Earlier this afternoon we received an e-mail from Merge Records with a subject line that piqued our curiosity: "Neutral Milk Hotel need your help to save The Paragon Carousel."
The e-mail consisted of an impassioned plea -- written by Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Music Tapes, and co-signed by elusive NMH leader Jeff Mangum -- to save this historic landmark, a small carousel located in Hull, Massachusetts. The fact that members of a legendary indie rock band were asking for help for a cause like this was interesting enough. Second, Koster's letter referred to the carousel as his "neighbor" -- and did that mean he was currently living in Hull? And if so, did he know about With the Needle That Sings In Her Heart, the Amanda-Palmer led high-school musical based on his old band's classic album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?
Clearly, we needed to know more, so we made some calls and got him on the phone. Our brief question and answer session follows, including a deliberately vague quote about Jeff Mangum that nonetheless may strike joy into the hearts of people who wish these guys would just reunite already.
Tell us about the Paragon Carousel, and how you got interested in the efforts to preserve it.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is doing this -- they have a grant, I guess it's a million dollars that they're giving away to historic buildings in Massachusetts. They're doing it with the American Express people. But basically the National Trust for Historic Preservation does this all over the country, they give grants to special places. So there are 25 different historic places in Boston that are up for the grant. They're going to give grants to a bunch of them, I think to ten of them or several of them, but they let people vote for one that's meaningful to them, and the one that gets the most votes is guaranteed to be one of the places that gets the grant.
In terms of me -- us -- wanting to do what we can to help the carousel, I lived in Hull for a little bit, more than a year, a couple of years ago, and my grandmother's from Cambridge, so I'm up there quite a bit. That place is just one of the most special places in the world to me, I'm almost at a loss for words. I've always worried about it because those motors [on carousels] have to work really hard, and you never know when they could give out, and when they do it's extraordinarily expensive. I just want to live in a world where you can go someplace like that. You just feel like you want to do everything you can to help the things you love.
The other 24 historic places are really worthy and terrific too, and people should go to the Web site and judge for themselves. I'm going to go for the carousel personally, but I don't want it to be unfair. I want to help the whole Trust.
A clarification, then: do you live in Hull at the moment?
I'm currently incredibly confused as towards where I live. [Laughs] We've been touring a lot, so I haven't been living anywhere. I'm in Athens, Georgia right now. I was just in Hull about a week ago, and I kind of dream of living there.
Are you aware of what's happening next week in Lexington?
A high school is putting on a production of a play inspired by In The Aeroplane Over the Sea with help from Amanda Palmer.
Oh, wow, a school play? That's great! So it's going to be high school kids acting in it?
Wow, that's wonderful. I wish I was in Massachusetts. We're in Athens so I won't be able to go, but that's lovely. A high school play. That's great.
Final, obligatory question: How's Jeff Mangum doing?
That's such a general question [laughs]. He's doing wonderfully, and is definitely doing all sorts of creative things. I think part of the reason for silence in terms of trying not to talk about creative projects for him, or involving all of us, is just that it puts so much attention on things that probably all have to happen organically by themselves. I feel bound to not say anything specific, but I think when people want to know that, what they want to know is if he's working and if he's being creative and if there will be things shared in the future, and I think all of those things can be answered in the affirmative. There's been a lot of friendship and community among all of us, especially in the last year.
. . .
Here's Julian's original email, with links to where you can vote for the Paragon Carousel:
The Paragon Carousel is a
beautiful machine that has been my dear neighbor for many moons. Now 81 years
old, it is in need of a little love and attention in order for it to
It is my sincere
wish for the Paragon Carousel to be a part of the magic of long seaside summer
afternoons for many years to come. But it might not get
live in a world where the great whirling contraptions of mechanical music and
light are not as profitable to operate as other things, and carousels are worth
much more taken apart and sold in pieces to museums, where one must pay to look
at them behind glass, rather than having them simply existing in the world that
we now all share.
I spoke with Jeff
and Scott and Jeremy about this and they agreed that I should, on behalf
of Neutral Milk Hotel, make an appeal to the good people who might have
enjoyed the music made over the years, because we think you'd understand
especially, and want to help. We humbly ask you
The Paragon Carousel is competing
with 24 other historic Massachussettes buildings for a grant of $100,000. The
historic site with the most votes wins, and anyone anywhere can vote. We would
love it if by our collective effort we could ensure the continuation of this
grand place. It only takes a moment and you can do so here
You are allowed to vote once a
day untill May 17th . Your vote means a great deal to all of us at Elephant Six.
Places like this are so special. They deserve to exist in the same world that we
do. So we can visit them with our bodies, not just our memories and
We'd like to thank you for your
help and for spreading the word.
~Julian Koster with Jeff Mangum on behalf of Neutral Milk