At last, we’ve reached the end of the alphabet. A few thank you notes to go, then a bonus round and a final summing up, and I’m free.
Time and a Word
The Yes Album
Fragile (DVD Audio)
Close to the Edge
Tales from Topographic Oceans
Going for the One
Essentially Yes (Five-disc set)
Fly From Here
Heaven and Hell
Yesyears (Four-disc set)
I mean. There are two other bands that have occupied about this much of my shelf space: Genesis and Pink Floyd. But both of those bands were family interests. At the age of ten, I fell hard for Yes, and insisted that we must acquire their complete works. (The only Yes studio album I’ve never owned in a physical format is The Quest, the album they FOR SOME REASON released in 2021, in spite of the recent deaths of two longstanding members and the continuing absence of their founding lead singer.) I think every young music nerd ought to collect the complete works of at least one band. Specifically, I think everybody should collect the works of a band with a huge catalogue and a very patchy success rate. You can learn a lot by listening through the complete works of Bob Dylan, or Aretha Franklin. You can learn the general shape of a creative life, and learn about how small changes of circumstance can result in long phases of brilliance or total catastrophe. Yes was the band that taught me this, and I subconsciously look for the patterns I learned from them in the works of every band, filmmaker and author I become obsessed with. My abiding love for them is situated mainly in their inspired run of six albums from 1971-77. But their role in my life as a music obsessive has just as much to do with uneven-to-bad albums like Tormato, Union and Fly From Here. Precious few bands make up a stronger part of my DNA than Yes.
Measure of gratitude: Beyond words. Thank you.
An underrated album that I listened the hell out of. Thom Yorke is a more consistent solo artist than people give him credit for. Anima was justifiably acclaimed when it came out, but people forget that “Harrowdown Hill” is a banger and this album rocks.
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.
Rust Never Sleeps
Chrome Dreams II
I bought Chrome Dreams II after seeing Neil live in Edmonton. It was the album he was promoting at the time. It’s only okay, but you can forgive me for being convinced on account of that concert being the loudest, noisiest and weirdest show I’ve ever seen in an arena. It’s a rare and wonderful thing for a musician to be equally brilliant at two things. Neil is as good in grungy guitar noise mode as he is in acoustic folk songwriter mode, which is why Rust Never Sleeps is a masterpiece. Decade was my way in. I’ve heard all of the albums that it compiles from at this point, but it’s still a magnificent front-to-back listen. Neil Young rules. I like him better every year.
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you.
We’re Only In It For The Money
The Grand Wazoo
You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1
I’ve mostly lost my taste for Frank Zappa. He’s the smuggest humourist of his generation, and when he’s trying to be funny he often forgets to write jokes. But when he (proverbially) shuts up and plays his guitar, he’s fun. The jazz fusion stuff like The Grand Wazoo is all good, but you couldn’t pay me to listen to We’re Only In It For The Money ever again.
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you.
Something I brought home from work. I’m sure I listened to it exactly once. But Bartók’s Contrasts is a cool piece.
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you.
Big Blues Extravaganza: The Best of Austin City Limits
Martin Scorsese Presents: The Best of the Blues
Delos 40th Anniversary Celebration
We had a surprising and pointless number of various artists blues compilations in our house. At some point it starts to get repetitive. How many separate discs do you need with “One Way Out” by the Allman Brothers Band? But Big Blues Extravaganza is great because it’s all live recordings from the vast archive of Austin City Limits. And the Scorsese set has a sort of conceptual purity to it. I liked these albums. The Delos 40th anniversary thing is something I took home from work and listened to once. It was the first time I’d heard a recording of Clara Rockmore playing the theremin. Aside from that I have no recollection of it.
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you.
BONUS ROUND: MUSIC DVDs
Claudio Abbado: A Portrait
The Beatles: Anthology
The Band: The Last Waltz
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition
Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live, Growing Up Live, Play: The Videos
David Gilmour: In Concert
Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel
Jethro Tull: Nothing Is Easy, Live at Madison Square Garden 1978, Jack in the Green
Led Zeppelin: DVD
Paul McCartney: Live at the Cavern Club, Back in the US, The McCartney Years
Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, PULSE
Rush: Rush in Rio, R30
Bruce Springsteen: Live in Barcelona
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live at the El Mocambo
Rick Wakeman: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Roger Waters: In the Flesh
Yes: Keys to Ascension, Symphonic Live, Yes Acoustic, Yesspeak
As a kid, I’d listen to CDs on my own, through headphones. CDs were a thing that helped me connect with myself. But this collection of concert DVDs, mainly featuring artists that the whole household agreed on, was a family experience. That makes them complicated. They are also of wildly divergent quality: the early DVD era was a gold rush for makers of indifferent concert films. Precious little here equals the cinematic value of The Last Waltz, even when the concerts documented are magnificent. The highlights for me are the Peter Gabriel discs, directed by the likes of François Girard and Super Bowl halftime show veteran Hamish Hamilton, from stage productions by Robert Lepage. Aside from those, the most valuable discs here are the ones that document, however artlessly, performances by artists in their long-ago prime: Jethro Tull and Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, Pink Floyd playing to an audience of ghosts at Pompeii. (This last one is actually a Great Film.) Some of these films feel cheap and expendable. The sort of thing I wouldn’t log on Letterboxd. But many of them document crucial moments in music history. Many are thrilling. Many of them I would forget I ever owned, if not for writing this now.
Measure of gratitude: Profoundly variable. Thank you.
And that’s it. Everybody got thanked, everybody’s off to a new home. Well, almost everybody. There are a few stragglers: the Surviving Survivors. Here are the CDs that I decided to keep. These are recordings that either have specific personal value, or that I’m not likely to find in any digital format. They take up three and a half inches of shelf space:
- Howard Bashaw: Hard Rubber, Hard Elastic
- Adrian Belew: Side Four (autographed)
- Vicky Chow: Piano Counterpoint (Steve Reich, bootleg)
- Tyler Collins: Fall (autographed)
- Glenn Gould: The Radio Artist
- Marty Sammon: Hound Dog Barkin’ (autographed)
- William Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part One (Arkangel Shakespeare)
- The Syrup Trap: Christmas Happens Every Year
I’ve also kept my Beatles Anthology DVD set, and three cassettes: an 80s Bowie compilation, From Genesis to Revelation, and something called Eagle Ridin’ Papas that I’ve never heard but find very funny.
For better or worse, these physical objects have shaped my life. I mentioned at the start of this project that I’ve become an avid collector of vinyl records. This is partially because I love the sound of a good record. But I think it’s also partially because I have become accustomed to the physical presence of music in my home. I have complicated feelings about streaming. On the one hand, it’s straightforwardly terrible for artists. On the other, I fully believe that having access to virtually the whole of recorded music history at a moment’s notice is the best thing that’s ever happened for music obsessives. There’s no implicit value in physical media, save for a difference in audio quality that probably doesn’t matter that much. But having a music collection does change the way you think about music. It encourages you to think about what’s most important to you, and it helps to define one’s sense of self. The Survivors, and their unlucky predecessors, helped me to shape myself while I could still be shaped.
Farewell, and thank you.