What one album would I take with me to a desert island?
Immediately, it occurs to me that perhaps I shouldn't take any music with me at all. I'd have my untainted memory of other people's music, and I'd have my own ability to make some. I could fashion rudimentary instruments out of fallen palm fronds, sand, and coconut husks.
No. I'd take an album. I'd have to. But could I cheat and burn a mixed disc? How else might I have musical accompaniment for all my desert island moods? (The savage beast does need periodic new soothing.) Actually, that might be my final answer. To put together my favorite 80 minutes of assorted music and listen to that on a CD player that offers "shuffle."
Or what if I could take along a box set? Unquestionably, I would bring the life's music of the artist whose work I admire most, the inimitable John Coltrane. (Although Johann Sebastian Bach...) Anyway, I own 29 discs by Coltrane. But not one of them alone, not even Crescent, nor My Favorite Things, nor A Love Supreme, could tide me on my island.
To pick one album above all the others... Perhaps the best choice would be the finest single work by the preeminent rock band of all time. Unquestionably, in my opinion, the Beatles are that band. And my favorite album by the Beatles, although it's a difficult choice, is Abbey Road.
Or perhaps I should carry an album that reminds me of something positive and wonderful, some music that is a part of the deep fiber of who I am, and that can strike a chord of finer times when I wasn't hot, shriveling under sunshine, eating my single desert island meal (pasta) morning, noon, and night. When I was a child, my mother used to sing Kingston Trio songs around the house. "Seasons in the Sun," "500 Miles," and especially "The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)" all choke me up when I sing along with them today.
No. It must be an album containing solely music. Not a single word on it. Because when it comes to words and music, those chanting medieval monks took things about as far as they should have gone: the human voice sounding tunefully but alone, without some instrumental composition "helping" the words along.
Although it does occur to me, as I consider this assignment literally ("What album would you take to a desert island?"), that I ought to waive my feelings regarding music with words: my desert island will also be a deserted island, presumably, and unless I bring an album with a singer on it, then I'll have no recourse to any human voice except my own.
But one album for the rest of my life in a hot place? It would have to be something somber yet hopeful. It would have to be something that I don't know too well, and that I could never know too well. I can already "sing" along with many of the saxophone solos on Coltrane's records. And I would hate to bring along some delicate music that I love tenderly now, because I know that it would try me over time. You know, the old familiarity/contempt predicament. This is about commitment, and I would need a music so dense and complicated that I could perhaps grow to love it over time, and yet I'd hope to never know the soul of it completely, even as I memorized its notes. A music so full of feeling and musical complexity that it could continually sustain me.
I would choose a piece of music that at least begins to meet the majority of my requirements: my dad used to listen to it often when I was a kid; the human voice is present, both male and female, but it's in German, so it doesn't sound like mere meaningful words to me; it is a music of incredible hopefulness, but also realistic humanity; it is inexhaustibly complex and incomparably beautiful.
I choose Ludwig von Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, under Leonard Bernstein's pleasing conductorship, with its "Ode to Joy," sweeping emotional statements, and varied energies and passages. Spiritual and earthy, formally strict yet working its way free: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.