The Survivors: Part Thirteen

Talking Heads
Remain in Light

Along with Another Green World, this is one of the albums that’s grown on me most. Brian Eno and David Byrne work famously well together, and both of them are people who seemed fascinatingly chilly to me at first, artists who deliberately keep the audience at arm’s length. Maybe I’ve gotten stranger with time, because now I find them both completely relatable. Byrne in particular is simultaneously affectless and genuine, pointy-headed and warm, and I can’t explain why I find this so poignant. But the moment in “Once in a Lifetime” where he starts repeating “time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us” hits me a little harder every year. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

The Tangent
A Place in the Queue

This is the archetypal example of the kind of modern prog that I liked for a hot second in high school: openly nostalgic, self-referential, technically outstanding, utterly isolated from everything else happening in the world of music. Nowadays I try to maintain my opinion that it’s legitimate, out of a sense of generosity. But the spirit of the 1970s prog it emulates—the striving, the invention, the sense of playing without explicit models, without a net—is all absent here. That cannot be replicated. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphonies Nos. 4-6 (Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan) 

I don’t know why I defaulted to Karajan recordings of all these classic symphonies back in my undergraduate days. I guess I trusted the internet too much. These are perfectly fine recordings of three symphonies I’ve come to like more in other performances. Tchaikovsky isn’t one of my favourite composers. The famous ballet scores aren’t for me. But these symphonies, and especially the sixth, are highlights of the nineteenth century. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

10,000 Days

I liked but didn’t love Tool in high school. I think if I’d heard Lateralus in addition to this I might have loved them. And now the moment feels like it’s passed: I’m more of a metalhead now than I was then, but my tastes run heavier than this. Alas. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Van Der Graaf Generator
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
Pawn Hearts

Van Der Graaf Generator might be the most embarrassing of the classic prog bands, but for none of the same reasons as the others. Peter Hammill is at his best when he’s at his most grandiose. But some of those ballads, the personal songs, can get awfully mawkish. When this band is at their best, like on most of Pawn Hearts and the entirety of Godbluff, they’re a strange, scrappy and magnificent beast that’s not comparable to anything. At their worst, they produce catastrophes that bring to mind the worst poetry you wrote in high school, back when you wore a fedora. I love them in either case. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

The Best of Vangelis

It might be the most formative CD in the whole collection. I think it found its way to my house by way of the Columbia House record club. The first time I heard it, at the age of six or seven, I was spellbound. It’s how I learned what synthesizers were. From this came Jon and Vangelis, then Rick Wakeman, and inevitably then to Yes, and my whole young adult taste profile. Not all of it holds up nowadays, but all of it is important to me because it’s the root of everything I thought about during my most formative years. 
Measure of gratitude: Astronomical. Thank you. 

Edgard Varèse
The Complete Works (Riccardo Chailly, Concertgebouw)

I bought this because I knew Frank Zappa loved Varèse, but he didn’t have access to these magnificent recordings by Chailly and the Concertgebouw. One of Chailly’s best attributes is his ability to bring out the warmth and expressiveness in ostensibly alienating music (see also: Schoenberg and Webern). I haven’t heard this in years, but if they ever press it to vinyl it’s a day one purchase, because it’s the exact kind of thing I’ll definitely like better now. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The Sky is Crying
Greatest Hits

I listened the hell out of these two albums, the compilation especially, during my brief teenage blues phase. Nobody plays like Stevie Ray Vaughan. I remember one of the first times I read something about a musician’s playing, listened again, and found it to be true, was when I read one of his bandmates’ remarks in the liner notes to Greatest Hits, saying that he was totally capable of playing rhythm guitar and lead at the same time. That’s the defining element of what he does: it’s like listening to Jimi Hendrix and Nile Rodgers playing together, but it’s just one guy. I parted company with Stevie Ray for many years, but rediscovered him as the lead guitarist on Bowie’s Let’s Dance (speaking of Nile Rodgers). Not a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s own music is as good as the singles on that record, but that’s not the point. The point is to listen to him play. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams
A Pastoral Symphony/Symphony No. 5 (Adrian Boult, New Philharmonia, London Philharmonic)

Vaughan Williams is one of my least favourite composers. “The Lark Ascending” is great, but these two symphonies have exactly one good movement between them (the third movement of the Pastoral). Peter Warlock said Vaughan Williams’ music all sounded like a cow looking over a gate, which is a strong candidate for the greatest line in the history of music criticism. 
Measure of gratitude: Miniscule. Thank you. 

Giuseppe Verdi
Requiem (Carlo Maria Giulini, Berlin Philharmonic, etc.) 

Verdi’s Requiem is the polar opposite of Brahms’ German Requiem. The latter is one of the warmest, most personal things ever written for a large ensemble. It is about mitigating the suffering of those who grieve. Verdi’s Requiem is about the pageantry of death: an epic religious journey in which the dying mortal ceases to be an everyman and becomes a hero on an adventure to another world. It is less dear to me than the Brahms, but no less enjoyable. This recording is an old friend. Nothing like it. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Alan Vizzutti
The Carnival of Venus

This guy is one of the foremost trumpet virtuosos of his generation and I honest to god couldn’t bear to ever listen to any of this shit again. I had his expanded edition of the famous Arban etude book in my trumpet days, and it contained the solo part for “The Carnival of Venus,” his own rendition of Arban’s variations on “The Carnival of Venice.” It is a kind of show-off showpiece that cannot possibly be enjoyable to anybody who doesn’t play the trumpet. I used to do that. Now I don’t. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you.

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