The other day a friend of mine reminded me that she’s about to turn 22, so I quoted that line from The Stooges’ “1969”. It’s not a very good line, but that’s okay because the point of The Stooges is not lyricism anyway. Mentioning The Stooges in a thing about Astral Weeks is obvious given the Lester Bangs connection but they’re also linked by the biographical detail that both legendary albums were written by kids in the first years of their twenties.
When Bangs wrote about Astral Weeks it was an assignment from Greil Marcus for his book Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. Marcus asked twenty writers to contribute essays on the one rock and roll album they’d take to a desert island. Bangs’ article ended up being more about how it was a personally meaningful album rather than judging it on its merits given the ludicrous scenario, but the sincerity with which he writes about the album is what makes it such a powerful piece. I already wrote about the albums most important to me at great length on One Week / One Band, so let’s look at something closer to the intent of the hypothetical situation.
The criteria for judging a piece of music’s suitability for being stranded on a desert island are: depth and density of the songwriting, i.e. replayability, and emotional response, or the degree to which it alters your mood. You can probably think of others but these are the most fundamental. The entire premise of the Desert Island Hypothetical is flawed now because most likely you have an iPhone with dozens of albums on it, or if you’re luckier an iPod, because the batteries last way longer. Therefore what you should do immediately is make a desert island playlist to avoid wasting precious battery searching for these songs when it’s too late. Here is my indefinite list of albums I’d choose to be stranded with on a desert island:
Wavves - King of the Beach
Not all “summer” albums automatically qualify (e.g. Best Coast) but King of the Beach is an easy choice. Pitchfork gave it 8.4 Best New Music and yet I think it’s underexposed, if not underrated. The difference between this and Nathan Williams’ previous album is that finally he seems to be having some fucking fun as a loser. Wavvves sounded like post-adolescent boredom and King of the Beach still has that at its core, but it’s packaged with ambition and aspiration and just, like, enjoyment of the present as well. Handily these are all qualities one needs while Stranded on a desert island. On a personal level I empathise with Williams a lot, apparently: “Take On The World” and “Post Acid” are RELATABLE.
LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Piebald - We Are The Only Friends We Have
The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
Poison - The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock
This album half fails on the first count. Everything about Poison is superficial, so there is nothing worth discovering that you missed on the first listen. That said, it is extremely replayable because like all eighties hard rock, it is the most fun to listen to. It’s terrible sex music, however it’s worth considering that if you’re lucky enough to be stranded with other people you might as well do your best to approximate your Sunset Strip fantasies sooner rather than later; you may not get another chance.
Das Racist - Shut Up, Dude
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
The Lonely Island - Turtleneck & Chain
Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
Night Ripper is sort of the canonical choice, and I’d greatly miss the sample of “Tiny Dancer” mashed up with Biggie’s “Juicy”, but overall I played the fuck out of Feed The Animals in 2008 and I’ve said before it’s the album that got me into hip-hop (did you know I only started really liking music last year? I’m trying to catch up.) It murders the first criterion because the amount of samples make it like listening to ten thousand songs (but just the best bits) in one hour, and picking it apart is maybe a game you could play on the island. Introduce shots of salvaged alcohol to make it more fun. On the second it’s kind of successful, but the reason songs generally aren’t entirely hook is because it becomes tedious really quickly. Feed The Animals is all one speed, so it fades into the background after a while and loses some of its impact, but at worst it is incredibly enjoyable background noise.
Fall Out Boy - From Under The Cork Tree
Kanye West - Graduation
The Libertines - The Libertines
Blink 182 - Enema of the State
Initially the self-titled best-of album seemed like a good choice, but with the exception of “Feeling This” it lacks almost all of their best tracks. They’re pretty spread out among Blink’s albums but Enema of the State has an impenetrable middle section with “Going Away To College”, “What’s My Age Again?” “Adam’s Song” and “All the Small Things”. I grew up on the tail-end of Blink 182’s popularity, but then maybe that was good because I was still young enough to think three dudes running through the streets of San Diego was edgy and hilarious. Blink inevitably comes up on the playlist at most of the parties I go to, no matter where; even though we weren’t as old as those dudes when we first heard their music, they shaped our ideas of what it was like to be an 18-24 year old, and now that we’re here there’s a nostalgic ecstasy that comes with revisiting that ideal and comparing it to reality.
It’s worth nothing that when Astral Weeks was recorded, Van Morrison was 23, which is the focal age of both King of the Beach and Enema of the State. Bangs found his empathy in Morrison’s precocious melancholy, and the reason I love these two albums especially is because they’re literal and self-indulgent. They aren’t wise or insightful beyond their years, but they are immediate documents of the feelings that come with being a young twentysomething. For all the posturing about non-conformity and individualism (which, this may not be the case with people you know, but that seems like a really outdated idea for everyone that I know), there’s much more satisfaction in feeling like we’re part of a group. Being distinct is nice, but being understood is even better. It’s possible that this makes them even better desert island albums because of the crushing isolation making it even more necessary to feel like there’s some place on the planet where you really belong. For Lester Bangs, who Astral Weeks is inextricably linked, it was within this album.