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This past week I played that old desert island game with some friends. You know how it goes, like “what 10 albums would you take with you to a desert island” (you can tell the demographic of the group by our shameless use of the word “album”).  I always find this to be a thoroughly amusing exercise, if not an exasperating one—there are always 50 other really good choices that could make a list on any other given day. I’ve probably played the game a couple dozen times in my life and would be curious to look back at all those lists to see which “albums” made the most repeat appearances.  I’m guessing whatever variations might show up, all my choices would fall within a fairly narrow bandwidth, meaning heavy on the 60s, light on amplification, mellow in mood, lyrical. Which is interesting because the first thing that invariably goes through my mind in making such lists is diversity. I mean we’re talking about a desert island, right? You’re going to have to listen to this stuff over and over again, and all of us have a breaking point even with the things we love, like Alex, the lead Droog in A Clockwork Orange and his beloved Ludwig Van. That being said, here’s the most recent list I made up for the game (note: in a courageous act of self-discipline, I purposely forbade myself from including any Dylan):
Hasten Down the Wind—Linda Ronstadt
After the Gold Rush—Neil Young
Wavelength—Van Morrison
Beatles '65--Beatles
It’s Only Rock 'n Roll--Stones
The River--Springsteen
The Last Waltz—The Band
Let’s Stay Together—Al Green
Beethoven’s Ninth--Beethoven
Barber of Seville--Rossini

Now one could reasonably attack my list as being anything but diverse. If those first 8 selections in fact were food items, they would all easily blend into a menu from Denny’s. But here’s the thing: such lists are above reproach. The point of the game is not for me to choose albums that satisfy your criteria. So it is never good form to attack anyone else’s list. To do so not only ruins the game, but it ruins the trust the game should be built on. When we share such lists, we’re not doing so to invite judgment from one another, but to reveal ourselves to one another. There’s a sensibility of shared vulnerability here that should be as distinct from stripping down in the boys’ gym class as is stripping down on your honeymoon night. It is not the time or place for ridicule--if, that is, you want to build a lasting relationship.

You may never know the story behind another person’s choices. I have a friend, for instance, who once put a Barry Manilow album on her list. I resisted my natural urge to scoff because I knew how that Manilow album had gotten her through a dark, suicidal night. Even when you share trivia, like these desert lists, with someone else, you have to be aware of the possibility that this someone has found meaning and import in places where you did not. It's humbling, I know.

We not only learn about others through these lists, but we can learn about ourselves if we put any thought at all into our choices. Music touches deeply emotional chords in most of us, and if you trace the song back in your life, you usually end up at an emotional moment. These are the chords my choices touch:

Hasten Down the Wind—Wife Lorna can hardly resist singing along when Linda Ronstadt comes on, and it is one of the most purely joyous sounds in existence to my ears. We go on long road trips, I drop on a Linda CD, and I get to hear Linda and Lorna duet over the miles, vanishing hours of tedium. Once long ago, Lorna made me a tape of her singing along with Hasten Down the Wind. It was the most prized piece of music I ever owned. Then the car it was in was stolen. Insurance easily replaced a Mercedes, but that tape was irreplaceable.

After the Gold Rush—I’m reluctant to sing along with anything, including "Happy Birthday." But for some reason, Neil Young uncages the little songbird in me. On my desert island, I want to feel free to sing.

Wavelength—There may be better Van Morrison albums, but I used to put this one on when oldest daughter Meagan was just a little girl, and then I’d lift her up on our rough-hewn, pine coffee table and we’d dance together like crazy angels on the head of a pin.

Beatles ’65—And there surely are better Beatles albums, but my brothers and I used to have to do our household chores every Saturday morning before we could go out and do anything else. The work and the wait all got a lot easier when The Beatles came along.

It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll—And there are better Stones albums, too. But in my mercifully few bouts with writer’s block over the course of my career, this has been the go-to album for getting out of it. Put on headphones, crank up the volume, and for some damned reason the words begin to flow. Thank you, Mick.

The River—I wanted to put Tunnel of Love here because (a) it was the music to the best live concert I ever saw and (b) it touched my father, who was not much of a music man. But one day, out of the blue, he told me how he really liked this Springsteen guy. So for his last birthday before he died, I put together a photo album for him accompanied by Tunnel of Love lyrics:

Well now the years have gone and I’ve grown from that seed you’ve sown/But I didn’t think there’d be so many steps I’d have to learn on my own/Well I was young and I didn’t know what to do/When I saw your best steps stolen away from you/Now I’ll do what I can/I’ll walk like a man.
In the end, I chose The River because it was a double-album set and I got greedy.

The Last Waltz—this was the inevitable slap yourself on the forehead and ask, What-was-I-thinking? choice. First off, I don’t own the album and secondly I never even heard the album. I only know The Last Waltz from the movie and the DVD, which I do own and play often. It's timeless. But this is that spot that shows up on everyone’s list when you realize you left off something really important and have to eliminate something else to find room for it. What I left off was Keith Jarrett’s Köln concert, featuring one of my all-time favorite 26 minutes of music. I remember the exact moment I first heard it…I remember the room, the people in the room, the light in the room, the lift in my body as I entered the room.

Let’s Stay Together—Al Green is the proverbial guy who could sing the phone book. A few years ago I saw a Denzel Washington film called Book of Eli, which I really cannot recall liking or disliking overly much. But I do remember this: Denzel’s character is lost and alone in a post-apocalyptic hellscape when he plugs in his iPod and out floats the voice of the most righteous reverend ever to grace human ears, singing “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart.” And I'm thinking, yes, that is definitely the voice you want to hear if you ever find yourself as the last living person on a desert island.

Beethoven’s Ninth—Alex the Droog may have been a raping, murdering, foul-mouthed little thug, but we share his great taste in music.

The Barber of Seville—This could’ve been La Traviata, or La Boheme, West Side Story or My Fair Lady, but it had to be something with lots of voices, lots of people, lots of human drama and comedy. It’s a desert island, after all. It gets lonely.

A few years ago, I had to do a more serious version of the game when our house was threatened by fire. If you have enough warning, you get to take whatever you can pack into your car—no U-Hauls allowed. Talk about a values clarification exercise! So I packed the strong-box of course, clothes for a week, my laptop, external drive, many of the photo albums (note to self: get them all on CDs), most of my music CDs; a few collectibles-- Lorna’s program from The Beatles at Shea; my copy of the Beatles Yesterday and Today album with the famously controversial butcher block table cover; The Bobby Darin Story, which Darrin had secretly autographed in the final groove; "Hey, School Girl," a 45 RPM by Tom & Jerry, the duo that would later be known as Simon & Garfunkel; and finally an autographed copy of  String Quartet No. 2 "Bucephalus" [1984] - The Alexander String Quartet; Wir Weben, Wir Weben [1978] - Musical Elements by my old roomie, Martin Bresnick. The rest of the car would be filled with the regrets I would feel later if worst came to worst. But it didn’t.

In much lighter circumstances, Lorna and I played a memorable version of the game about 5 tiny years into our marriage. In this variation on the game, we had to choose our top ten desert island “singles” (and if any cultural artifact is more obsolete than albums, it’s singles). Anyway, there we are, swapping entries on our respective lists back and forth, counting down like Mr. and Mrs. Kasey Kasem, until we come to the top, #1 single we would each take with us on a desert island. Lorna announces that her choice is  “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson. We were driving on highway 9 from Brattleboro to Wilmington…in the snow…and I remember it quite distinctly because I nearly drove us off the road I was laughing so hard. It wasn’t that her selection was beneath me or “sucked,” which is too often the very wrong reaction in such games. It’s that it came from so far out of leftfield. Like the highest of comedy, it took me completely by surprise. I’d never once heard Lorna hum that tune or mention the slightest affection for Ricky Nelson. Yet, suddenly—bang--out of nowhere she tells me it’s her favorite song of all time. Thirty-five years later, all the Valentine’s days of our life together have been infused with the joy of such delirious little moments like that one.  

(You’re all invited—nay, encouraged--to leave your own desert list below and in a good-hearted, progressive community such as this, we trust that no one's list will meet with even a whiff of snark.)

Originally posted to Capriccio on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 03:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Funny you should say all this. During the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    week the Obama campaign posted the song list from Spotify for the music they will use at events and for ads.

    Some pundits criticized it for not including HipHop. I agree with your premise.
    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 03:30:59 PM PST

  •  Hi there, the link to Beethovan's Ninth is (0+ / 0-)

    not working. The diary may have been deleted.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 06:48:28 PM PST

  •  Let's see, tough decision... (0+ / 0-)

    Beatles Rubber Soul and Revolver
    Iron Maiden Somewhere in Time
    Black Sabbath Paranoid
    Led Zeppelin Physical Graphitti
    The Sundays, reading writing and arithmetic
    The Mars Volta Francis the Mute
    Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2
    Tchaikovsky violin Concerto
    Kiss Alive II

    OR, I could just bring the internet and I'd be set!!

    "But Brandine, you're supposed to be in Iraq stopping 911!"

    by leftyguitarist on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 06:19:24 AM PST

    •  Beatles 65 was not a real album (0+ / 0-)

      Capitol Records was being greedy.  They took some tracks from the British originals off of the American editions of Rubber Soul and Revolver (IIRC) and put them on Beatles 65.  The CD reissues are complete, so there's no Beatles 65.  They are also really good choices.  That Middle Beatles period brought out some real creativity and variety without getting as weird as some of their later work.

  •  And, of course, it's not "desert island"... (0+ / 0-)'s "deserted island." I'm not sure there can technically even be such a thing as a desert island.

    •  I believe the term 'desert island' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      has a long historical usage meaning an island with no human habitation and is quite appropriate in this context.

      As for islands that are deserts - the islands of the Gulf of California would certainly qualify as would Socotra off the Arabian Peninsula and probably many others as well.

      "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

      by matching mole on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 12:44:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice thoughtful diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Regina in a Sears Kit House

    I found it more interesting to read about your choices than actually make my own.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 12:48:59 PM PST

  •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

    No snark? Then I shouldn't post these:
    Gilligan's Island
    Sting's Message in a Bottle
    the theme songs from Lost and Fantasy Island
    Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
    Kokomo by the Beach Boys
    Harry Belafonte's Day-O
    Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
    The Lime in the Coconut
    Bali Ha'i from South Pacific
    And this snarkalicious little gem:

    Weathering Michigan's recessions since the '70s.

    by jennifree2bme on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 02:08:09 PM PST

    •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

      But for real, I'd have a difficult time narrowing it down. I'd take the Chieftains, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Pete Seeger, and Glenn Miller. It would take some real thought to figure out what I'd want from the more recent stuff I like. I'd want it to be something that wouldn't make me glum about my situation.

      Weathering Michigan's recessions since the '70s.

      by jennifree2bme on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 02:18:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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