Reconsidering a lifetime of musical choices is a funny business. My first musical purchase? The Maxi Single for Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now). First proper album purchase? Amy Grant's 1991 classic, Heart In Motion. Before I lose any degree of credibility, let's move on.
For the past month or so, I've been trying (with limited success) to convince my nine- and six-year-old children to give up most of their worldly possessions. We've been in the process of buying a house, and decided early on to use it as a springboard for slimming down. When we settled on a house not much bigger than a garden shed, those efforts reached an urgency that forced me to take a good hard look at my own possessions.
I began sorting through my record collection, trying to decide what I could truly live without. I contemplated converting it all to digital, and saving even more precious square footage. Then, I heard about Bruce Willis' supposed feud with Apple.
Regardless of the validity of the story, it got me thinking. Sure, I could rip every album I own, deposit it in the cloud, and claim victory over the tyranny of tiny discs. The only problem is, I would no longer have those tiny discs. No matter how much I want to believe otherwise, owning the thing, itself, is part of the appeal of the music I love. The artwork, the liner notes, the total package.
Along with family photos and favorite books, my record collection probably says more about me than anything else in the world. I want my kids to have that, and not just in a file on a server. So, as I began sorting through what I could and could not live without, I hatched a plan: A Music Ark.
The story of my life, in albums. Those I can never be without. Those I want to inform my children's lives. Those I want them to listen to with fresh ears in ten or twenty years, hopefully realizing that their lame old man wasn't so lame.
This is a smattering of those albums, a first pass through the cases I haven't yet packed. Each of these has touched my life in some way, earning its place in The Ark.
5. The Shins, Oh, Inverted World A lifeline between me and my older brother, whom I rarely get to see. We spent the summer of 2001, the summer before I got married, driving around Southwest Houston perfecting the harmonies in the chorus of "Girl on the Wing". We may or may not have been under the influence of something or other.
4. Cat Stevens, Teaser and the Firecat My mom bought me this album. She listened to it nonstop during the winter of 1978 or so, when she and my dad had just moved to upstate New York and she was lonely all the time. It helped her through that winter, and it helped me through my rather troubled 18th year, when she bought it for me.
To this day, the first sparse notes of "The Wind" can calm my troubled mind. It's one of those records that brings bumps to my skin and a lump to my throat every time, in the best possible way.
3. Television, Marquee Moon In all honesty, a lot of this has to do with my personal belief that this album contains some of the best songs ever recorded. Something about the noirish tension calls to me. The push and pull of melodies and rhythms that collide, coalesce, and fragment apart.
The constant climb of the title track, with its refusal to climax, and its eventual dissolution into a million tiny sparks, frissioning off into the ether just when you think you can't take it anymore. This album is, simply, everything I love about music. That, and it drives my wife nuts. I've spent nearly 15 years trying to convince her of its brilliance, and would love to have my children carry that particular torch.
2. Joni Mitchell, Hits Ordinarily, I'm somewhat staunchly opposed to greatest hits collections. I make an exception, here, because my children love this particular collection of songs so damn much. There have been road-trips spent with this disc on repeat, often doubling back for multiple sequential listens to "Chelsea Morning."
That's the first song I can remember my children memorizing that didn't make me want to rip my ears off. It was an early watershed moment, after which they've listened more intently to the music I play. Thanks, Joni.
1. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme I fell in love with jazz in high school, playing trumpet in a not-very-good ensemble. I never really gave myself over to rea lly learning how to play it, and fairly trembled every single time I knew I'd have to improvise anything, at any point, ever.
One of my fellow students, Millard Stewart IV, now a proud member of the U.S. Army, was something of a prodigy on tenor sax. The kid could play, and spent seemingly all of his free time increasing the gap between himself and the rest of us. He was a good example of the fact that single-mindedness often precedes greatness.
The world puts a lot of emphasis on being "well-rounded," but there's something to be said for fixating on one thing, perfecting it, embodying it so much that it becomes a part of you, and you, in turn, a part of it. Coltrane is the embodiment of this notion, and A Love Supreme is the pinnacle of that possibility. It reminds me, every time, of my failings. I hope it might inspire my children to their potential.
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This is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Once everything's unpacked again, and I can take a thorough inventory, the project will proceed. I'm thinking about securing at least one additional copy of each Ark-bound album (after all, these are discs I play often, and we all know CDs don't last forever), to be put aside for future discovery.
The hope is that someday, probably about halfway through high school, my girls will discover a copy of Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, and have a moment not unlike the time I discovered my dad's dusty, brown-jacketed Blonde on Blonde gatefold. I've never seen my dad the same way since.