by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
These posts made me thing of the second track from Neutral Milk Hotel's In an Aeroplane Over the Sea, "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three." While the rest of the album is more jarring in nature and supposedly written after Jeff Mangum soaked in Anne Frank's diary, the second track starts out with a pretty straightforward "Jesus Christ I Love You."
From the 33 1/3 book about the album, I guess other people in the (uber hip) Elephant 6 crew at the time were a little taken aback, but Mangum apparently felt strongly about making this religious statement. For the longest time I thought, probably assuming that one of my favorite singer/songwriters was equally dismissive of religion, that he was being snarky or sarcastic. But the book made it pretty clear he wasn't. While not as widespread throughout his work like THS, The Mountain Goats, or Sufjan, it nearly impossible to ignore the song's message when listening to the album.
Mangum talked about his faith to Pitchfork in 2008:
JM: I can't honestly say that I 100% know what that song means. Do you have a minute? 'Cause this is going to take a little while to really explain this.
JM: For a lot of these songs, I was able to lock myself in a room and allow my mind to completely let out anything it wanted without me worrying too much about what anybody was gonna think. And I think that a song about God was inevitable, because of my upbringing, of the intense experiences I had growing up-- going to these crazy Church camps where everything was very open. We talked about sexuality freely, we talked about...
Pitchfork: And how old were you at the time?
JM: From 11 to 17.
Pitchfork: Where were the camps?
JM: In central Louisiana, out in the boonies.
Pitchfork: Is this the hippie influence on Christianity?
JM: It wasn't even really hippie, it was just weird-- where like you could just spill your guts all over the place, people were like laying around or like leaping and freaking out. But it wasn't so much that it was a God trip as much as it was an emotional, human trip. Even if you were an Atheist and your parents shipped you down there, you could talk about it. You could talk openly about your Atheist beliefs and there would be debates about it. And being an Atheist was just as beautiful as anything else.
The thing about me singing about Christ; I'm not saying "I love you Christianity." I'm not saying "I love all the fucked-up terrible shit that people have done in the name of God." And I'm not preaching belief in Christ. It's just expression. I'm just expressing something I might not even understand. It's a song of confusion, it's a song of hope, it's a song that says this whole world is a big dream-- and who knows what's gonna happen.
We played a show with Vic Chesnutt two weeks ago in Athens and he sat on the stage and played for 30 minutes and didn't stop. And he sang all these songs about how like action and reaction are the closest things to truth in the universe, how he's had all these out-of-body experiences but they weren't supernatural. And I thought it was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. To me, it's like I'm expressing something that's within me that I can't really explain that really has nothing to do with religion. My love for Christ has more to do with what he said and what he believed in. Then the church put all this fucked-up bullshit around it and made it all this really evil thing at times. If you attach man to anything, he's gonna fuck it up somehow, one way or the other. You think that's too cynical? [laughs]
Pitchfork: No, and we all fuck up. I don't believe in Christ myself, but the sermon on the mount and all the "love your enemy stuff" is an awesome philosophy. And I believe in God, but it's not something I talk about very much. And it's new to me, and it's weird. But I've always found music to be a really spiritual thing. It doesn't matter what kind of music so long as it's really pure, and really good: It's a totally spiritual thing to me.
JM: Right. My only thing with this record is that I feel like the record is very spiritual, but I don't consider it to be religious. And I just hope that when people hear me sing about Christ in the beginning, I hope they understand where I'm coming from in terms of the spiritual aspect of the record can be enjoyed.