Bill Oakley – Space: 1969 (audio)

Karen Thompson Walker – The Age of Miracles

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson (2012) (reread) (FIC)

Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry (DRA)

When I Grow Up, Ken Krimstein (2021) (GRA)

The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman (SFF)

Curtain, Agatha Christie (DET)

A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle (SFF)

Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Madeline Lo (FIC)

The Song of Mavin Many-Shaped, Sherry Tepper (SFF)

The Late M. Gallet, George Simenon (DET)

Letters From A Stoic, Seneca (PHIL)

Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowals (SFF)

Victories Greater Than Death, Charlie Jane Anders (reread) (SFF)

Agency, William Gibson (SFF)

Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (POE)

Sisters of the Vast Black, Lina Rather (SFF)

The Desert and the Sown, Gertrude Belle (TRA)

The Shadow Glass, Josh Winning (SFF)

The Analects, Confucius (PHIL)

Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, Lina Rather (SFF)

Legends and Lattes, Travis Baldree (SFF)

A Time of Gifts, Patrick Leigh Fermor (TRA)

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (reread) (SFF)

A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (SFF)

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (?)

Alexis Vs. The Merry Menace, Marcus Alexander Hart (SFF)

Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers (DET)

Christopher and His Kind, Christopher Isherwood (MEM)

The Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard (SFF)

Alexis Vs. The Afterlife, Marcus Alexander Hart (SFF)

Poems of Paul Verlaine

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker (SFF)

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut (FIC)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisen (SFF)

טאגבוך פון א וועווערקע , סאניע קאנטאר (1920) (CHIL)

The Society of the Spectacle, Guy deBord (reread) (PHIL)

Lifesong, Julia Blake (SFF)

The Left Hand of Dog, Si Clarke (SFF)

Audio

Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible & Fried: My Life as a Revolting Cock, Chris Connelly (2014) (MEM)

All About Me, Mel Brooks (MEM)

Under The Big Black Sun, John Doe et al (O. HIST)

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, Jessica Khoury (YA)

The Midnight Orchestra, Jessica Khoury (YA)

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend, Sanford Greenberg (MEM)

Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman (MEM)

Re-Sisters, Cosey Fanni Tutti (MEM/BIO)

Agent to the Stars, John Scalzi (SFF)

Space: 1969 (SFF)

Simple Dreams, Linda Ronstadt (MEM)

Persuasion, Jane Austen (FIC)

Sandman Act III, Neil Gaiman (SFF)

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John Le Carre (abridged) (THR)

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a favourite album, and had the thought that it was a perfect enough album that it would be one I’d take to a desert island. And thinking on the very long-running (80 years!) BBC program Desert Island Discs, I considered what my other seven would be. And my thoughts took me further – most of my friends are music mavens and would have though on this concept as well. So in the new year, I’ll be interviewing my friends as to what music would see them through if they were the last person on Earth and there were only eight records to listen to.

I came to most of these albums in my 20s, that period after the teenage enthusiasms have been sloughed off. While I still love the music I cut my teeth on, the albums associated with that first period of coming into my own seem more timeless.

The website will be l8roe.blog as soon as the registration goes through.

So what was that perfect album? Premiers Symptômes by Air (1997), a compilation of songs from their first three singles. I first picked it up in 1998 or so, when everyone, it seemed, was going crazy for Air’s first full-length, Moon Safari. I preferred the slightly weirder, rawer earlier singles (though, to be fair, Moon Safari is a well-nigh perfect album as well). On these songs, the combination of Fender Rhodes, Moog, and euphonium bring me a strange feeling of nostalgia (for a period and place I never experienced) and are also perfectly of their own moment mid-90s moment.
Favourite track: J’ai dormi sous l’eau (YouTube link).

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (1963) – When my friend Steve introduced me to this album in about 1996, I’d known of Ellington because of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke and had some idea of his importance in jazz, but I hadn’t yet delved. And I knew Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (an album that after more than 30 years of listening, I still can’t get inside of), but this was something else. This meeting of two giants whose paths hadn’t crossed in the recording studio. Only in the last decade or so have I heard the vast number of collaborations Ellington undertook in the early 60s, but this was the first. For me it’s the interplay of Coltrane’s mastery of ballad forms and Ellington’s understated piano work. There’s a different sweetness in each of the album’s seven tracks that runs from the ebullience of The Feeling of Jazz and Big Nick to the yearning trills of In A Sentimental Mood and My Little Brown Book.
Favourite track: Stevie (YouTube link)

I came to Sister Rosetta Tharp much later than most music in this selection, while I was researching the origins of rock and roll for a series of blogs I wrote several years back. I’d never heard of Tharp. She was one of the progenitors whom the historians reference, but doesn’t get the kudos she should, for her delivery, her style, and her guitar mastery (not in that order). There’s a wealth of compilations to choose from, but Volume 2, the Document Records collection of 1942-1944 recordings has both rock and roll and gospel and my favourites Trouble In Mind (YouTube link) and Strange Things Happening Every Day. (Other favourites, This Train and Didn’t It Rain came later – I might have to keep looking for the perfect album.)

Aviary by M-1 Alternative (1991) – This band should have been huge, something I’ve said for 30-plus years. I got into them on the release of La Llorona, the first of their three albums in 1988 or so. My flatmate Mikki introduced me to them and I saw them perform in clubs in San Francisco over the next couple of years. I love all three albums, but this one features Ghetto and Reclaim (YouTube link), two of my favourites songs of theirs. The line I am a ghetto / a maze of streets far from the landing field always spoke to me – my feeling that I was too complicated and not near enough emotionally or intellectually to any place those I was close to landed and met. Theirs was a sad story, to me. They signed to C’est La Mort records for Aviary, and released the followup, The Little Threshing Floor on CLM as well. Just after The Little Threshing Floor was released, CLM’s distributor, Rough Trade, went under. One of the two members moved to New York and out of sight. The other has recently been remastering their work, starting with their earlier demos, and releasing them to Bandcamp.

The Good Son by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1990) – Dang, but choosing a Nick Cave album for this list was a task. Nearly every album has more high points than lows. I was leaning towards Push The Sky Away which is so beautiful. Other contenders were The Boatman’s Call (beautiful and perfect but closely associated with a difficult time in my life) and Let Love In (great, but I don’t really need to hear Red Right Hand again – it seem to show up everywhere!). When I got into this album, I was still mourning my father who died in 1986 when I was 19. The father/son dialogue of The Weeping Song (YouTube link) spoke volumes to me in its invitation to reconciliation. The son asks in turn why the women, men, and children are all weeping, and finally asks, ‘Father, why are you weeping? / I never thought I hurt you so much,’ with the word ‘hurt’ is stretched out to seven or eight syllables.

Lady In Satin by Billie Holiday (1958) – This is such a strange album – it’s late in Lady Day’s career – one of her last albums, released a year before her death at the age of 44. Her voice is much thinner than it was in her prime, but somehow more expressive. The orchestration is lush and befitting the songs she chose. Violets for Your Furs (YouTube link) and I Get Along Without You Very Well are particularly poignant. My mom or sister bought it when I was in high school and at 15 or so, I definitely didn’t get it. On someone’s recommendation I came back to Billie a few years later with a cassette of Lady Sings The Blues which was in heavy rotation on my walkman for many years. The sheer weight of Lady In Satin, with its lush orchestration started to mean something to me when I turned about 40. A few years ago, I found a 180-gram reissue and my heart just sings when I listen to it now.

Dømkirke by SUNN O))) (2008) – This is definitely the odd one out in my collection. It’s 60 minutes of drone metal and feedback, made melodic and holy. SUNN O))) (pronounced Sun) are known for shows of punishing volume, the use of deep feedback and strange guitar tunings, but that put the listener in an altered state if they come with open ears. While the shows I’ve seen have been in performance spaces, this set was constructed for a one-off show at the titular Dømkirke church in Bergen, Norway. (To be fair, Paradiso in Amsterdam was once a church, but it’s been a concert venue for several decades.) The band’s lineup for this show included vocalist Attila Csihar whose bass rumblings compliment the guitars of founders Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson. My favourite of the four tracks is probably Cannon, but telling the differences between any set of SUNN O))) songs is its own exercise. (Greg Anderson, AKA The Lord, recently released a collaboration with Petra Haden called Devotional (Bandcamp link), which may overtake Dømkirke if you ask me in a year. It’s glorious.)
Favourite track: Cannon (YouTube link)
Bandcamp link: Dømkirke

USA by King Crimson (1975) – I had a very hard time choosing a KC album. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for ages. I think my choice was between this live album and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (represented here with three tracks – part two of the title instrumental, the ballad Exiles and Easy Money, but not Talking Drum). USA was recorded over two dates on the 1974 tour for Starless and Bible Black, but released as an obituary of sorts after its followup, Red. (USA was not a contractual obligations album the way the near-bootleg quality Earthling was a couple of years before.) This version of the band imploded during the recording of Red and there was no tour for it. Even though some of David Cross’ violin work was overdubbed after by Eddie Jobson, this era was intense and beautiful and never matched. I probably bought my first copy of USA sometime in the 90s. Previously I’d most liked the early 80s incarnation with Adrian Belew on vocals and Tony Levin on Bass (alongside founding guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Bill Bruford), but I picked up Larks’ Tongues on the recommendation of my then partner’s violin teacher for the intensity of Cross’ work. I then delved into the ‘72-‘74 period (Fripp, Bruford, Cross, John Wetton on bass/vocal) with more interest. For me, the version of LTIA Part II here is one of the best I’ve heard. (It’s been in their set lists for all lineups from this period through the tours of the last 10 or 12 years.) And the version of USA that I’d want is the 2002 reissue that includes Fracture and Starless (the studio version of which is on Red. Fracture is an insane instrumental that was the result of Fripp wanting to write a piece that he himself would find too difficult to play. And it blows my mind whenever I hear it.

Standout improvisation: Asbury Park (YouTube link)

Island records advert for King Crimson’s USA. Band credits and a representation of the album cover are below the name of the band and album in large type.

Spotify playlist

Mason Alexander Park and Mike Garson and band at The Sun Rose in West Hollywood, 22 October 2022.

I’m not sure how I heard about this show – something shared on Twitter, it must have been. Park plays Desire on the Netflix series The Sandman and Garson played piano for David Bowie for years. (‘72-‘74 – Aladdin Sane, Pin-Ups, Diamond Dogs, and David Live, and was a constant member from 1995’s Outside through 2013’s The Next Day.) Park has other credits to their name, but nothing I’d seen. I just know that people thought it pretty cool they’d found a trans actor to play Desire. The theme to the show was songs associated with desire and dreaming, but in general it was a cabaret with a heavy Bowie emphasis. (Park mentioned that the two of them had done whole sets of Bowie covers together – that must have been a treat.)

Most of the songs in the set were pretty well known, but opening with a deep cut from a late Bowie album (Bring Me the Disco King from 2002’s Reality) was an odd choice. But the audience seemed ready for anything. Moving from that to Space Oddity (the second time on this trip to the US I’d seen that performed – Megan Slankard covered it in her set opening for John Doe) and Oh! You Pretty Things got everyone focused.

They then moved on to other artists for a while – two songs called Desire that I’d never heard – by Meg Myers and Bob Trask, a nice version of Mr Sandman incorporating first a torch song arrangement, and concluding with a couple of verses in the style of the Chordettes’ version.

Michael Thomas Grant of the show Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist (yes, I had to look that up – I had no idea who he was, but he has a tremendous voice) joined in a cover of the Cranberries’ Zombie. (The guitarist tuned in to some amazing energy on that song – gracious but it’s good to be near good musicians when they’re in the zone.)

Keeping with the theme, the set also included pop standard Dream a Little Dream of Me, Jacques Brel’s My Death (covered by Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour and later on the Outside tour, when Garson was back in the fold) which Park introduced as being ‘about my sister,’ a nice little Sandman joke.

They continued with a quartet of songs from the Rocky Horror Show (which explained the young lady in the front dressed as Columbia). Garson introduced this with a story of getting a call from Richard O’Brien in ‘74, after he’d finished a Bowie tour, to play in this new production. The first night, he played the score straight, the second added some of his own flourishes, and the third had turned it into a Mike Garson score, at which point he was fired. They started with Sweet Transvestite (with Grant returning to do Brad’s lines – ‘We’ll say where we are and then go back to the car’) and moved into the show’s closing medley of Don’t Dream It – Be It, Rose Tint My World, and I’m Going Home.

The main set closed with a sweet rendition of the Kinks’ Celluloid Heroes. It was strange to be in Hollywood listening to a performance of a song about Hollywood. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I’m rarely here now and I felt an odd doubling of my emotional response to the tune – a combination of nostalgia and longing and infinite presence all at once.

The audience clamored for more – a slightly ramshackle version of T. Rex’s Cosmic Dancer, which the bassist didn’t know, but the guitarist showed him the tabs and he picked it right up. Jazz musicians don’t mess around. I had to go after that having not paid enough for parking to stay longer, but I think they kept going – somewhere in the set there was a song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I think they were considering doing another, but I was well satisfied with almost two hours of excellent music. I recommend this bunch highly.

Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen – Enjoyable YA (sort of) fantasy. A bit dystopian, I really liked how Aveyard set up the opposing factions. However much I was satisfied with the ending, I’m not driven to pick up the next ones in the series.

Marcus Alexander Hart – Alexa vs. The Afterlife – Ah. Alexa vs. The Merry Menace makes a lot more sense now. Former child star now slightly alcoholic punk discovers magical powers with the help of a couple of interesting undead folks. Very amusing.

Paul Verlaine – Poems of Paul Verlaine – Having passed by Verlaine’s birthplace on an overnight visit to Metz, I thought it a good time to read some of his work. Very beautiful stuff.

Cosey Fanni Tutti – Re-Sisters (audio) – Absolutely fascinating memoir/double biography, taking in the lives of medieval mystic Marjorie Kemp and modern electronic musician Delia Derbyshire. Cosey wraps their three lives together with some gorgeous insights into the nature of recording one’s life.

John Scalzi – Agent to the Stars (audio) – Another great Wil Wheaton narration. Protagonist, a Hollywood agent, is roped into figuring out how to negotiate first contact with gelatinous aliens. With an absolutely appropriate in context side trip into Holocaust territory. Beautifully done.