Letting go of Jon Cook

In 1996 I didn’t know what to do there, I just knew I had to be on the internet. There was a little internet cafe around the corner from my apartment on Broadway, Seattle’s hip, gay neighborhood I’d just moved to from Philadelphia. The place was dark and had only five or six monitors lined on a foldout desk. You paid a small sum and logged on.

I’d heard you could find anything in the world on the internet so I navigated to a chat room for the British post-punk band The Fall and went looking for someone I could talk to. Pretty quickly, I met Jon Cook. We soon became friends and pen pals, trading tapes and handwritten letters for years to come.

I got to know Jon Cook through his letters, perhaps only a few a year, accompanied by the much-treasured bootleg tapes or curiosities he’d include from bands or genres that ran parallel to The Fall. The tapes, like the letters, had the same handwriting: slanting to the right, all caps, sparing, neat. On occasion we wrote just for the sake of writing without including tapes; Cook’s return address on the back of the envelope simply read,


One of the last letters I saved is from early 1998, the year I moved to France for five months and tried to track him down at his flat in Liverpool. (At least I assumed it to be Liverpool, though his address was Merseyside. It was hard to tell, were they one and the same? We couldn’t ask search engines yet, all we had were maps.)

In his letter, Cook thanks me for my last postcard, the one I mailed from Amsterdam. Which would have been the spring of ’97. I have no memory of this of course, what I did in Amsterdam more than 25 years ago anyone can say.

Cook references the latest Fall studio album and offers some rare bootlegs of that tour, was I interested? And rumor had it, The Fall were coming to the States. Which was newsworthy, they rarely played outside of the UK.

20th January, 1998

Dear Bill,

Thought I’d drop you a line to say cheers for the postcard you sent some months ago. Sounds like you were having just the sort of time I’d appreciate myself.

Cook goes on to explain he’s not doing the tapes anymore because he was more of a middle-man and someone revealed his source (that someone he calls a c-word), and anyway, he hopes we’ll stay in touch.

Cook doesn’t have email, doesn’t share his phone number, and isn’t on social media because it doesn’t exist yet. So when I’m living in Europe later that summer the only way I can hope to meet him is by literally going to his apartment on Victoria Street and ringing the bell.

Spoiler alert, I never meet Jon Cook. I’m in Liverpool as part of a month-long visit to the UK, the highlight being the Notting Hill Carnival, a reggae festival over the bank holiday weekend late August.

My childhood friend Loren, a sound artist who does experimental music, has been invited to perform at an electronic music festival in Liverpool. As part of my visit to London I tack on Loren’s show, in hopes I’ll meet Cook.

But all my plans reflect the simple mind of a 27-year-old, and when I ring the bell at Jon Cook’s flat there is no answer, so I leave a handwritten note from my pocket notebook saying I was here, and where I’m staying, but I don’t have a cell phone or any other means for the two of us to connect and so we never do.

The last letter I get from Jon Cook is around the time of the first White Stripes record, post-1999. Cook is excited to share he’s written a letter to the band’s management including a photo of himself for use on their next album cover. And the band wrote back!

Apparently, Cook was on the beach in Calais, just on the other side of the channel from England, and got so drunk he passed out. As he lay there unconscious in the sun the skin on his stomach burned and when he stood, the rolls of his fat revealed white stripes alongside the red. A perfect image for the next White Stripes record!

The band is not impressed. But instead, they offer mature-sounding advice for Jon to watch his drinking and always wear sun protection.

This is how I’ll remember Jon Cook, through the image he shares with the White Stripes and me. I could look him up now and reach out but it seems like the time we shared has come and gone. The world is a different place. Is it bigger or smaller? Darker or brighter?

I have gone looking on the internet for images of that internet cafe from 1996. There is nothing. All that remains is consigned to memory. And that is part of why I keep these letters from Jon Cook, because they only exist here, with me. While there could be an analogue on the other side of the world (my tapes and letters, in Jon Cook’s flat), for all I know Jon Cook is dead.

This letter from 1998 has a forwarding sticker on it from the post office: he tried my address in Seattle but I’d moved to Pennsylvania, enroute to France later that year. So the letter, which started in the UK, landed in Seattle, then back to Pennsylvania, then back to Seattle when I returned there in late ’98. And now it’s with me in a VRBO in Utah as I write this post.

I should start parting with things like this, but the reason it’s hard is they become symbols that mean something so personal, they become an extension of who we are. In some cases, they represent missing parts of our lives: imagined dreams, the gaps and what-ifs that never get resolved or accounted for. And if that’s true, how could I burn these letters without burning a part of myself? How would it feel to do that? Best it’s me who lights the flame so I can think one last time about this person I never knew, but maybe I did.

When we’re young, the world seems so big and vast it feels like anything is possible–we can go anywhere and do anything. But as we get older the aperture narrows and we realize we can’t the way we once could.

Departing with once-saved treasures can be freeing too. A letting go of someone we thought we might be with an acceptance of who we’ve become. And a recognition, perhaps these things are only things.

Categories: music, writing

Tags: ,

19 replies

  1. What a mood you catch me in this morning, Bill; hoping that you feel lighter after letting go.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do in fact DD! Hope your mood is good and not affected poorly by your AUS fall, my friend?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good.
        I got up this morning, body feeling stiff, but not wanting to do my stretches, not wanting to let go of the tension. I don’t know why but I got going and am interrupting the stretching to reply.
        I hope you enjoy that lighter feeling all day, and on and on.


        Liked by 2 people

      • I waver between loving yoga and not giving a damn about it so can relate to that with the resistance to stretching and so forth. Nine times out of 10 (perhaps “10 of 10”) it’s better to just do it. We know this and still don’t ha!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I tricked myself by having a placebo pill today! Ha! It worked. A St Johns Wort down the hatch and immediately on to the stretching. ‘Know thy self.’
        Be well and do good

        Liked by 1 person

      • Love it David, thanks for that…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the way you put this bit about the what ifs and the gaps, Bill: the ” missing parts of our lives: imagined dreams, the gaps and what-ifs that never get resolved or accounted for.” You capture the elusive sense of an unresolved something that is vaguely mournful. Here’s to minding the gaps : )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Stacey! Thanks for saying that. Fun dimensions right? Many more to explore even. Love getting into the cracks as I know you do too. The dark ha ha! Still want to connect with you more on AI chattery some time. May be putting an essay up here on that soon if I can’t find another home for it. Be well and thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have many good memories of mix tapes and mix cds, and the sharing of tunes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When the internet started becoming a thing, I purposefully shunned it. I don’t know why, but I set a goal of not using it until the year 2000. I made it till ’99 before I cracked. This post makes me want to go to Liverpool. There’s a band I like a lot that’s from there. And I feel like I should say something deep to match the depth of this post, but I don’t have it in me. But that bit about the aperture closing, that there’s a thing, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice. No need to ever do the depth-matching thing man. What band from Liverpool? Echo & the Bunnyman? Oh wait I just got it. The Beatles, duh. There’s that. Thank you! I’m a shunner myself, and a caver-inner too. Duder


  5. So right. Identity is wrapped up in all kinds of things, a lot of them physical things. I have an old friend I met in college who’s drifted away quite a bit these last few years, but I still have every letter he ever wrote me. We used to write several letters a year for about 30 years. Every now and then I dip into them and remember great stuff.

    Must have been fun hunting down that address in Liverpool even if it didn’t pay off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes to the old letters. Soon generations who won’t be able to relate much to that either! Oh well. Perhaps other saved intimacies take their place.

      And yes was fun going there in Liverpool. Odd what shards of memory remain, and how much else just vanishes. Brief candles right?! Tiny shards of memory.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good to know you’re a chronic corresponder. It’s a decent lifelong habit to have.
    When I moved to Quebec in the late 80s, I kept up a decent correspondence with friends. We put so much effort and wit in those letters. (Well, we thought we were wittty…) I still have a few. I threw out an old girlfriend’s letters when I got serious about Deb. It seemed like the honest thing to do. I wish I still had them. Then I might understand what she saw in me because it beats me now!

    Liked by 1 person

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