“Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2” by Neutral Milk Hotel // In the Aeroplane over the Sea (1998)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since the release of the brilliant “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” (released 2.10.98 by Merge), but sure enough, the time has flown for us both. A million words have been written about the album by people far more qualified than myself, to discuss the magic that exists between those eleven tracks - so, I’ll just keep it simple in honoring the modern classic. I found the album about a year after it’s release, and was at first taken completely by the writing. It was unlike anything that I was listening to at that point in my life. Bizarrely vivid and detailed accounts of strange loves lost throughout time but still infecting the lives of those still left behind. The songs that stood out for me in particular were “Oh, Comely” and “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2”. Surely, they’re two of the most somber moments on the album, but the stories contained within were instantly relatable. I remember spending the Summer of 1999, living inside of these songs (and also some tracks from “The Soft Bulletin”, but that’s another story) and in some strange ways, allowing them to infiltrate my creative output as well as my view of the world. Hell, I was young and in need of direction and focus, so what better place to find these things than in the art that impacted my brain. “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2” would ultimately win my attention most frequently and it’s in no small part to the fact that I find it to be one of those most beautifully written songs of all time. There’a a point towards the end of the song when Jeff Mangum shifts his generally quiet delivery toward something louder, more commanding, as he sings the section that goes:
And when we break we’ll wait for our miracle
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies
When we break we’ll wait for our miracle
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life
This is a moment that at the time caused much speculation and inquiry in my brain, because as an avowed Atheist, my young (and at the time, often angry) brain would usually reject notions of “God” outright, but there was something different at play here that allowed me to start considering “God” as more of an abstract thought, than a deity in the sky who rewards your good behavior with cloud beds. It was a strange revelation for me to start to see “god” and “heaven” as interchangeable ideas. God could be music, or love, or home - it doesn’t have to be anything more than that. I didn’t need to change my beliefs as an Atheist to relate to the power that Jeff Mangum sings and writes about so beautifully. It seems like an obvious sentiment now, but at the time, I was an angry young man who thought that he had everything figured out. I wasn’t looking to relate to anyone, but I found myself relating to Mangum’s words despite seemingly coming from different mind sets.
Over the years, I’ve often came back to this song when I’m looking for something, and though the answer might not be right there in the words, it’s often found somewhere, between the bars and lyrics and notes. It’s a relatable experience that I’m sure many people have had, but I thought that I would honor the 15th anniversary of this wonderful record, but sharing one of it’s many impacts on myself. I know it’s cliche to love this album at this point, but I cannot imagine myself ever not coming back to these songs. I never needed a follow-up (I still don’t), I am just extremely grateful to the band that these eleven songs exist in the first place.