonight. Even though I was twenty-six in 1998, I didn’t see them that year when they played the 400 Bar. Chances are I either had no idea they were playing, I had to work at the gas station that night, or I hadn’t discovered the band yet.

And by discover, I mean the boy I liked hadn’t yet told me how I had to get “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” because it was amazing. This was back when we had to go a store and exchange money for music. You know, the olden days.

This all happened in the spring/summer of 1998. That same boy also told me to listen to Dylan Hicks, and he wrote me a song called “You’re 26 Years Old” for my birthday and sent it to me as a .wav file. The song mentioned roller skating. It was amazing.

I have mentioned all this before, how Neutral Milk Hotel & Dylan Hicks are the sound of being 26 in 1998. I even mention the boy and the song. Forgive me for repeating myself. It happens when you get older.

Neutral Milk Hotel was never my band. They aren’t even one of my bands — those artists who seem to define you, whose music clicks inside of you and makes you feel a little more complete than you did before you heard the music.

I wonder if NMH is one of twenty-one-year-old Kyra Herning’s bands. She wrote a lovely review of last night’s show for The Current. It was a review I was prepared to slyly judge and sneer at. These young’uns what do they know?

It’s really easy to get on the generational high horse, especially because I’ve been fascinated by generational politics/interplay since I read Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture as an impressionable, longing for an identity, nineteen-year-old.

Also, I feel a ridiculous amount of protectiveness over my version of the 90s. I turn into a cranky old goat when Millenials get their Britney Spears and “Boy Meets World” all over my decade. I have a hard time recognizing that my version of the 90s generally ended in about 1997. In fact, in my personal zeitgeist the 90s really were from about 1992 – 1997. I like to think I crammed a decade’s worth of pop cultural significance into those five years.

This has very little to do with my point. My point is that what charmed me so much about Herning’s review was how she discussed the time-traveling magic of music without dissing hard on the “I heard them first and therefore I am cooler” assholes amongst us. Face it, we’ve all been that asshole at some point. She admits she was late to the NMH party, but only because she was five, FIVE!, when “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” came out. (ouch)

Does that make her any less of a fan? In some circles of musicnerdom, it would. Or at least it seems as though it would. To hear music nerds talk, being there at the very beginning makes you a bigger, better, more entitled fan. These music nerds forget about how music transcends time and place and can speak to anyone anywhere at anytime. That’s what makes music so fucking awesome.

And I’m happy that Herning’s review reminded me of that. I can feel a little less than about being Jodi-come-lately to so much music, as if that matters.

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  1. Susanna 12.Feb.14 at 9:31 am

    We are just the same age (I think – it’s a bit early for complex math), and you are exactly right about what “the ’90s” means. I’ve probably heard NMH, right?, but I have no idea who they are, so clearly they’re not my band either, but I like your talk on generational music snobbery. This came up this week when all my friends on the Facebook were taking the “which punk are you quiz” on buzzfeed. Now, I’m too young for first-wave punk, because I was five (five!) in ’77, so I know the youngster who told us we were all sellouts for taking the quiz was too young (I.e., not born [not born!]). I told him his comments WERE the quiz, and he got Jello Biafra.

    1. Jodi 12.Feb.14 at 10:08 am

      I think NMH is one of those bands whose legend has grown in whispers and nudges between other like-minded music nerds. They haven never been very ‘big’ except with the people who run the music blogs/mags, etc.

      AND I loathe the word sellout. I think it’s a term only used by people who are either in their early 20s or someone who has never created anything for no money.

      Finally, I had to stop taking those quizzes when I got Billy Corgan after multiple attempts to get anyone but Billy Corgan. I hate that guy.


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