Desert Island Discs

My erstwhile colleague and proximate cubicle partner Rick initiated our work version of Desert Island Discs, based on the BBC4 Radio Programme of the same name, in which we choose our top 5 songs (or albums) we would want to bring with us if we were stranded on a desert island. Below are my selections.

1. Bobby Hebb – Sunny

Bobby Hebb wrote Sunny in the two days following November 22, 1963—the day JFK was assassinated, and the day Hebb’s older brother was stabbed to death outside a Nashville nightclub. Of the song, Hebb said, “All my intentions were to think of happier times and pay tribute to my brother – basically looking for a brighter day – because times were at a low.”

For me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home from the bar, fucked up and sentimental, and played this song, over and over and over again. In fact, if I could only pick one song on my desert island, this would likely be it.

2. Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song

My brother Jim played Zeppelin on his stereo when I was a kid. I didn’t pay it much attention (I’d plead for him to play The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour instead). And in junior high and high school, I was more interested in The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears. It wasn’t until I was a fledgling bartender that I discovered Led Zeppelin in earnest—I purchased a beautifully packaged box set.

Like Sunny, I have put The Rain Song on repeat for hours: the lyrics, Plant’s mellifluous delivery, the trance-like chord progression—it puts me in high transport every time I hear it. The apotheosis of my identification with the song occurred the night I walked home from The Tasmanian Ballroom. My long-term relationship had ended, and I was consorting with a girl I worked with, and we got in an argument in the stairwell at “The Taz”, and I walked out, and, uh, attempted to walk home. I fell into a bush, stumbled the rest of the way home, put The Rain Song on repeat, turned the volume up as loud as it could go, and took a bath with all my clothes on while my 70-year-old landlady banged on the door for an hour.

According to wiki, Record Producer Rick Rubin said of The Rain Song, “I don’t even know what kind of music this is. It defies classification. There’s such tasteful, beautiful detail in the guitar, and a triumphant feel when the drums come in — it’s sad and moody and strong, all at the same time. I could listen to this song all day. That would be a good day.” I can’t say it better.

3. Blue Six – Music and Wine

Okay folks, consider yourselves lucky — I’m giving you only ONE house music song, though as you know, I could do a Top 100 Desert Island Discs with nothing but house music. This is a classic house song, and one of the first ones I played the shit out of.

As I’ve tried to explain to my assistant Jen—over, and over, and over, and over again—house music is NOT techno. But it IS music. Yes, it can be repetitive, and there’s a lot of sampling and production, but when it comes together, it can be inspiring, soulful, powerful music. And that’s the thing about it—good house music comes together—it paints a mood—in much the same way an Impression-era painting creates an impression. Let me put it this way: one night in 1996, after I finished my bartending shift, my boss said to me, “Hey, want to go up to the Night Gallery for a little Sunday Skool?” (The Night Gallery was a bar next to ours on the second floor of one of the old blocks on 1st Street and 12th Avenue.) I had no idea what he was talking about, but it involved drinking, so I was game. So we walked up a long, narrow flight of stairs to the club, and I fell in love with a room, and a groove, that has stayed with me ever since. The DJ playing that night, Marc Quon a.k.a. DJ Rice, just celebrated 20 years of Sunday Skool—he’s got one of the longest running nights in history, and in 20 years, he has only missed two Sundays—both in 2013, because of the flood.

4. Sarah Vaughan – September Song

This song edges out Etta James’ At Last by a hair. And this is such a lovely version of this song, with Clifford Brown on trumpet, and Herbie Mann on flute. And then there’s Her voice: to borrow from Shakespeare, if flights of angels really did sing one to one’s rest, Sarah Vaughan would probably be the lead angel. Fun fact: my Pappy used to bootleg booze out of a place in Vancouver called the Cave Cabaret, and Sarah Vaughan was one of the performers who passed through there (along with Sammy Davis Jr.). Ergo, my Dad probably saw her, probably shared a drink with her.

5. Andrew Bird – Tenuousness

I first saw Andrew Bird at the Calgary Folk Festival. It was that point in the day — well, it was early evening by then — where we’d made multiple trips in and out of the beer garden, and we were in that energetic stage of inebrietry between “tipsy” and “sloppy”, laughing and talking loudly on the green space in front of the main stage, waiting for the next act to come on. It happened to be Andrew Bird (with whom none of us were familiar at that point). When he started to play, it was like Congreve’s line about music having charms to soothe the savage beast(s): the entire crowd went silent.

Bird was solo, and so when he started it was but he and the live notes from his violin. However, he’d play a bar or two, hit the loop pedal so those bars would continue to play automatically, and then he’d either play a different bar from the same instrument, or a different instrument, or whistle, and then hit the loop pedal again, and so on and so on, so that by three minutes into the piece it sounded like a full band on-stage, over which he sang. And he plays and sings everything so well. This song, Tenuousness, is a perfect example.

That Andrew Bird can by himself create such a rich and diverse tapestry is probably the kind of inspiration one might need if stranded on a desert island.

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