Fifteen years ago this week, a little album came out called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. (I would like to have you believe that I was a very astute and trendy 11-year-old who was aware of this gem at its conception, but alas I wasn’t.)
I didn’t listen to the album in its entirety until I decided to come to UGA for college and knew I needed to do my homework on Athens music before arriving in the fall. The first time I ever heard King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 I became a completely different kind of music lover. The rough strumming guitar chords and mysterious lyrics about love and growing up resonated with me in the way only music can when you’re 18 and scared about moving away from your parents and worried about having no friends and having literally no idea what you were going to do in a few months in a new town with newfound freedom.
Music is often a sort of memory bookmark for me– I hear Ace of Base and I think back to my sister in her floral and lace leggings and wide headbands and thinking about how she made being in 6th grade seem so effortlessly cool. I hear Bye, Bye, Bye and I remember Crystal Walsh’s 13th birthday party where I taught all the girls the famous dance because I had secretly watched Making the Video the night before, despite not being allowed to watch MTV. I hear Chicago by Sufjan and I remember how Amanda and I slept in my car in the parking lot of Waffle House in Mississippi over spring break because we miscalculated the days of our trip and then got up around 5am and drove down to the beach and met a retired astronaut and ate candy until the sun came up.
The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I studied abroad in France, which was slightly idiotic considering I took Spanish and the only French I knew was food-related. (Croissant can only get you so far…) We spent our days attending the Cannes Film Festival, pretending to be important on the red carpet, and at night we hung out on the rock pier a few blocks from our apartment building on the Riviera. We would drink cheap red wine from the bottle and discuss films and our favorite auteurs and complain about the train-strikes that often left us stranded in unknown cities all along the southern coast of France.
There were 25 of us… 25 seemingly random people that became friends during a tiny window of our lives when there was nothing to do but talk about life and art and eat delicious food and stay up until 4 in the morning and get lost in foreign cities where we couldn’t read any signs or talk to anyone but each other.
One of our last nights of the summer, we all gathered on the rooftop of our apartment building in Juan les Pins, the tiny city that had hosted us and put up with our constant demands for Nutella and student train tickets. We had just finished our final dinner together, a fancy French soiree in the penthouse overlooking the Riveria. At some point, we all ended up outside on the roof deck and an acoustic guitar materialized, somewhat magically, for what I can only say is one of my fondest memories of the whole summer:
The roughly strummed chords echoed out over the quiet Provincial city and standing in a squished circle, we sang out as loud as we could.
When you were young
You were the king of carrot flowers
And how you built a tower tumbling through the trees
In holy rattlesnakes that fell all around your feet…
For one brief summer in the story of our many-summered lives, we were the kings of carrot flowers. Though I’m not exactly sure what that means, we all felt it that night: some kind of strange, royal bunch. Some of those friends, I still keep up with. Others I haven’t talked to since our flight landed back in the US. But we’ll always have Juan les Pins and the rooftop and Neutral Milk Hotel and I am thankful that this music exists to always remind me of our time spent Over the Sea.