The Survivors: Part One

A few years ago I went home to Fort McMurray and came back to Vancouver with many boxes of my old stuff, including a frankly unthinkable number of CDs. From the ages of about 12 to 23 I spent a pretty spectacular amount of my parents’ money on these things, and eventually an almost as spectacular amount of my own. Do I regret this? What would be the point? The truth is, I think I learned an enormous amount from all that dedicated searching and focussed listening. I don’t know if I’d be able to do the work I’ve done over the last few years without that experience. 

But things change, don’t they? I’ve taken up vinyl collecting because I am a complete reprobate, and I have an Apple Music subscription even though I know that streaming services are bad and wrong. These days, the only device I own that can actually play CDs is a MacBook that barely boots up. It feels inappropriate somehow to be surrounded by them. I just did a quick count, counting double albums as two and all the discs in box sets separately, etc. I’m sure I wasn’t completely accurate but I have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 624 discs here, none of which I will ever play again. I’m beginning to feel like it’s time to find these discs a new home. 

In fact, I offloaded perhaps a third of my collection as soon as I got it to Vancouver. The 600-plus discs that remain here are the Survivors. Not all of them survived for the noblest of reasons. I prioritized keeping CDs with potentially useful liner notes or especially beautiful design. I evicted many wonderful albums thanks to bare bones packaging. Now my shelves are lined with strange absences and ghosts. Marvellous recitals by Horowitz and Richter didn’t take their place alongside splashier sets by fellow legends. A tepid Jon Anderson live album was allowed to stay while Olias of Sunhillow was cast out. A previously wide-ranging jazz collection is now somehow missing Louis Armstrong. No amount of pretty album art could keep Dream Theater on my shelves, but their absence is felt nevertheless. 

In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a catalogue of what I had. Now that I’m once again looking to downsize, I feel an obligation to do right by the Survivors. In the spirit of Marie Kondo, I feel I ought to thank these CDs before I bid them farewell. So: in this series I’m going to go through every CD I still own, alphabetically by primary artist,* and take stock of the memory and influence I associate with each. And because I can’t resist the urge to quantify, I’ll offer a “measure of gratitude” for every artist before thanking them and sending them on their way. 

Claudio Abbado 
Vivaldi/Haydn (with Gidon Kremer, Adolph Herseth, etc.)

I’ve filed this under Abbado because of the rules,* but I bought it because of Adoph Herseth. Once upon a time, though few believe it now, I wanted to be a professional trumpet player. ‘Bud’ Herseth was the longtime principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a person I was primed to idolize by every authority figure in my life. The fact remains that no matter how well he plays it, the Haydn trumpet concerto is kind of a boring piece of music. It’s also probably the most revered piece of solo music written for that instrument, which is why I don’t play it anymore. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Allpa Kallpa
Recuerdo a Chico Mendes

Growing up in Fort McMurray, our long weekend getaway of choice was to drive five hours south to Edmonton, the closest proper city. I loved the West Edmonton Mall. Not the stores, mind you, but everything else about it: the kitschy spectacles scattered through the mall’s massive corridors. The pirate ship, the whale, the fire-breathing dragon, the ice rink, the elaborate mini-golf course. And the bands who would occasionally perform by the escalators up to the movie theatre. Allpa Kallpa was one of them, an Andean pan flute ensemble. I harangued my parents to buy their CD and never listened to it. Years later I did. I feel like someday I might decide to explore the music of the Andes further, and when I do it will be because of a hazy memory of Allpa Kallpa at the West Edmonton Mall. It will not be because of this CD specifically. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you.

Maurice André
Trumpet Concertos (with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra)

Adolph Herseth (see Claudio Abbado) may have been my various mentors’ favourite symphonic trumpeter. But as a soloist there was nobody who could beat Maurice André. This recording with the most prestigious conductor/orchestra combo of their day is more entertaining than a whole record of trumpet concertos ought to be because of André’s jolly, seemingly effortless playing. I haven’t listened to it for years but maybe I should. One of the few trumpet recordings I’d recommend to people who don’t play the trumpet. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Ian Anderson
Thick as a Brick 2

Ian Anderson was of course the frontman, singer, songwriter and flautist of Jethro Tull. I have already written, self-indulgently and at length, about what Jethro Tull meant to me growing up. I may have called them “the band that introduced me to myself,” and I deeply regret being the sort of person who would say things like that in a public forum. Nevertheless, here I am again, writing self-indulgently and at length about my music collection. The fact that I have this tendency is probably Jethro Tull’s fault. Self-indulgence and length are two qualities I learned to admire thanks to Jethro Tull, and particularly to Thick as a Brick. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that when we get to letter ‘J.’ But for now the subject at hand is Ian Anderson’s solo album Thick as a Brick 2, about which I have very little to say. It struck me as a cash grab at the time: the sort of thing you release when your best and most popular music is several decades behind you and you need a gimmick to drive some record sales. I haven’t listened to it for nearly a decade, and I’m not as upset about it now as I was then. Still, I remember it as a wilful misunderstanding of what was interesting and great about one of my favourite albums ever.
Measure of gratitude: Negative gratitude. Wish I’d never heard it. Thank you.

Jon Anderson
Live from La La Land

Another day, another solo album by a prog rock frontman called Anderson. The way I feel about this is similar to TAAB2 (see above) in the sense that it is a document of faded glory. Anderson sounds fine on this live recording, but I can’t help associating it with the one time I saw him live. My ex bought the tickets as a gift for my 19th birthday. It was at a casino in Edmonton, which is depressing in itself. Worse, Anderson was ill at the time and had been hospitalized for respiratory problems the previous evening. He could only manage about twenty minutes onstage. Frankly he sounded great, but he was visibly about to fall asleep. Around this time, his old band Yes was touring with the singer from a Yes tribute band in his place. This was around the time I realized that it may have been a mistake to exclusively admire musicians who started their careers twenty to three hundred years before my birth. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

Johann Sebastian Bach
Sacred Masterpieces (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists)
The Art of Fugue/Musical Offering (Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
A State of Wonder (Glenn Gould, complete Goldberg Variations, 1955 and 1981)

The most substantial item in my small Bach collection is the John Eliot Gardiner set, which is a budget-priced 22-disc box. By disc quantity, it’s the largest single item on my shelves. I’ve only listened to most of it once. It was a Christmas gift, and I spent a big chunk of one winter holiday listening through the discs sequentially, like a list of chores. There is music I adore here, like the final chorus of the Christmas Oratorio, the opening chorus of the St. John Passion and the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B Minor. But the cantatas all blend together after a while, no doubt partially because of the insane, dutiful way I first listened to them. I have been on the precipice of loving this music for years, without ever quite getting there. The Bach I love is smaller in scale and more conceptual, like the Musical Offering. I also love the version of Bach that Glenn Gould adopted as a muse. Gould’s Bach, including but not limited to these famous Goldberg Variations recordings, is more exciting to me than anybody else’s. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Syd Barrett
The Madcap Laughs

There are two Syd Barretts floating around the periphery of “classic rock.” One of them is the tragic hero of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here: a distant memory, framed in terms of the success his band achieved after they left him behind. The other is contained on these solo records, where he isn’t merely a legend told by an unreliable narrator but an actual material presence to accept on his own terms. This Syd Barrett is not a tragic figure, though the studio banter on The Madcap Laughs seems like it’s trying to mould him into one. He is a brilliant, intuitive songwriter whose unforced eccentricity unlocked a door that David Bowie and Kate Bush walked through. There’s nothing like this.
Measure of gratitude: Enormous. Thank you. 

Béla Bartók
Concerto for Orchestra/Music for Strings etc. (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Both works on this disc have to contend with the troubling history of my music education, but astonishingly enough I have positive associations with both of them. I learned the first trumpet part of the Concerto for Orchestra for an exam, and the first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was a central plank of one of my music theory courses. The Concerto is great fun to play, so much that I suspect Bartók intentionally wrote it with that in mind. And that opening movement of Music for Strings is modernism at its expressive best: the sort of music that reveals more of itself to adore when you pick it apart. In general I enjoy classical music less than I did when I bought this, but Bartók is one of the few composers that I’ve actually come to enjoy more. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Howard Bashaw
Hard Rubber, Hard Elastic

I performed one of the works on this disc in Edmonton, Music for Trumpet and Piano, with Howard Bashaw’s input. That was actually a pretty great experience. It’s a great piece too, performed on this recording by one of my teachers, Russell Whitehead. It’s far from the best thing on this recording though: that’s Three Movements for the Hard Rubber Orchestra, written for a Vancouver-based ensemble that I’ve heard more from since moving to this city. I listen to that work pretty frequently. Bashaw is a bit of a composer’s composer, but I really think more people ought to give this a shot. It’s heady, but it’s also playful and energetic. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

David Bates
Handel/Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus (with La Nuova Musica, Lucy Crowe)

This is the first of many CDs we’ll come to that I brought home from work when work didn’t need them. It’s a pair of good performances of Baroque works, of which the Vivaldi is especially interesting because it was only recently determined to be by Vivaldi. I really don’t have much more to say about this than that. It’s a “good classical recording,” of which I have many that I don’t especially care about. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds

I’m conscious of the fact that this collection really makes me seem a good 40 years older than I am. I feel like for lots of kids, discovering music is at least partially a way of differentiating themselves from their parents. I wasn’t an especially rebellious child. My musical discoveries were mainly from my parents’ generation, but with the aid of the internet. Pet Sounds was one of the absences from my parents’ collection that I noticed first, and I rectified it myself. Nowadays it’s hard to talk about it without veering into either the breathless boomer enthusiasm for it or the mild exasperation of later cohorts. I tend towards the former. If you can look past the hype and the ambition, you’ll find a warm and generous pop album that ought to be loved more and admired less. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

The Beatles
The Beatles in Mono (13-disc box)
Yellow Submarine
Let It Be
Let It Be (Naked)
Abbey Road
Past Masters

You will have noted some ambivalence in the above remarks on the Beach Boys. I can’t bring myself to feel that same ambivalence towards the Beatles. I adore them unambiguously. They are as suffocatingly acclaimed in their milieu as the next artist on this alphabetical list is in his. (One guess.) But that apparently doesn’t matter to me at all. I love the Beatles so much it ruined my life. When I discovered them at age ten or whatever, they were the only band that meant as much to everybody else as they did to me. A few years back I used to joke that all I wanted was for every single person in the world to love me more than they loved anything else. Happily I’ve gotten over that, but it was the Beatles’ fault. 
Measure of gratitude: Incalculably vast. Thank you.


*This list is alphabetical by “primary artist,” which is defined as the top element on this list that is applicable to the whole disc:

  • Band name
  • Solo artist surname
  • Composer
  • Chamber Ensemble
  • Soloist
  • Conductor
  • Orchestra

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s