Sunday, 3 July 2011

Desert Island Discs

Hello and welcome to Some Other Sucker's Parade! I hope this blog will be of interest and I plan on keeping an account of my interests in music, science, ethics and whatever subjects takes my fancy.

My first blog entry will be that of a long-standing tradition. I confess ignorance to the actual broadcasts, having never listened to any, yet the format is so ingrained in our culture that it should need no introduction. For the uninitiated, the point of this self-indulgent exercise is to choose 8 songs that have been of influence to you (one is tempted to pick the 8 current favourites at the time of writing, but it’s more interesting to have some other reasons), one book and a luxury item (for yet more information, see the official website). Of course, many of us may spend too much time considering the importance of food, shelter and creative ways to pick a luxury item (such as an industrial city…) upon finding oneself stranded on a desert island, but pragmatism plays no part in this game and we shall leave such rational thoughts at the door.

For a brief biographical introduction, I was born in 1982 in Oxford to young parents even for the time (doubly-so considering I am the middle offspring of three). I wasn’t musical at all in my youth and there may be many reasons for this, though I tend to think it most rational to conclude that the popular music of the time was simply rather inferior. This is a bold statement of course and many great artists from the 80s reveal themselves with little investigation, however, my own memories of the music of my youth remain ghastly entries from the likes of Journey, Foreigner, etc and if you quizzed my 7-year old self in 1989 I can say in all certainty I could not name another person associated with music other than Michael Jackson. It is no wonder I was so late to the party…

It wasn’t for the want of trying (I presume) or even exposure to music itself, music seemed to be on very frequently, either on the radio or my parent’s choice of record, it’s just that nothing clicked. I envy the stories most people can tell of early musical gifts, rifling through parents/siblings musical collections (with or without permission), poring over record sleeves and anticipating the crackle of needle-on-vinyl, these experiences are simply not present in my early years. In any case, it’s hard to look back on these missed opportunities of youth with too much regret for I have since made up for it, and perhaps I would not have the love I do for music had I followed a different path.

1 – REM – Man on the Moon:

My first entry will be the first song of any kind I can remember actively enjoying and for this I have to fast-forward to the ripe old age of 10, though it would still be a few years before music would become terribly important to me. The song is Man on the Moon by REM, I cannot explicitly remember the first time I heard it but I do so vividly remember being in primary school one day and having it in my head, the first song I can remember ever being trapped in there and the realisation that it was a pleasurable experience was a striking one. To this day I dearly love REM and it is hard to be objectionable about their output, the only album I wouldn’t rank highly is the rather turgid Around the Sun, though no doubt when I listen to it I probably still enjoy it.

The song may not change the world, it may not even be one of REM’s best but every time I hear it I can’t help but be filled with giddy excitement. The marriage of acoustic and electric guitars, all the background harmonies and I just love amazingly simple chorus (and the drum introduction to the chorus, there must be a word in drumming where the drummer hits a drum (in this case, the snare) with both sticks at the same time?), has there been a set of cymbals produced with such clarity as this song? I don’t know. Moral to the story to this point – music is good!

2 – Del Amitri – Be My Downfall:

My second entry will be from Del Amitri, I was starting to like music a little more after hearing Man on the Moon and some other assorted songs (for my sins I include Two Princes by the Spin Doctors in that assortment, we all have our guilty pleasures) but when I heard Del Amitri at aged 14 I suddenly loved music. The missing link in my musical evolution up to that point, there are few who share my deep passion for this band and it was a point of ridicule at secondary school. Del Amitri are not cool, never have been and never will be and that’s perhaps one of the reasons I relate to their songs, though it is not the root cause. I could wax lyrical about the reasons I came to love their music (perhaps more worthy of a separate blog entry), from Justin Currie’s masterful wordplay, as if he was writing for me (though having never had a relationship at that stage of my life, I could only relate to what I thought relationships and loneliness would feel like!), to Iain Harvie's guitar parts, to any number of reasons, but something in my mind clicked the day I listened to a cassette tape of Change Everything. I’d actually listened to side B first and was instantly converted with songs such as The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere, Always the Last to Know, etc, etc, but upon flipping to side A I was greeted with Be My Downfall and I remember noticing the lyrics to a song for the first time and what a profound effect they could have on the listener. Suddenly, a lyric like the bus is pulling out and I guess I’d better go, before I make a grave mistake and let my feeling show had a visual, emotional and melodic resonance to which I had not previously experienced.
I can not overstate the importance Del Amitri had on my appreciation of music for which I will always be grateful, or perhaps given the thousands of pounds I have since spent on music I should not be grateful! If I were picking a desert island album then I suspect 1995’s Twisted will forever be my number 1, but Be My Downfall was certainly the catalyst from which all my love of music has spawned. Moral to the story to this point – music can be life changing (also add - lyrics can radically enhance the experience)

3 – Rush – 2112:

So, where to go from there? All personal experience from music would appear less important from that moment, but this needn’t be the case. When you are so obsessed with one particular band so much it is hard to think you’ll ever listen to anything else! But my attention was soon to be divided by Rush, what’s odd about my love for Rush is that I hated them for years, but a slow war of attrition was won by this Canadian trio. What’s more interesting is that it was the same song that caused so much discomfort to my ears that was the one I came to obsess over, and that is 2112. I think the biggest problem I always had with the band was Geddy Lee’s banshee wail, and perhaps it’s the reason that 2112: Overture was the point that swung the balance, I was hypnotised by it… DA-DA, DA-DA-DARRRRR… DA! DADADA! It was a combination of musical virtuosity and energy that perhaps I was not ready for. After this point, the rest of 2112 became the next phase to appreciate. Clearly, I was not ready for Geddy Lee’s shrieking vocal, but it was not long before mere intolerance became tolerance, which later turned into great appreciation. The other striking revelation was the ability of Geddy’s bass playing, there probably is no greater contrast of bass players than Justin Currie’s incredibly basic style and Geddy’s fret board acrobatics. Moral to the story up to this point – don’t dismiss anything, opinions can change.

4 - Tim Buckley – Song to the Siren (live on the Monkees TV show)

I am a huge fan of Tim’s son, Jeff (for me, his death is the greatest loss to music, given what he didn’t have time to do) and so it was a natural progression for me to explore his father’s work. I dipped my toe into Tim’s music with the excellent 2-CD anthology, Morning Glory, and having been wowed by both discs I was overcome with emotion on the final song of the second disc. Song to the Siren has been covered by many artists over the years and Buckley’s own studio version is very good, but it’s this acoustic performance on the Monkees TV show that resonates far greater than anything else. When I first heard this it affected me greatly in many ways, the beautiful music and Buckley’s enchanting vocal, but as a recently turned 21-year old, relationships with the opposite sex had always eluded me (I can’t say I blamed them!), though I was besotted with a girl on the other side of the Atlantic ocean with whom I had recently began conversing, the distance and difficulty of which seemed to be exactly like the song. I flung the song on the end of a compilation CD I made as a kind of admission, for I was far too shy to show my feelings. Thankfully for me (possibly not so much for her), this girl eventually became my wife and I think we’d both agree that this is our song. Moral to the story – music can connect people and sometimes convey emotions better than individuals.

5 – TV On the Radio – The Wrong Way:

I’ve never taken much influence from reviews and/or magazine articles. Most of my discoveries have been from recommendations of either friends or bands/artists that I admired. There are exceptions, however, and I remember being utterly captivated by an article in a magazine I bought called Plan B, I purchased the magazine because Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields) was on the front cover but there was an article which described a new band in such an interesting way that I had to check them out. The band was TV On the Radio and their debut album, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was somehow a favourite before even hearing the music. Thankfully I was not to be disappointed! The band’s website advertised a streaming of the album and it kicked off with a bang, The Wrong Way opens with horns and the most sludgy and dirtiest bass sound I had ever heard, there was a confident swagger to the whole thing and a myriad of sounds that were blowing my mind. TV on the Radio remain the greatest band of this millennium and it will be a dramatic day when/if they are knocked off that perch.

6 - Arvo Part – Spiegel Im Spiegel:

I remember a few years ago jotting down a list of artists that Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) had listed as favourites on his MySpace page (remember those?) and browsing other MySpace pages to see what they sounded like. After sifting through a variety of what you could call the good, the bad and the ugly, I was utterly mesmerized by Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Part, there are many recordings of this piece but by far the best are the ones on the Alina record and it is without hesitation these days when I say that this is my favourite piece of music. It is a devastatingly beautiful and relatively simple piece of music and it would be guilty of all clich├ęd praise such as tugging at the heart strings, but if anything it causes a gentle caress of the tear ducts, I don’t think I’ve failed to lacrimate upon hearing it. Part created the tintinnabular style of composition, of which this is a wonderful example. Moral of the story – always have a tissue nearby.

7 – Unida – Black Woman:

If I’m stuck on a desert island I imagine that sometimes I am just going to be fed up and in need of an injection of energy and there’s no better man for the job than John Garcia. Garcia is best known as the front man of the sadly departed band Kyuss (I’m not sure if the newly reformed Kyuss Lives is quite the real deal, but no doubt a lot of fun), while Josh Homme has achieved much critical acclaim since the demise of Kyuss, Garcia has quietly been releasing material of far greater worth. Unida represent Garcia at his peak and Black Woman is a face-ripping 5-minute onslaught of the senses. If I’m on a desert island, I should have some desert rock! This song appears on my favourite stoner/desert rock album of all time, Coping with the Urban Coyote. Moral to the story - never forget your inner rock!

8 – The Flirtations – Nothing but a Heartache:

My final entry will be my current favourite song of all time which I heard on a cold evening in October (2010), having acquired the rhino boxset One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found, a 120-track 4-CD essential collection (buy it!). After hearing Nothing But a Heartache by The Flirtations for the first time… words seem inappropriate... perhaps I was under a delusion, thankfully I had the benefit of simply repeating the experiment again, was it really that good? The answer was an emphatic yes, it was that good, in fact, it was better! My love of soul music has taken off in the last year and this song has been the driving force of my obsession. The group never bettered this song but there’s a compilation called Sounds Like the Flirtations that is well worth a purchase. Moral to the story – never stop searching for new musical experiences. I made reference to being late to the party earlier on, now I feel like Mr Creosote, sometimes I feel like I’m about to burst and yet there’s so much more music I still have to experience! 

What book would I choose? When I said I would be leaving rational thoughts at the door I was perhaps not entirely truthful. My selection of book could be considered a fairly queer entry for those that know me, for it is a book I haven't read. I can’t recall if I’ve ever read a book more than once, there are too many other books I would like to experience. So the thought of being stranded on a desert island with something I’ve already read and enjoyed is a much different proposition than listening to songs I will continue to love again and again. I have a practical agenda for this choice and that is, if I am to be stranded, alone on a desert island for perhaps the rest of my life, I think it’s rational to explore meditation. Even as a staunch atheist I think one has to accept that there just may be something worth exploring when it comes to the art of mental training and introspection. One needn’t put a religious spin on such a practice. Sam Harris (I would very much recommend his book The Moral Landscape and search YouTube for various debates and speeches) has many interesting things to say about meditation (reassuringly so, given his rational mind), culminated in one of his blogs and so I would pick one of the books he recommends: Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana, The Experience of Insight, by Joseph Goldstein or Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Whilst I currently do not have the inclination or time to pursue such practices I can see a great benefit to using ones time, and one has rather a lot of it in this scenario, to exploring the plasticity of the human mind (without giving credence to religious wishful thinking).

And what of a luxury item? If I could get away with such a request (and also assuming that the island I am stranded on has the necessary natural ingredients…) then I think a good luxury item would be some kind of wine-making kit, if my attempts at meditation failed to bear fruit, at least I’d be able to get drunk, bottoms up!

No comments:

Post a Comment