Cloud Cult's Craig Minowa on his childhood and playing live

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Photo by Nick Vlcek
After reading today's cover story on Cloud Cult, you may still be thirsting for more on the local six-piece (or eight-piece, depending on how you roll) and their spiritual leader, Craig Minowa. Well, rest assured: In sitting down for four separate interviews with the band, I picked up more than enough info to fill up one article.

One of the most interesting conversations that didn't make the cut had to do with a particularly traumatizing event from Craig's childhood. So if you're wondering why Craig still feels anxious about playing live, read on.

Craig is by nature a quiet and reserved individual, not the sort of person to be eager for attention or, for that matter, to strike up conversation with a stranger--much less perform in public to rooms full of strangers.

But when I asked him about it during our conversation at St. Olaf, he gave an answer I never would have expected: When he was only in first grade, Craig had the left side of his skull crushed in by a golf club, requiring him to wear a hockey helmet on doctor's orders.

It was an experience he figures "did some real damage to [his] self worth."

"All the kids looked at me as being a freak and they thought I was a robot or something like that," he told me, delivering his words shortly and briskly as if to keep some distance from the topic. "So, you know, starting at first grade the kids you're going to be spending most of your time with for the next twelve years are already thinking that you're some kind of freak."

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The helmet was supposed to stay on for two whole years, but he went in for a check up after the first twelve months he feigned a speedy recovery.

"They did pressure on there and asked if it hurt. And it hurt like the dickens, but I said it didn't and so I didn't have to go in with it the second year," he explained. "But everybody still remembered--'Hey, there's Robot Boy' or 'There's Frankenstein.'"

The ridicule that Craig endured at this time continued virtually until he graduated high school, to the point that his schoolwork suffered and he skipped school in order to "hide out." But eventually things began to turn around when he started writing and recording his own music (he was classically trained growing up).

"I have never been a very articulate orator," he admits, although--while he occasionally stutters--he's generally well-spoken. "I think part of the reason I got made fun of was I was so self-conscious that whenever I tried to say anything I did sound goofy. The music, I was actually able to communicate in a way that I had control of it and I felt that I could do something other people couldn't do."

Yet even then it took a number of years for Craig to get comfortable with playing live. Even Cloud Cult, which he started in the early '90s, essentially remained a studio project for many years. His son Kaidin's death in February, 2002 was one of the primary factors in changing Craig's outlook.

"I think it took the loss--well, one of the side effects of the loss of Kaidin for me was that I suddenly could care less what people thought," he remembered with a shrug. "I just all of a sudden felt like I'd already lost everything, so what's the point? Might as well get up onstage and do whatever I want to do."

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While for many years his performances essentially functioned as a means of trying to communicate with his lost son, the process has become a healthier and less demanding one over the years. Most recently, this has been helped by the birth of one-year old Nova, but in general it also has a lot to do with Craig's regularly meditating, and the connections he's made between it and performing.

"In Buddhism, they talk about one of the steps toward enlightenment is the loss of ego and the loss of self," he told me, getting animated in so doing. (It's a topic that means a lot to him, based on the fact that it came up a few different times.) "There's something that happens when you go on stage where--you're gone! And I don't exist anymore... I can make it through a whole show and not, not really be conscious of myself but really be a portal of the energy and feel that coming and going.

"And you know," he added with a laugh, his eyes bulging in imitation, "then you end up looking it up on YouTube and then you're conscious of yourself again and you go, 'Ah, I look really creepy! I probably shouldn't sing like that.'"




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