The Desert Island Disc Proposition

When I was in high school, musical tastes and fandom were tribal. My small group of friends cross-pollinated our tastes and albums and concert going experiences. Sure, we were individuals deep down, holding our own separate passions closer to the vest when the group itself didn't truly take a shine to a particular group or artist (I remember one of my best friends was truly crazy about Kiss, but also the Raspberries, neither of which disparate groups took hold with our overall party). But collectively, we shared favorites- Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Who, The Stones, Peter Frampton (He came alive!). Anyone who grew up in the 70s knows it was a golden age of rock music and if you were fortunate enough to have a tape deck hooked into your stereo system (with the big, yard-high speakers, I miss those), got many a free copy of their friends' best albums. For most of my young adult life I'm pretty sure that the majority of my cassette collection was recordings of borrowed vinyl.

In the pre-internet years, musical learning for me was occurring primarily from the small number of commercial radio stations available in central Mass. (including AM radio) and, of course, word of mouth, most especially from friends and older siblings, even parents. Today, in the internet era, the breadth of quality music available to us all is astounding- the challenge to keep up with all the acts worth keeping up with, a daunting one; even more so than it has always been.

A couple of weeks ago I launched an in-house survey in our two stores of musical “Desert Island Disc” selections. If you've never heard of this proposition, it's a reference to a hypothetical scenario in which an individual is stuck on a desert island and can only have a select number of albums to listen to for the rest of their days. In our case, we chose 5 and thus set participating staffers off on an internal search for the 5 most indispensable albums in their lifelong music collection, favorites that never get old to the ear despite years of listening. Suffice it to say, this has been a painful labor of love for those who participated. It's a hard thing to decide the top 5 of anything that means a lot to our spiritual lives.

Just in case there is any confusion as to why we at Northshire Bookstore would be conducting an internal survey about music, well, first of all, we do sell it still! But beyond that, as purveyors of culture, knowledge and spiritual sustenance, we do, with no known exceptions, all tend to be spirited lovers of ALL forms of the arts: books, music, movies, visual art. If I was not sure of this before, the tortured responses I got from my coworkers regarding the painful challenge of limiting themselves to only five albums on their hypothetical desert island reaffirmed for me how strongly and personally their music is felt among them.

What we found in this process overall, given the variety in our collective backgrounds, ages, geographical histories and, of course, tastes, was an enormous diversity of musical styles and tastes, many of our coworkers treasuring albums and artists that many of us have never even heard of. Despite the many, many differences in our selections, though, of the 18 people who participated in the Manchester store and 13 in Saratoga Springs, we did occasionally happen across common ground, though not always where and who one might have imagined.

A list of picks in common

  • The Doors- The Doors. 3 votes takes it in this election!
  • Beatles- Abbey Road (2)
  • Bad Company- Bad Company (2)
  • Beyonce- Lemonade (2)
  • Paul Simon- Graceland (2)
  • Van Morrison- Astral Weeks (2)
  • REM- Automatic for the People (2)
  • Santana- Abraxas (2)
  • Velvet Underground & Nico- Velvet Underground (2)

There were also some picks in common where there was commonality regarding the artist, but not just the album. Not surprisingly for many of us, The Beatles were the most frequently represented with 6 varying picks. Other popular artists included Pink Floyd, Eminem, Queen and Bob Dylan.

But, perhaps, more interesting to me is the picks that are not in common with anyone else. It makes me curious, it makes me want to explore some new music! And that's mostly what this exercise ends up being about. Embracing the diversity in each other. It can be challenging, for sure. Some of our peers' picks may make us quietly say, “Oooh, really?”, but as in all things, when it comes to being confronted by differences of any variety, we appeal to our better selves and ultimately find a way to embrace them all and become the better for it.

- Jon Fine