My friend Sara gave me a homemade tape once years ago. She didn't really tell me much about what it was, just that she and her oldest friends loved it, and that it would cheer me up. (Musta been feeling down that day.)
I immediately played the tape in my car and it was one of those touchstone experiences music provides that I'll never forget: a feeling of total harmony came over me. The music sounded bizarre, unlike anything I'd really heard before and yet at the same time I felt I had already heard it a thousand times, like it had always been a part of me. I found myself humming along to something I had only just popped into my tape deck.
The music the lovely Miss Sara provided me with was that now-mythic album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. At the time it was a total question mark to me. Who in the heck made this? And how? I would ponder as I drove. That tape became my constant companion, and I loved the music more and more fervently. It sounded like it had come from Mars. Totally otherworldly. My imagination ran wild, and I was completely absorbed in picturing the room where this record was created, and what in the world the person who made it was thinking, how it came to be.
These were the days when not every person on the planet had the internet, and I didn't know anyone who could tell me much about Neutral Milk Hotel at the time. The album seemed like it had been created out of time, and I struggled to learn anything about the people who created it.