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Book Review: Marooned: The Next Generation Of Desert Island Discs edited by Phil Freeman

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By most accounts, the concept of so-called "Desert Island Discs" — at least as it relates to rock and roll journalism — began with a book published in 1979 called Stranded: Rock and Roll For A Desert Island, edited by one of America's foremost rock journalists, Griel Marcus.

In that book, Marcus posed the simple question "What one record would you bring to a desert island and why?" to a panel of America's leading rock scribes at the time, including people like Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, and the late, great Lester Bangs.

In their detailed essays, this rather esteemed panel mostly stuck to the rock and roll of the era, and wrote about the exact names you would expect in a book like this one. It was a cast of all the usual suspects like Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, and The Eagles with the somewhat occasional surprise of a random choice like Ronnie Spector (well okay, maybe not so random).

Since that book's publication, Desert Island Discs eventually became a solid part of the rock and roll landscape. In its monthly Pulse Magazine for example, Tower Records (R.I.P.), ran a regular feature asking readers to send in a top ten of their own so-called "DIDs," that often generated some very interesting and eclectic results.

Here in Seattle, our local adult-alternative station The Mountain does the same with its listeners daily, and often even devotes entire weekend blocks of programming to the concept. I'm sure there are any number of stations across the country who do the exact same thing. Unfortunately, here in Seattle, Mountain listener's DIDs tend to be somewhat samey, leaning heavily towards the Dave Matthews, Bob Marleys, and John Mayers of the world.

So while the Desert Island Discs concept is hardly a new one, it has been in dire need of a facelift for some time now. As much as things have changed within the musical landscape since the 1979 publication of Stranded, that much more has changed in the world of rock journalism itself, and in the way music is actually written about these days.

Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs is that much-needed update. Presenting itself as the semi-official sequel to Stranded (it even duplicates the cover art of the original book), editor Phil Freeman (author of Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis), poses the DID question to a group of modern music scribes, including such critics as Daphne Carr, Greg Tate, and hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang.

Not surprisingly, the choices here lean less toward the rock classics of this book's more famous predecessor, and instead tend to veer all across the musical map. The choices covered here represent everything from heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and The Scorpions, to jazz masters such as Davis, Alice Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins, to the semi-obscure hip hop of someone like Divine Styler (who merits a particularly passionate essay from Scott Seward here).

As is, many of the choices here are, at least on the surface, somewhat curious ones. This is a book where both Dionne Warwick and Ronnie James Dio are warranted the critical consideration of John Darnielle and Anthony Miccio respectively. Manassas, the long since forgotten band fronted at one time by Stephen Stills is the unlikely recipient of critical props here by Kandia Crazy Horse, the editor of Charlotte's Creative Loafing.

Even Freeman's own choice here of Motorhead's No Remorse is an interesting one, given his own authorship of a serious examination of Miles Davis "electric period" in his own book. Speaking of Davis' electric period, the fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew is placed under the magnifying glass of Greg Tate. Other bands and artists who receive the DID treatment in Marooned include an eclectic mix of everyone from Elton John to the Meters to Brand Nubian to Stereolab to Spiritualized to John Martyn.

In the book's final chapter just prior to rolling the writers credits, Freeman invites the reader and potential listener to "Return To Treasure Island" as he then proceeds to recount a rather extensive list that attempts to answer the question: "What has happened in music since 1979?"

Here again, the list Freeman recounts is somewhat subjective. Most of the groundbreaking, or otherwise essential releases of the past twenty-five years or so make the grade. Hip-hop is represented by Public Enemy, De La Soul, Eric B & Rakim, the Beastie Boys, and so forth. Elsewhere, everybody you'd expect from Nirvana to Wilco to Lucinda Williams to Radiohead to the Fugees to Tom Waits makes the cut.

But these sort of lists being what they are by their very nature, it is still nowhere near being complete. Where for example is Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska? Why is Johnny Cash's entire American Recordings series narrowed down to his single cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"?

To be fair to the authors here (who I am assuming all contributed to the "Treasure Island" list), there is of course no way that a list denoting every important musical event since 1979 couldn't have come up at least a buck or two short. As is, I've yet to find a better representation of at least the modern rock period anywhere than in this book's "Treasure Island" chapter.

For students of rock journalism, especially in its more modern stripe, I would rate Marooned as an essential read. For those seeking only a quickie guide to some great music that crosses a variety of genres, you'd be likewise well served to point your iPods in the general vicinity of this book.

Oh, and feel free to leave your own list of DIDs in the comments section below.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I can only bring one? I grab more than that on the way to work, and I am supposed to live with only one album on an island? Let the headhunters kill me. It would be less painful.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    My general answer to this question for years has been Love’s Forever Changes. I still love the record, still play it, still want it close at hand, and I could say the same of a number of other great records: Blonde on Blonde, London Calling, Born to Run, Tonight’s the Night Beggar’s Banquet, Uncle Meat, Moondance, The Basement Tapes, yadda yadda. But that’s a boring batch of DIDs to choose from, isn’t it? So old and predictable. It reveals someone who hasn’t listened to much new music over the past couple of decades. On the other hand, you want a DID that’s consistently interesting, which basically means it has to be a towering classic I can still play over and over.

    I’ll have to mull this over.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Those were all fine choices Rodney. A little old? Sure, but they all share the common trait of having aged like fine wine. I would not dispute a single one of these as absolute classics. If it were me, I’d probably throw in things like Horses; Pet Sounds; and What’s Goin On. As far as something more modern? I’ve definitely been grooving quite a bit lately to Porcupine Tree. Maybe some Ryan Adams, something by Radiohead other than OK Computer (like Amnesiac)….you know I could just go and on with this…

    -Glen

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Ditto those three, Glen; especially Horses. It’s her best, I think. I frequently spin the three Patti 1970s classics, the other two being Easter and Radio Ethiopia.

    Pet Sounds might be a strong contender for DID. I love it, I think it’s great, but I’ve never overplayed it. There’s a lot left to discover on it.

    I find myself getting in ruts occasionally with the discs I put in the car, that I keep winding up going back to the tried and true. But that is, too, what makes them classics, because you can listen to them over and over again.

    There’s a reason you play some CDs once every six months, and others — like Sticky Fingers, currently in the player — where as soon as it’s over I want to play it through again. Some CDs are just the Thing that Won’t Leave the Player.

    Among newer discs, a contender that comes to mind os Sufjan Stevens Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lakes State but I seem to recall you’re a Sufjan non-enthusiast. Oh well.

    I like OK Computer too.

    I like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and Regina Spektor’s two discs. They’re very good, but I don’t know if there’s enough variety of sound song to song, which you want in a DID. That is a distinguishing characteristic of the ones we’ve mentioned. There’s a whole lot of different stuff on them: soft, strong, hard-rocking, sweet, highs, lows.

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!

  • http://m-matos.blogspot.com Matos W.K.

    Just to clarify (I’m a contributor to the book), the discography at the end is Phil Freeman’s work alone, though I’m sure he consulted people in the book about it. But he’s its sole author.