For those who stuck around last night for the closing credits of The Colbert Report’s final episode, you heard a particularly somber-sounding song called “Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The show was largely celebratory and light-hearted, and on the surface this song seemed like an odd choice to wrap things up for good.
The answer lies in an April, 2014 New York Times column from Maureen Dowd, who closes her tribute to Colbert with this passage:
He had 10 older siblings. But after his father and the two brothers closest to him in age died in a plane crash when he was 10 and the older kids went off to college, he said, he was “pretty much left to himself, with a lot of books.”
He said he loved the “strange, sad poetry” of a song called “Holland 1945” by an indie band from Athens, Ga., called Neutral Milk Hotel and sent me the lyrics, which included this heartbreaking bit:
“But now we must pick up every piece
Of the life we used to love
Just to keep ourselves
At least enough to carry on…
And here is the room where your brothers were born
Indentions in the sheets
Where their bodies once moved but don’t move anymore.”
Colbert’s tribute to those who were not able to be there with him is touchingly poignant, and reminds us that beneath all the bluster and wit is a man with a tragic personal history. He may now be immortal, but that doesn’t mean Stephen doesn’t have a heart.