In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Music/Lyrics: Jeff Mangum
Original Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Original Album: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
Historian: Dan Mielcarz (ColForbin)
Phish’s summer tour 2010 featured several new covers, including "The Rover" by Led Zeppelin, "Free Man in Paris" by Joni Mitchell and "Instant Karma!" by John Lennon. On 6/26/2010 at Merriweather, Phish reached back into the 1990s indie rock canon and picked out "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel. Apparently Trey asked for a copy of the lyrics 45 minutes before showtime; even with such late studying, he nailed the song.
The arrangement was straightforward, without the studio effects and horns that make the album version such a wonder to behold. Trey has mentioned listening to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in interviews – and Phish has covered other indie acts before, i.e. Pavement’s “Gold Soundz,”) – so perhaps the appearance of the most recognizable song from the album shouldn't have been a surprise. That said, it was certainly a surprise for most fans at the show.
Sometime before recording the album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Jeff Mangum – the songwriter/singer/guitarist of Neutral Milk Hotel – read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Instead of seeing only tragedy in the harrowing tale of a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in an apartment in Amsterdam, eventually being found and sent to a concentration camp where she died, Magnum had a different reaction – he fell in love. Much of the album is informed by this impossible and unrequited love and the melancholia it engendered in Mangum, and the title track is no exception. While not as explicit in referring to Anne Frank as "Holland, 1945" or parts of "Oh, Comely," with lines referring to "Anna's ghost all around" and "When we meet on a cloud, I'll be laughing out loud" it's clear that Mangum's love across a distance of 50 years and life and death informed his writing of "In the Aeroplane." One might think this subject matter could turn a song into a bleak affair, but Magnum's delivery turns it into an absolutely brilliant affirmation of love and life.