Neutral Milk Hotel’s opus In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge Records, 1998) is a forty-minute high point, dripping with Jeff Mangum’s unique spirituality and sensibility. Although there are no weak or uninteresting songs, Ghost is surely one of its peaks, a spiralling ride back and forth from the afterlife.

The song opens with a strident and powerful melody played on acoustic guitar, the uncanny purity of its tone set eerily against the sludgy, tidal exclamations of a bowed electric bass. Almost immediately, Mangum’s transcendent wail cuts across the tune, and lets us inside his molten stream of consciousness. His disjointed word-pictures, not rooted in logic or what most would consider sanity, bring forth a kaleidoscope of cloudbursts and soaring angels. He gives the impression that he is vomiting out profound truths about the soul of the world, and somehow translating the untranslatable into language that we can understand.

The propulsive drumming of Jeremy Barnes soon drops into the mix, an anchor to balance Mangum’s catharsis, taking the tune relentlessly forward with spirited fills and rolls. At the end of the second verse, a pair of haunting horn-like instruments take over for the guitar, swirling and piping before stepping back for the returning guitar.

The third verse brings one more jump in intensity as Mangum’s story spins on and on and on, giving the impression that he is fundamentally unable to stop, like the ecstatic Christians of his upbringing who rolled on the ground and spoke in tongues. He sings as if he is nailing himself to the gates of Heaven, showing the true workings of things with a thesis of flesh. When the horns erupt again, they are joined by the delicate squall of a singing saw, and the band builds to a sky-tearing instrumental crescendo that rivals even Mangum’s lyrics.

Ghost, ghost, I know you live within me,
Feel as you fly
In thunder clouds above the city
Into one that I love
With all that was left within me
'Til we tore in two
Now wings and rings and there's so many, waiting here for you

And she was born in a bottle rocket nineteen twenty-nine
With wings that ringed around a socket right between her spine
All drenched in milk and holy water pouring from the sky
I know that she will live forever
She won't ever die
She goes -- and now she knows she'll never be afraid
To watch the morning vapour blow
Into a hole where no one can escape

And one day in New York City, baby,
A girl fell from the sky
From the top of a burning apartment building, fourteen stories high
And when her spirit left her body
How it split the sun
I know that she will live forever
All goes on and on and on
(Repeat last three lines of second verse)

Neutral Milk Hotel were Jeff Mangum, Scott Spillane, Julian Koster and Jeremy Barnes, each taking up various instruments as the need arose. Ghost was written by Jeff Mangum and Scott Spillane. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was its only recorded appearance.

(Thanks to for providing factual information. Double thanks to GrouchyOldMan for the Copyright Redemption Quest.)

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