The “what-would-you-take-to-a-desert-island” trope has been around forever now, and I doubt it’s the conversation-fueler it used to be. But whether it is or whether it isn’t, devising a desert island list isn’t a useless activity. Which books/movies/TV shows/records are merely diversions in the now, and which are necessary for us to live in the future? Paring down our passions to a bare minimum forces us to decide some pretty fundamental questions about ourselves, like who we really are, and what our lives are really about. My brother calls such winnowing “fearful moral inventory,” and while “fearful” at first seems like a weird adjective to use, think about it. Deciding your ultimate purpose in life is a scary prospect, particularly if it starts to look like that purpose isn’t what you’ve been pretending it is, or what you’d like it to be. (Such fear is why millions of our fellow Americans like the unexamined life just fine, no matter what Socrates said.)
My pal whiteray at Echoes in the Wind has been writing about his Ultimate Jukebox, for which he has systematically narrowed his musical taste to 288 indispensable songs. I’ve got something similar, although neither so intellectually rigorous nor as carefully selected—my desert island CDs. The project started years ago as an Ultimate Jukebox-like attempt to distill the most important music in my life to a single C-90 cassette. This was an abject failure, as the list quickly grew to fill several C-90s, later morphing into CDs.
Most of the songs on the list are singles—if I were to examine my album collection in detail, I would probably find some necessary additions that never got pressed onto the little records with big holes. It doesn’t cover some passions developed later in life, such as the ones I have for organ jazz, Rosanne Cash, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, but it’s representative of my taste in the radio music I grew up with, however questionable it might be. A few numbers:
Different artists: 71
Most songs by one artist: 4
Songs from the 1960s: 6
Songs from the 1970s: 74 (quelle surprise)
Songs from the 1980s: 7
Songs from the 1990s: 1
What I think I will do with the list is this: write about it in various ways now and then, whenever the feeling strikes me, about the songs and what put them on the list, about the artists and why they endure, about the years in which they appeared, and in whatever other ways I can pull them together. And I expect that as we go, I’ll discuss records that should be represented on the list but aren’t.
How long this is going to take, I have no idea. But we’ll start tomorrow with the oldest song on the list, which is nevertheless one of the more recent additions to it.