Holland 1945

I don’t know how Stephen Colbert came to be a fan of Neutral Milk Hotel, whose song “Holland 1945” he used to close out the final show of The Colbert Report. For me, it was summer of ’97 I think, a bunch of us went out to Simon Nixon‘s cabin on Lake Ontario for a night of drinks and laffs. As we were packing up the next morning there was a CD of Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut long-player ‘On Avery Island’ on the kitchen table – left by a previous guest I suppose as nobody in our group claimed it. So I took it. 

I loved it. At turns haunting and joyful, filled with distorted acoustic guitar, flutes and tape loops, stark bits giving way to furious blasts of noise – above all exceedingly weird and beautiful. I consumed the followup ‘In An Aeroplane Under The Sea’ with equal vigour, the amplified vinyl filling the kitchen at Draper on many a night. That’s where we kept the stereo. We had a couch in the kitchen too. It was a good setup.

Despite doing everything to remain obscure – the band broke up in ’99 and Jeff Magnum disappeared – the myth of the band continued to grow over the next decade. People continued to discover and fall in love with those first two albums, new bands and music journalists would name-check them constantly, and the records continued to sell.

At least one of them was bought by Stephen Colbert. In a profile back in April, The Times’ Maureen Dowd ended her piece with the lyrics to Holland 1945, something Colbert had send her. Dowd connected the song to the plane crash that killed Colbert’s father and two brothers when he was 10.

The fact that eight months later Colbert closed out his 9-year run with that song suggests she was right. A tribute to family, an acknowledgement of tragedy, sadness and beauty, Neutral Milk Hotel is all of those things.