On Friday I took a writing workshop at the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis led by the incomparable Hanif Abdurraqib. (If you have not noticed already, I am kind of a big fan of his.)
The format was something like this: we were given six different writing assignments, and each one could not be longer than 14 lines. The first was about an historical event, the second was about a personal connection to that historical event. Then we had to take a single song and connect it to the historical event, then do the same with the same song to the personal connection to the historical event. Then we were to write about a single object that had some sort of connection to all of the above, then write a letter to a person, place or thing which pulls the previous five pieces together. The letter was to be like a person turning on a light in a dark room.
The course’s intention was to teach writers how to connect the personal to the historical, something I do quite a lot of. So it was right in my wheelhouse. Because I write very fast, and because I was writing in a small notebook so I had less space than most, I actually wrote two separate threads. One about the band Phish, and one about the 2019 Cricket World Cup final. I think both turned out pretty well, so I am reposting them here. The format will be as they were written, so it will go like Phish 1, Cricket 1, Phish 2, Cricket 2, etc. The one exception to this is the letter, which turns the light on for both threads, so there is only one. It is unedited except for typos and missing words, etc.
Campground style concert festivals are a recent immigrant to America. Coachella and Bonnaroo are each less than 10 years old. Such festivals used to be limited to Europe. Glastonbury, etc. But Bonnaroo and Coachella weren’t the first camping rock festival in America. The first was The Clifford Ball, a festival put on by the band Phish in upstate New York in 1996. They wanted something entirely separate from the musical mainstream. The festival was based on these elaborate puppet festivals in rural Vermont. It was named after Clifford Ball, an early aviation pioneer in the 1930s.
The 2019 Cricket World Cup was held in England and Wales, May through July. After six long weeks of cricket England played New Zealand in the final at Lord’s in central London. It was a 50 over match that lasted about eight hours and ended in a tie. The tiebreaker was a super over which also ended in a tie and so England won based on the pre-determined tiebreaker of most boundaries during regulation overs. It was England’s first ever Cricket World Cup.
The first Eaux Claires festival was in 2015. My wife, Niki, went with friends. We texted each other during a raging bow echo thunderstorm that first hit Minneapolis and then 90 minutes later hit Eau Claire. She didn’t have a very good time. I wrote about Hothouse Flowers and attended a Minnesota United match. She went alone again in 2016. I didn’t go because I was riding the Powderhorn 24. It rained all night Friday. On Saturday we found out her sister had cancer. We were planning on going together finally in 2017 but couldn’t because we had to attend a friend’s wedding. We bought tickets for the 2018 version but two months earlier I left home and never went back. In 2019 the Eaux Claires festival went on hiatus.
2019 was the first Cricket World Cup final that I watched as a divorced person. The first World Cup final I had ever watched was in 2007 with my wife at Brit’s pub in downtown Minneapolis. We fought. Australia won. I watched the 2011 and 2015 Cricket World Cup finals in my kitchen on a laptop as my wife slept in the next room. I watched first India and then Australia win as the sky turned from black to grey outside my window. All three of those finals were in early spring. The 2019 final was in high summer. I watched it too at Brit’s just steps from where I’d stood with my wife 12 years earlier. That day we fought but still found a way to be okay. We could always find a way to be okay until we couldn’t.
I worked at a dorm with a Phish fan the summer after my freshman year. I was intrigued and thought he was pretty cool so one hot summer payday I went to Cheapo Records in Dinkytown and bought a live Phish record on CD. I went home and got high and it was a beautiful summer day and my studio apartment was clean and flooded with light and I put the album on and the first song was ‘Bouncing Around the Room’ and I thought it was just about the greatest song I had ever heard. Unfortunately I hated the rest of the album and ended up selling it back to Cheapo. The following spring I went to a Phish concert at Target Center and they opened with ‘Bouncing Around the Room’ and then I got bored and left after the first set.
I visited Lord’s with my wife in 2011. We walked from Trafalgar Square to 221B Baker Street through St. John’s Wood to Lord’s and then to Regent’s park where we had lunch at a sunny diner in the park. After lunch we went to a pub called the Roundhouse for pints and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ came on and we both got choked up. We both loved that song and had for years and then we were listening to it in a pub in London. We had come so far. Done so much. And we were in a place that we thought we would never be. And so we cried, softly, there in that pub. Over the years one of our favorite YouTube concert videos was Noel singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ at the River Platte stadium and crying with awe at the immense crowd singing his words back to him.
Phish never played the Eaux Claires festival but the version that I know and love of ‘Bouncing Round the Room’ is a live version recorded during their fall 1994 tour of North America. 1994 was the year I graduated from high school. Justin Vernon who started the Eaux Claires festival was 13, a year older than my little brother. When Phish were touring North America that fall I had no idea who they were. I was sleeping on a couch in Tucson, Arizona. 25 years later I would be writing about a Phish song at a writing workshop in downtown Minneapolis a month after seeing Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver play at a hockey arena in downtown St. Paul.
In 2007 when I watched my first Cricket World Cup final the song ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was already 12 years old. A year later my wife and I saw Oasis at Target Center in Minneapolis. Our seats were near some of my wife’s co-workers but they snubbed her. And then she fell in front of them coming back to her seat from the bathroom and we had been having such a fun night but after that it was all ruined and we left early and didn’t get to enjoy ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger.’ Three years later when the song came on at the pub we both started to cry but it was not until just now that I realized that Niki might have been crying because she had fallen in front of her co-workers right before Oasis played that song. I hope that’s not the case.
I learned about The Clifford Ball on a podcast called ‘Long May They Run’ that had been recommended to me by a co-worker. I listened to the episode about The Clifford Ball on my phone as I folded laundry in my bedroom. It always makes me sad that I can’t remember the last time I did laundry before I left home. The phone I was listening to it on was an iPhone 8 that I had just gotten. Previously I had had an ancient iPhone 5 that I had had for years, it was actually the second 5 I owned as I’d dropped the first and cracked the screen a year after I got it. My wife and I had gotten our 5s together on a fun day in 2014. Then we went out for lunch. We had gotten our first iPhones together in the fall of 2010 and that was also a fun day followed by a lunch out. After getting my iPhone 8 I went to a bar by myself and drank beer.
2010 was the last Christmas that my wife and I celebrated. The following autumn our beloved old dog would die and we just never got into the spirit again after that. That Christmas in 2010 we exchanged gifts and Niki had ordered me a cricket ball but it was delayed in shipping so she just wrapped up a note. I don’t remember what it said other than it started with the words “somewhere over the ocean.” It finally arrived a few days later. A red Test SG ball used in India to flummox touring batsmen. I remembering being shocked at how hard it was, far harder than a baseball. It was like a fistful of marble countertop. The ball sat on our mantle until I left and now it sits on my bookshelf overlooking my bed 10 miles away from where I used to sleep.
I have only 14 lines so this will be brief. Today I am taking a class at the Loft. The last time I was here was two weeks before I left. That was a hard weekend. Maybe you don’t remember it but I do. Today in the workshop I wrote about the Eaux Claires festival that we bought tickets for but didn’t go to. I wrote about our iPhones. I wrote about the cricket ball you gave me for Christmas. I wrote about that time we fought about money at Brit’s Pub. I wrote about our trips to London and that time we went to see Oasis at Target Center. I wrote about that night you were in Eau Claire and we texted each other during that terrible thunderstorm. I can’t not write about us. In three days it will have been 18 months since I left and I am scared to death that all of our history will disappear.
i suppose there is intimacy in the moment when a lover becomes an enemy, though it is
tougher to say when that happens. probably when there is a song you can’t remember them living inside
of anymore, even if both of you curled your lips around the words in a car at some impossible hour of
morning, driving away from the place you met
-Hanif Abdurraqib, from IT IS ONCE AGAIN THE SUMMER OF MY DISCONTENT & THIS IS HOW WE DO IT from the book ‘A Fortune For Your Disaster’ which you should most definitely buy.