Move over Zac Efron: Disney ain’t got nothing on musicals based on the works late 90s indie rock heroes. Fresh off the success of the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merrit’s adaptation of Coraline, we get word that Lexington High School in Lexington, Massachusetts is fresh at work on With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart a musical based on the imagination of Anne Frank as she is dying in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Sound familiarly preposterous? That’s right, it’s a musical based on Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1997 classic In An Aeroplane Over The Sea.
You may think that a group of 16 and 17-year-olds are outmatched in trying to channel the brain of Jeff Mangum. Thankfully, they’re helped out by an alum who knows a thing or two about theatrical interpretations of indie rock: Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls.
Palmer, who somewhat spuriously called In An Aeroplane Over The Sea the “Sgt. Pepper” of her generation, and also noted:
“I watch people proselytize this record all over the world, and it’s like this secret brotherhood of awesome music that’s never had any kind of big mainstream publicity,” Palmer says. “It’s just this sacred record that people connect through.”
That seems like the kind of talk that was going around Williamsburg in 2002, and by now, the only people who can really think there’s something special about those who listen to Neutral Milk Hotel are high school students. Students such as sophomore Lindsay Kosos: “I was sort of taken aback by how open it was and sort of thrown off, but I kept listening to it and I found I just couldn’t stop. It’s so beautiful because every time you listen to this music you hear something different…And I listen to it all the time — I fall asleep listening to it.”
While the creativity and heart put into the project by the high schoolers is hard to deny, is this the kindof top-down “I know what good music is” elitism that has made countless people unfairly hate Neutral Milk Hotel because of their fans? It’s good to see high school students listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, but the fact that Palmer is sort of imposing this music on teens who are confused about everything, be it sex, politics, or music taste, has me worried about what kind of attitudes these kids will have towards finding their voice. Though then again, I guess ultra-cool indie rock is no different from Catcher in the Rye 50 years ago.
Of course, the work has been praised by both Bostonist and Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, so what do I know?