The intersection of writing workshops and Okkervil River

I’m having a bit of a music crisis these days (hence the embarrassingly unupdated music blog). I shuffle through songs on my Ipod and hardly anything feels right except for the following: Okkervil River’s “The Stand Ins”, anything by the Pixies and “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. It’s weird. I wasn’t into the Pixies as a teenager or even an early twenty-something. But then Andrew and I listened to them a lot over Christmas holidays and I guess something clicked. And I don’t know why that Bob Dylan album is the one that’s doing it for me, but it is. I suppose the Okkervil River fascination is the least strange, although I’ve overdosed on their other albums and can only stand to listen to this one. Particularly the song “Starry Stairs”, mainly for the way Will Sheff sings the phrase “I’m alive/ but a different kind of alive/ than the way I used to be”. I don’t know, there’s something about it. I like it.

The first creative writing workshop I took was in my second year at the University of Toronto, and it was an awkward little class. We weren’t very chatty and we never really bonded with each other. I can imagine that our professor felt like he was pulling teeth; we were so tentative. The stories I wrote for the class weren’t very good, but they were the first “serious” stories I wrote, so I was defensive about them. The class was kind (or at least, not very verbose) and I escaped unscathed, but I do remember the really sweet girl who wrote a story about the death of a pet. It was maybe the only time we banded together to tear something apart. She started crying, and we realized that it was autobiographical. Shit. My childhood pet Snowball had also recently died and I felt awful – I knew how she was feeling! I lent her a Red House Painters CD, the one where Mark Kozelek has a song about his cat. I’m sure she thought I was weird when I pressed it upon her. Anyway, the point is that, other than the cat incident, the thing I remember most clearly about the class is that the professor distributed “Okkervil River” to us to read together, the short story by Tatyana Tolstaya and it was one of my favourite things I read that year. So years later, when I learned about the band Okkervil River, I figured they could only be good. And they are.

Here’s a live version of “Starry Stairs”

And, how wonderful, a clip of Will Sheff reading Tatyana Tolstaya’s story:

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