English and Environmental Studies Professor Mark Allister has authored a new book narrating the inspiring story of Minnesota indie band Cloud Cult. Allister read from Chasing the Light: The Cloud Cult Story on Sept. 24, giving gathered students, faculty and community members a glimpse into his account of the beloved indie band.
Zaq Baker ’15 introduced Allister, who then read several passages from his book and answered questions from the audience.
“I began just as a fan of the music, like so many people, and then that was coupled with my admiration for their principles,” Allister said. These principles mostly involve environmental awareness. The band strives to be carbon-neutral, a commitment which includes recycling CD cases and planting trees to offset carbon footprint. But what ultimately intrigued Allister in writing about Cloud Cult was the unique relationship between the fans and the band, as well as the spiritual journey of founder Craig Minowa.
“Craig is one of the deepest thinkers about philosophy and spirituality and religion of anybody that I’ve ever known or read,” said Allister. “He had always been that way but then the death of his two-year-old son kind of plunged into something that made him go down the spiritual mystical path.”
Cloud Cult was founded out of tragedy. Minowa began seriously creating music as a response to the sudden death of his toddler son. Cloud Cult’s music addresses the pain of devastating loss, but also features powerful themes of hope and healing. This raw but uplifting emotional journey has attracted many fans.
Allister was flooded with responses when he asked for fan testimonies about Cloud Cult’s music. Allister included some of those emotional odes to the band in his book. One story that he shared at the reading involved a mother who drew strength to continue the bureaucratic adoption process by listening to the tender “You Were Born.”
The fact that Cloud Cult’s music creates such intense connections with its fans speaks to the maturity and emotional depth of its songs.
“Minowa knows that his idealism and optimistic spirituality are an easy mark, but he seems not to care,” said Allister, reading an excerpt from the book. He quotes Minowa: “I want to have real human emotion struggle in the albums. But there’s a difference between using music as a method for whining about everything and using music for confronting your problems with the intention of trying to figure out how to get better.”
This philosophy is part of what makes Cloud Cult so special. The band has always striven for something more.
“I think there’s a really big responsibility when you’re an artist with even a modest following, and that responsibility is to try to use that limelight to propagate goodness,” Minowa said.
Allister’s fascination with the band developed slowly before eventually emerging as a full-length book.
“First I thought I should just try writing a short piece about them, partly to see whether I was interested in spending weeks or even years on this project. I didn’t know whether I could write about music. But the deeper I got into the project, I realized there was a great story here that someone ought to tell,” Allister said.
He maintains that the book is not just for fans of the music, but is an amazing story in itself. For their part, Cloud Cult members are very grateful for the opportunity to have their story told.
“We are incredibly honored and humbled that Mark Allister would choose our story as a topic for one of his books,” said Minowa. “The attention, carefulness and intuition that he used in approaching this whole project has been something we are inspired by and have deep respect for. He is a beautiful being, and we are lucky to have run into him.”
Students interested in buying Chasing the Light: The Cloud Cult Story can contact Allister, and those wishing to hear more of his musical ruminations can tune in to KSTO on Wednesdays at 4:00 p.m. to hear his show Prof Rock with Mark Allister.
Photo Credit: MADISON VANG/MANITOU MESSENGER