I quite like desert island discs on BBC. Kirsty Young is a brilliant and emotionally attuned interviewer and additionally there is something about letting people punctuate their life story with praise for their favorite songs that seems to open them up. Guests choose 8 songs and then one book and one luxury item that they would want with them.
It's a curious exercise, downsizing all the songs I love into 8. The list I arrived at is absurd. It doesn't contain any Dylan or the Band, no Springsteen or Natalie Merchant. Not a single thing from Motown or Stax records wonderful soul and pop collections. No country music from either George (Strait or Jones), and no Who or The Rolling Stones. The quirky geniuses Camille and Bjork are not here. No Genesis or Peter Gabriel. I could go on. Beyond that, while I do love classical and jazz, I simply don't listen to those enough to include any such songs on the list and have it feel authentic; plus, there is something about naming 8 songs that makes me think of pop music. So no Glen Gould playing Bach or Suk Trio playing Dvorak or Oscar Peterson playing jazz. Far more is missing than present and if I did this in a few months I'm sure the list would be different.
All that said, here are my 8. As of today.
1. Elvis Costello, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding
Costello is a brilliant lyricist and songwriter but this is not even his. Still, Elvis owns this Nick Lowe song.
2. Tom Waits, Step Right Up
Tom went to my high school. He dropped out. I stayed in. He's in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. I have a blog. If you can't stay in school, at least be this cool. This song is a perfect little ode to consumerism.
3. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
Gillian went to my university. This song - her style - seems to me to capture one of the elements I so loved about Santa Cruz, a modern rendering of Americana, neo-folk decades before neo-folk was cool.
4. Michael O'Domhnaill & Kevin Burke, Lord Franklin
After UC Santa Cruz I married Sandi and, while looking for work, hosted a Celtic Folk for Celtic Folk and Other Folk Show. This song captures the poignancy that I still love in this style of music.
5. Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
David Byrne emerged out of the mix of one-hit wonders, second generation classic rockers, disco, and punk rockers to create music that would still seem fresh decades later. "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"
6. Little Feat, Fat Man in the Bathtub
Lowell George was a genius song-writer who Frank Zappa quite rightfully kicked out of his band for mentioning drugs in a song; years later, George killed himself with an overdose. Little Feat is southern California rock and roll at its best.
7. Beatles, Oh Darling
When I first heard Abbey Road playing in a record store, I assumed it was just for the store. I honestly didn't think that they'd let people just own music like that. And now, decades later, this refrain, "I'll never do you no harm" has become something Sandi and I sing to each other.
8. Van Morrison, Days Like This
I toyed with the idea of simply choosing my 8 favorite Van Morrison songs for this list. This song celebrates life's promise and what more could you ask of a song?
The game played at the BBC is to give everyone a copy of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare and then choose one more book. I think that would want to bring along a full version of the Oxford English Dictionary, getting the history of thought and words in the form of definitions and etymology.
My luxury item? Botticelli's Birth of Venus. (Assuming I couldn't bring along the Sistine Chapel.) I would bring it for a host of reasons: I love it, no piece of art better captures the Renaissance and our emergence from the Dark Ages, and because if I had that the world would be far more likely to organize a search to rescue me (and the Botticelli). (My son thinks it would only make sense to choose a yacht, a luxury item that would be practical for a deserted refuge.)