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On a Neutral Milk Hotel fan website called sadtomato.net [see note below], Whyte wrote that she wants to build a "hermitage in the woods for ... Mangum. People could live in tents about a mile away from his place. When [his new music] is unveiled, the tentdwellers will spontaneously combust in holy terror, and the forest fires shall be a sign to the international community that Neutral Milk Hotel, or something more inconceivably beautiful, has returned."
Certainly, none of Mangum's friends doubt he will one day return. Carter says Mangum's dream is to be like Soft Machine founder and noted eccentric Robert Wyatt -- to drop off the face of the earth for 10 years and come back with another brilliant record. "I would imagine that's exactly what he'll do. But it will take 10 years of fragments before he's accumulated enough."
Hart says Mangum still picks up the guitar.
"Because I've known him for so long, I kind of understand where he's coming from," Hart says. "I'll say, 'Have you been writing stuff?' because I'll come in and hear him strum a song, and he'll say, 'Oh. It's not finished and I'm just having fun.' And I'll say, 'Oh. It sounded good, man,' just try to be encouraging.
"I don't know if he wants to do anything else. I've pushed him a few times, like, 'You know what you need to do, you need to just sit down with a guitar and just record acoustic. It'd be great.' He'd say, 'Oh, yeah,' and just change the subject."
In the Pitchfork interview, Mangum gave his own explanation for why he stopped writing: "I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after. So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain ... I saw their pain from a different perspective and realized that I can't just sing my way out of all this suffering.
"I realized that I wanted to take a deeper look at life in order to become kind of a truly healing force in people's everyday lives."
What Mangum doesn't seem to realize is that, with Aeroplane, he did just that. Ending suffering was never possible; it was the moments in which Aeroplane lessened it that remain profound achievements of artistic faith. Maybe once Mangum understands that, he'll resurface again.
Editor's note March 4, 2009: The fan site is no longer in operation. We've removed the hyper link to sadtomato.net as it has been labeled a suspicious website by Google.