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Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (33 1/3) Paperback – November 16, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


Much of the Neutral Milk story has been pieced together over the years, but never as comprehensively as in Kim Cooper's Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. (Real Detroit Weekly, December 7, 2005 Real Detroit Weekly)

These books are individual love letters to the albums themselves, shedding light on the deepest, most tucked-away aspects of the creative processes that produced them. While reading about music is never quite the same as hearing it, and no prose could ever emulate the same carnival-like, haunting, shiver-inducing sound that is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Cooper's billet doux comes pretty close. (Chord Magazine, Winter 2005/06 Chord Magazine)

In her new book 33 1/3: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea... Kim Cooper... unravels the rumors and demystifies much of the legend that has wound itself around songwriter Jeff Mangum since the Athens band's 1998 breakup... Cooper effectively reminds the reader that Neutral Milk Hotel was a band of real people-dear friends- playing instruments, but reinforces the idea that Aerpolane and its songs are a unique document of a time, place and creative community. After only six weeks, the book has gone back to press for a second printing... (Chris Hassiotis, Flagpole Magazine)

Cooper's 2005 book on NMH and Aeroplane is part of the 33 1/3 series that treats cult-classic albums like dissertation fodder, and hers does a particularly stellar job of demystifying--as much as possible--the destitute and devoted dudes behind Neutral Milk Hotel's underground stardom. Her strengths as a social historian lend this read a certain depth that most Spin writers could never muster. Somehow, she miraculously manages to do an album of this ilk--as resistant to the bitter end as it's been to the spotlight--poetic justice. (Los Angeles Alternative, February 2006 Los Angeles Alternative)

There is a treasure-trove of trivia for the NMH aficionado, and a contextual introduction and passionate advertisement for the newcomer. Also, with [Cooper's] detailed account of the NMH community, Cooper gives us a sort of normative sociology of the kind of scene that can produce great art. (Ukula Magazine, Spring 2006)

Cooper delves into the band's roots, setting up the relationships between all of the musicians that made up the Elephant 6 collective and banks like Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. With her easygoing narrative, Cooper achieves one of the hardest things to do when introducing readers to perfect strangers: she infuses each of the main players with a personality. When finishing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea the reader not only has a sense of who Jess Mangrum and friends are, but also what they were trying to accomplish with their music. Cooper explains why the album's audience and importance grow with each passing year while doing a fine job of also relating the music's immense charm and ...dare I say...magic. (Alt.Culture.Guide)

Cooper has managed to write the best music book that I've read so far... Awe alongside simple, direct speech. It's a delicate balance, that Cooper's excellent writing manages to preserve throughout the whole book...And this book doesn't only give information and wrap this exemplary album with an excellent text, it also gives me, and the rest of the prisoners of Jeff Mangum's scorched and wounded world, the excuse and the opportunity to climb on the rooftops and shout: 'For crying out loud, people, you better get to know this album now, before the aeroplane over the sea crashes exactly on that island with the place for only one record. (Guy Hajaj,, 2006)

Kim Cooper's book belongs to the 33 1/3 series, a group of books in which writers pay tribute to great albums that they love. Well - I assume they love them; at any rate, Cooper loves this one. She writes of its creation, reception, and unintended consequences with the care due a worthy subject. (John Kissane,

About the Author

Kim Cooper is the editrix of Scram, an occasional journal of unpopular culture dedicated to celebrating unjustly neglected artists in the worlds of music, literature, film/TV, comics and bohemia. With fellow 33 1/3 scribe David Smay, she is co-editor of the anthologies Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth and Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. A third generation Angeleno, Kim offers offbeat bus tours of the city's crimes, literature and architectural gems through Esotouric, and blogs at the crime-a-day 1947project.


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Product Details

  • Series: 33 1/3 (Book 29)
  • Paperback: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (November 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082641690X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826416902
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.3 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My newest book is "The Kept Girl" (Esotouric Ink, 2014), a novel of 1929 Los Angeles featuring the young Raymond Chandler, his devoted secretary and the real-life cop who is a likely model for Philip Marlowe ( The book was followed by "The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles," a collaboration with illustrator Paul Rogers. Close to my heart is Barbara "Cutie" Cooper's memoir, "Fall in Love For Life: Inspiration from a 73-year Marriage" (Chronicle), which emerged from the viral sensation that was my grandparents' video blog, The OGs ( Previously, I wrote an oral history about "Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In The Aeroplane Over the Sea'" (Continuum 33 1/3), co-edited the anthologies "Lost in the Grooves" and "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth," and for many years published Scram, a journal of unpopular culture (back issues at I took a break from music writing to create the time travel blogs 1947project, On Bunker Hill and In SRO Land, which offer alternate histories of early Los Angeles, and which opened up a new world of creative possibility. Now, with my husband Richard Schave I lead curious souls on Esotouric's offbeat bus tours into the secret heart of Los Angeles (The Real Black Dahlia, Raymond Chandler's LA, Charles Bukowski's LA, Blood & Dumplings, East Side Babylon) and produce the weekly podcast You Can't Eat the Sunshine, which one fan described as "Huell Howser on steroids." Learn about our L.A. history events, many of them free, at My campaign to save the historic 76 Balls from destruction resulted in ConocoPhillips agreeing to donate the gas station signs to museums nationwide.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Cat Blood on December 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Let me first say this: I am incredibly biased. ITAOTS is one of my all-time favorite albums, and I have many memories inextricably tied to it. I would argue, however, that appreciation of the album is not even a prerequisite to enjoy the book. Kim Cooper has compiled a beautiful account of a group of friends who, through good fortune, a wealth of talent, and most of all an undying belief in the power of music, created one of the most powerful records ever set to tape.

Obsessively detailing recording techniques, the origins of the songs, and the background of all involved, Cooper interviews all principles (except for elusive singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum, though I maintain that this only adds to the power of the book), creating a complete and fascinating story. She has a novelist's eye for the necessary detail and for plot development, and we become incredibly attached to the hugely intelligent and friendly Elephant 6 clique that helped the album to fruition.

This book is obviously a must-read for all interested in the Elephant 6 Collective or Neutral Milk Hotel, but at the same time it is too good to remain within those crowds. That would be like preaching to the choir. We have here an inspirational document of the continuing power of music, something that should be on required reading lists in every music program in every school. This here is proof that all outcasts and misfits who have found solace in the healing properties of music can succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Jeff Mangum may or may not produce an album again, but ITAOTS is good enough for now. This book is not only a worthy tribute, but an accomplishment in and of itself. Congratulations, Ms. Cooper, you have written a masterpiece.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Kuykendall on December 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I dreaded this book so much. I assumed it would be another convoluted attempt to interpret Netural Milk Hotel's surrealistic lyrics and connect them into a narrative that exists only in one person's imagination, offering no insight into the band itself, not to mention its ringleader and savant singer/songwriter, Jeff Mangum--the sort of thing that generally keeps me away from Neutral Milk Hotel messageboards and fellow fans. But Kim Cooper devotes only one very brief chapter to that hopeless task, and spends the rest of the book chronicling the history of the creative musical collective that surrounds Neutral Milk, "Elephant 6," and showing how Mangum was always at the center, until, after his sophomore album's unexpected success, he suddenly retreated from the spotlight, which caused some to unfairly (and inaccurately) label him the indie rock equivalent of the mentally ill Syd Barrett.

Cooper interviews Robert Schneider (Apples in Stereo), Bryan Poole (Elf Power), Ben Crum (Great Lakes), and Laura Carter, Scott Spillane, and Julian Koster (all of NMH), as well as others connected to Elephant 6, for a pretty complete history that follows this constructed family of musicians from Ruston, Louisiana to Athens, Georgia, with stops in Denver and New York City. (Jeff Mangum declined to be interviewed, which gives the narrative the odd feeling that its central character is deceased.) There are some vivid and funny anecdotes about life lived in uncomfortably close communal quarters with little food and money, with Mangum sleeping in a haunted closet (which informed the song "Ghost"), or working out songs in the bathroom, of life on the road, and Spillane almost losing thousands of dollars in tour money at a Pizza Hut.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Andy French on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The 33 1/3 series of music books has to be one of the most entertaining, inspired and informative sets of music and cultural writing ever to come out. And Neutral Milk Hotel was perhaps one of the best indy bands ever to record. So it only makes sense that a 33 1/3 book about NMH would be an amazing experience.

And it is.

The mastermind behind NMH, Jeff Mangum, is famously elusive and his lyrics are beautifully mysterious. So if ever an album cried out for an explanatory book to be written about it, it's "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea".

Yet, at the same time, I was slightly hesitant to read this book - I'm always afraid that learning about a song's lyrics (even sometimes learning exactly what the words are) might ruin my deeply personal enjoyment of the music itself.

But you needn't worry about that with this book. I came away from it appreciating NMH all the more.

Kim Cooper does an excellent job of describing the unique coming together of people, places and ideas that created one of the most unusual and inspired albums of all time. I especially enjoyed learning about the other members of NMH - something that's not often talked about because of the deification of Jeff Mangum, however well-deserved.

And this book does what the best books about cultural phenomena do - it demystifies its subject without ruining the wonder and beauty of the music itself.

Thanks, Kim Cooper!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Cipoletti on February 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
this is yet another great book in an awesome series (33 1/3). I found it insightful and well written with unique perspectives on the roots of Neutral Milk from the sources save for Jeff Magum... The breadth of the work of NMH and its influences and inspirations was awesome to learn about. I learned a great deal from this little book and recommend it to anyone who has interest in one of the greatest albums of the 90's.
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