As you’ve probably heard by now, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum played a surprise show at a Bushwick loft space called The Schoolhouse on Saturday night. News of the show traveled quickly over Twitter, but only once it was over—I like to imagine the 75 people reportedly in attendance were simply too enraptured by the 10-song set of Neutral Milk Hotel classics to bother poking away at their phone.
Strangely, though, this would seem to be the exact kind of reverential response Ba Da Bing Records‘ Ben Goldberg, who helped organize the show, was trying to avoid. In an interview with Pitchfork, he seems bent on trying to downplay the whole thing:
What I honestly feel like I saw tonight wasn’t The Greatest Musician In The World Performing The Most Amazing Songs Ever, but rather a fantastic musician performing his wonderful songs. God, I have to say that is so much more gratifying than trying to look at it as a life altering event. I bet others who were there would agree with me.”
I don’t know if maybe he’s trying to put as little pressure as possible on Mangum, in hopes that he’ll some day come back and make new music, or if it’s just general exhaustion with the type of obsessed fandom Mangum has inspired over the years, on account of having made one of the most beloved records ever and then just basically disappearing. Whatever it is, though, it’s upsetting: in a musical climate where everyone is constantly complaining that the internet has us both christening and dismissing bands far too quickly, it’s nothing if not heartwarming that someone like Mangum can still inspire this kind of crazy, fawning behavior—that someone would even think to clarify such a thing: “This was not the Greatest Musician in the World Performing The Most Amazing Songs Ever.”
More than anything else, it’s a testament to the power of records, as opposed tot the power of marketing or of Twitter of of Pitchfork or even, obviously, of touring—it has the be the records that have gotten him this far, because with the exception of a few brief, last-minute appearances here and there over the years, those records, or, to be realistic, that record, is simply all he’s given us.
The knowledge that despite everything else, despite all the stupid crap we talk about all day long—the stuff that has to do with how we experience music and how we discuss it, rather than how it sounds or how it makes us feel—there’s still some glimmer of hope that you can go make a really brilliant record, and then, by sheer virtue of that brilliance, have it live on nearly two decades after you stopped promoting it, is serious, life-affirming stuff.
Also, the thought of being at a full-length Jeff Mangum show at a Bushwick loft in 2010 with 75 people who didn’t think what they were seeing was the greatest thing ever sounds pretty fucking terrible, frankly.