The sound of being 26 in 1998: Dylan Hicks & Neutral Milk Hotel

What is it that links certain periods of time in your head with certain albums and not others? For instance, the soundtrack to my 26th year will forever and always be Dylan Hicks’ “Poughkeepsie” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

The fact that these two albums will always sound like 26 doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is the other albums that came out in 1998 that I actually bought and listened to in 1998 that do not sound like 26. A small sampling: Liz Phair’s “Whitechocolatespacegg,” Billy Bragg & Wilco’s “Mermaid Avenue,” Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” and I could go on.

Those were albums I picked up of my own volition, because I wanted them. I bought “Poughkeepsie” and ‘Aeroplane’ because a boy I liked suggested them. The idea of that kind of makes me fiercely roll my eyes.How disappointing is that? My 26th year is soundtracked by a man whose name I can’t even remember. Though I do remember he wrote me a song for my 26th birthday that had something to do with roller skating. And that’s pretty cool.

I think once I stopped with the boy, I put those two albums away for a long long time. I never put away Liz Phair or Lucinda or Wilco (though since I broke up with Wilco a few years ago their music will probably, some day when I’m in my late forties remind me of being in my twenties and thirties). Maybe that’s why these two albums are so 1998 and the others are not so much. There are worse things to be than 1998, right? 1998 wasn’t too shabby. It was moving out of my parents’ house and roommates and Camel Lights and the end of my shitty gas station job and, well, probably the last year of my prolonged adolescence. I am a late bloomer. By the end of 1999 I had my own apartment and a real, grown-up job.

This has all been floating around in my head, not because I’m almost FORTY! and have been waxing nostalgic for younger days. No, this has been on my mind because earlier this week I started reading Dylan Hicks’ debut novel Boarded Windows, the cover of which I could pet all day while sighing. That’s a damn beautiful cover. I’m only thirtyish pages in, so I can’t yet say if the insides live up to the cover’s promise, but there is a lot of music and a dude who works at a record store who isn’t Rob from “High Fidelity” so it’s got that going for it. Reading it is a bit trippy because the story starts in 1991 but the minute I pick up the book I’m in 1998 and my brain is having difficulty adjusting to the time difference.

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