One thing that’s always puzzled me about the question of what one album you’d take if you were plunked down on a desert island is whether or not the island is also deserted. The usual imagery has it that the island is both deserted and Sahara-like — on a smaller scale (a single tree supplies just enough coconut for food). Presumably it’ll be just me there, and it’s a case of colloquial semantics and I’m just a massive snoot for even thinking that I’m going to a heavily populated island made of nothing but sand. Let’s not even get into the questions of electricity — that’s really beside the point, isn’t it? If in fact it is a trick question and it isn’t a deserted desert island, I hope the other inhabitants of these beaches own Bang & Olufson stereos and lots of records by Miles Davis, Squarepusher, Oren Ambarchi, the Mothers of Invention, the Pixies, Boredoms, and Charles Mingus, because none of that is what I plan to bring with me. I love their records too much.
What I plan to bring with me is Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the first record by the Wu-Tang Clan. I think the first thing I realized when I imagined what I might actually want to do with my time on a deserted island, was if what I wanted to do was get really intensely sick of hearing my favorite record over and over. I didn’t want to hate that one record I chose too quickly, so anything by the Beatles was immediately out. I already love the Beatles so much and in so many heavily nuanced and personalized ways that it’d be an awful shame to be forced to learn to ultimately hate the Beatles. To die hating the Beatles because on the 120,002nd time hearing Abbey Road, it was suddenly absolute shit. And I begin using the CD as a plate not an entertainment.
So what I wanted was an album I felt I was still getting used to. An album I was still learning to love. So if you draw the arc of the listening experience, rather than begin the rest of my life on a deserted island already at the peak of respect and love for the record, why not start that on an upward slope, because otherwise, on the plateau, there’s only one way and it’s down. From the day I land on that deserted island, the flow chart of my love and admiration for the Beatles was sure to sink and sink into the abyss and never return.
But the album had to be an album that I could definitely learn to love the way I do the usual most-popular loved-ones like Kind of Blue or Exile on Main Street, or at its most currently still fashion-victimized maybe Oh, Inverted World. And for me Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) has all the signs of becoming one of my all-time favorite records, like it’s number one on the short-list, just as soon as there’s an opening after I get sick of hearing Oh, Inverted World. My point is: do I want to risk the heartbreak of becoming sick with one of my all-time favorite records? Wouldn’t it be better to just get sick of one of the records I think is “pretty awesome”?
And for me, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), is pretty damn awesome record. For anyone familiar with it, just rattling off song titles is enough to get the head a-bobbin’. “Shame on a Nigga”. I don’t think I can even say the title without starting to do a lot of two-finger gun-waving. Remember what it was like to hear Ol’ Dirty Bastard for the first time? As soon as he started to speak, it was like a whole new kind of psychosis had infected hip-hop, a kind of madness it never had before, not even with Schoolly D. Things would be different in rap after Ol’ Dirty Bastard, everyone knew it, soon as you heard that voice you knew it. And wasn’t it true? Aren’t things different? And aren’t they more insane now? Or what about the track “Method Man” and the mister Method Man it introduced? Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was the start of something, and the album deserves for me to study it more closely.
I like it most of all for its beats. I love the beats. In fact, I love beats in general. So I’ve decided that if I’m going to have one record for my time on this deserted island, it should have beats. I should have beats on a deserted island with me, for dancing to, when I’m in the mood. I mean, I’m very partial to a lot of those mid-’70s Brian Eno records, but to live with only that kind of narcoleptic, existentially isolated, and totally beatless music would drive me to tear out my eyes and eat them and then dive off a high cliff into shallow water. After a while, that’s exactly what I’d do. There’s a lot of room for me to grow to love those Eno records more, but only in the context of my other music.
The other thing I was thinking about was lyrics. Most of the music I listen to is instrumental. I actually don’t like listening to people sing. I considered very seriously bringing Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die (it’s got beats, but it’s not even quite my favorite Tortoise record yet, so it scores well) until I realized how horrible and schizophrenic I’d feel to only ever hear my own voice again for the rest of my life. This is assuming the island is outside of all radio signals that any standard receiver you need to hear recorded music by would have. I really think I’d find a lot of solace hearing the voices of others while I’m on this island. Okay, so there’s like a dozen guys in the Wu-Tang. Now there’s island time well spent: trying to place each and every one of their voices to a face. I’m surrounded by witty voices with the Wu on my stereo. Suddenly the population of the island has risen by 12 (or 16… how many guys are in the Wu-Tang exactly?)
The other thing that would keep the album from going stale fast is that hip-hop is not my most favorite genre. I love a hell of a lot of hip-hop music, but truth is, the genre I am most curious to collect is electronic. I like the whole long history of electronic music, while I’m only just half as obsessed with hip-hop, partially for its relationship to electronic, and partially because I’m bored of rock ‘n’ roll. So I feel like I still have more to learn from hip-hop, and the Wu-Tang feels like the guys to do it. I like records by the Leaders of the New School and the Ultramagnetic MC’s, two other groups with lots of members, but I’ve never felt as addicted to their tracks as I have the ones on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Also, I’ve had more time with it than say, Dangermouse and Jemini’s Ghetto Pop Life, and so even though it’s one of the most amazing hip-hop records I’ve heard in a while, I’m not prepared to commit my life to a CD that came out six months ago.
My final reason is that I realized when I sat down to write this that I’ve never opened up the insert booklet for Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). I’m sure I’ve never seen the liner notes, so in case this island fails to be stocked with books, I’ve got something new to read.