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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Desert Island Skinner

No, I'm not on holiday. (I'm Irish - I can't afford holidays any more.)

I've been compiling my 'Desert Island Discs' list. It was interesting fun actually, so I'm pleased to share the fruits of my labour. I'm also profoundly curious to know what would be on your list.

I've been listening to a lot of BBC radio recently. (Infinitely superior to Pravda.)

There is great current affairs and sport to be had from Radio Five Live. Six, which nearly got axed recently, is epic for quirky shows of interesting music presented by individualists. Three is the model upon which all classical music channels are based, but the original is still the best. One and Two are avoided like the plague.

Four is a personal favourite. I listen to it while driving for two reasons - firstly, its unashamed intellectualism makes me feel smarter than I actually am and distracts me from venting endless rage upon the blind and retarded people with whom I find myself sharing Irish roads, and secondly, because when Gardai stop you for whatever reason and hear you listening to a documentary about the King James Bible, or The Archers or even the Just a Minute quiz, their gruff bucolic heads become baffled, and they forget why they flagged you down, apologise, tug their forelock and wave you on with a jovial good day.

See? Even thinking about Radio Four makes your sentences longer and full of words like 'jovial' and 'bucolic'. What's not to love? Yet, like Six, it nearly got axed recently in the BBC cuts. Or rather, PC harridans wanted it dumbed down so that de yoof could like, get wot it woz all about, innit? Thankfully, the wiser heads seem to have prevailed.

I appear to have gone off track. What I really wanted to post about was my delight that Auntie Beeb has gone and archived the last 500 episodes of my personal favourite BBC radio programme in a searchable format online. Pay attention, Pravda - THIS is the sort of thing a licence fee is supposed to be for, not paying ridiculously inflated wages to stuttery eejits like Joe Duffy.

Anyhow, you just can't listen to Desert Island Discs without wondering what your own selections would be. This thought has strangely gripped me over the past little while, and as a result, I've finally closed in on my list of castaway music and items.

I would of course be happy to accept the gratis Collected Shakespeare and King James Bible that programme originator Roy Plomley kindly provided to castaways on the grounds that if he hadn't, the vast majority of guest would choose them as their book picks. Both, after all, are fine works of creative fiction, elegantly written.

So, after much aforethought, were I ever to come to Auntie Beeb's attention and be invited into the studio to imagine my stranding on a desert island, here are my eight pieces of music (in no particular order), book and luxury:

1. Motorcycle Emptiness - Manic Street Preachers

Probably the best band out of Britain in the past two or three decades. It was difficult to choose a single track from these lads. Tsunami, Everything Must Go, La Tristessa Durera - they're responsible for so many wonderful songs. I ended up edging for Motorcycle Emptiness because lyrically it expresses so much about what plagues the underclass and, amazingly, it was one of their first songs, from their stupendously good Generation Terrorists debut album. Anyone who loves rock music can't help but be impressed by the riffs dripping off this song.

2. Everyday is like Sunday - Morrissey

The high watermark of Morrissey - just coming out of the storm of the Smiths, before he got a bit lost in his own strange universe. You'd need to be inhuman not to relate to this a little, sometimes. We've all been there. A little, sometimes.

3. Here Comes The Night - Them

Yes, he may be a grumpy old cunt, but he always could and still can sing with the best of them. Throw in his undoubted talent for composition, and Van the Man remains a national treasure. You could frankly pick almost anything from his entire career, but I have a soft spot for this particular early performance when he was with Them, which comes complete with cringeworthy Jimmy Saville introduction. He's so young he's skinny here, looking disturbingly like Rory McIlroy the golfer, with it all ahead of him. Epic.

4. Hey - Pixies

The best song off the best album by a band who hundreds of other bands owe their careers to. Choppy, discordant, melodic, soft, loud, gentle, harrowing. And all in just over three minutes.

5. Then She Did - Jane's Addiction

Another groundbreaking band who never got the credit they ought to have. The album this comes from - Ritual de lo Habitual - is one of those rare beasts; a record with not one second of filler. Every song is a stone cold classic. No wonder they broke up afterwards. It couldn't be topped. This song is theirs and my favourite off the album, a paean to a dead mother written in Farrell's usual tangential manner with the band's trademark ocean-sized sound transiting through more movements than most operas.

6. Watching the Wheels - John Lennon

Lennon's comeback tirade against his many critics who had bemoaned everything from his marriage to his long weekend out of the game. Manages to shut them up with this simple, effective and moving testimony to the importance of what's important. Life, as someone once said, is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

7. Ya Na Ho - Jim Pepper

Pepper's career reads like that of a lot of jazzmen - he was innovative (one of the first people to mix jazz and rock into fusion) and a journeyman, playing sax in other people's bands for many years.
What sets him apart is his background - he was an American Indian, or what they call 'Native American' these days, of Kaw and Creek heritage. When he had the opportunity to do his own thing, often what he did was very different to the sax jazz he did for others or even his own fusion jazz releases.
Among his discography are a series of remarkable records from the Seventies, where he singlehandedly created a second new musical genre - part US folk, part Amerindian traditional chant, the songs are hypnotic, touching, simple and profound. In the end it was literally a coin-toss whether to pick this or Going to Muskogee. I like his classic Witchi Tai To as well, but I like this better.

8. Cloudbusting - Kate Bush

I didn't mean for this list to be so short on women. I like a lot of female artists, probably more than male. Something about the tone of the voice, maybe. There were a lot of women just outside my top eight in the end. But this was always in there, as was a good few more of Kate Bush's unique songs.
This has everything, frankly - a song about experimental science from a child's point of view, complete with subversive critique of big government, heartaching expression of family life torn, and an epic video starring her as a little boy and Donald Sutherland as Dad.
She's got a new album coming out this year apparently. I'll be first in line as ever. She's an international treasure.

Oh, yeah. I get a book and a luxury item too.

I'd love to be pretentious and say something like Finnegans Wake, which would certainly keep you going for as many years as you might be stranded on a desert island, if not for many lifetimes. But the first time was a struggle, and it frankly isn't that much fun picking apart multilingual puns. I'm going to plump for an old favourite, a real blockbusting literary masterpiece - Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.
Burgess wasn't just the author of nasty little shockers about violent kids who drink drugged milk and speak Russian. He could write - properly write - too, and this was his bona fide masterpiece.
Effectively it's like a tragic Zelig. It's the whole of the 20th century in a novel, told with gusto and brio. Everytime I read it, there's something new in it I didn't properly notice before, because it is absolutely brimming with ideas, set pieces and literary genius. It should have won the Booker Prize in 1981, but the best books never do win the Booker.

My luxury? Well, on a desert island you already have solitude, which is what I find luxurious these days - time to myself. Since that's a given, I'm rather torn as my choice would be dependent on the flora of the island I landed on. Is there any barley growing there? What other plants exist? One assumes food is available, but the words desert island imply sand not crops.
If there was barley, I'd go for a pot still as my luxury item. Assuming there are trees, I'd be able to make my own whiskey. A still would remain useful even if one was only distilling fruit though. Yummy fruit brandies are still better than no alcohol. But without barley and wood to mature my spirit in, it just wouldn't be the same. There's a reason why whiskey, an Irish invention, is adored worldwide and pineapple brandy is not.
So, if there was no barley, I'll take some feminised cannabis seeds and grow some weed instead.
Either way, on my desert island, it would be my rules, so no prohibition on either distilling your own or growing your own, and I frankly don't mind which, though I'd edge for the still if barley was available.

That's my list anyway. What's on yours?


Missing Neighbour said...

It is very difficult to pick just 8 tracks but after some thought I decided to go for songs that still make me feel something even after all these years. Here goes:

Suicidal Tendencies You Can't bring me down

An excellent track from a very important and underrated band. Rocky George is a rarely mentioned world class black guitarist (Who says metal is for white boys?).

Korn Here to stay

A track that gets the blood pumping and that provides the mental energy to push on when times are tough.

Megadeth A tout le Monde

A great track from Dave Mustaine in one of his more introspective and lucid moments.

Metallica One

An epic version of a ground breaking track from an enduring band.

Disneyland after Dark Sleeping my day away

This is a track that has a lot of good memories attached to it.

Stone Temple Pilots Atlanta

An excellent and heartfelt song from another underrated band.

The Sisters of Mercy More

This is not their best track (not by a long chalk, but it is one that reminds me of a time when the world seemed simpler and full of new things to be discovered.

Johnny Cash Hurt

This is a song that I identify with more and more as time goes by. It is arguably one of the best cover versions ever and one of the few cases where the cover eclipses the original by miles. A great song that can still move me to tears at times.

JC Skinner said...

Interesting list, Neighbour.
That soundtrack would definitely get you out of the hammock to collect the coconuts or hunt the wild boar.
My list would probably keep me in bed a few hours longer.
At least three of those were on my long list. Mind you, it was quite a long list indeed.
I nearly chose More myself, but decided in the end that I'd have to cheat the system.
I now travel everywhere with a copy of 'Vision Thing' down my pants just in case I get stranded.