The SWOON on MPR

daniel thomas

Here’s the audio from a Minnesota Public Radio interview with me and the Dacey brothers. The interview took place in the Mankato affiliate studio for the show “Minnesota Morning” on January 3, 1991. The audio file comes from a cassette recording of the broadcast with poor sound quality and without the first few minutes of the interview. But it’s worth a listen because it includes a live in-studio performance of an early version of “Tea of China,” a song we included on Spectacular Illusions later that year.

In the MPR interview, I make reference to the impending Persian Gulf War which came to be known as Operation Desert Storm. In January of 1991, we all had a lot of apprehension about facing off with Saddam Hussein. That guy had Soviet support, and he promised to light the Middle East on fire by inciting other Arab nations to join his cause. He tried to do so by turning his SCUD missile batteries against Israel. It looked like the Cold War might go hot in the Middle East.

At the same time, I was still feeling dismayed by images of 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre, and I wondered if the next major war might involve China. The Tiananmen event inspired two SWOON songs. Our popular narrative performance piece titled “Hole to China” took on new significance after that event. I told a cryptic story in which I imagined digging a hole to China to evacuate the whole population. “Tea of China” took the “tea” from Tiananmen in an imaginary tale about two American GIs clinging to each other while “lost in a sunless war.”

The lyrics for Tea of China drew inspiration from Tim O’Brien’s books The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato. Likewise with our Vietnam War tribute song “Thompson’s Confusion.” I discovered O’Brien and his work at Southwest State University (SSU) in Marshall, MN. I can’t remember if O’Brien came to the SSU to lecture or if we were simply exposed to his work because he was a local writer (born in Austin and living in Worthington). And speaking of O’Brien, a new documentary titled The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien was just released in March 2021.

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