Jennifer L. Knox

Full disclosure: despite my seven-year stint as a third-chair clarinetist, my musical vocabulary is limited to simian gestures, deep nods, and stink-face grimaces. No doubt, if I could describe, in proper terms, how music does what it does, I would be a phenomenally wealthy woman.

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Jen Benka

My great-grandmother Phoebe was French-Canadian. My mother, who was named for her, studied in Quebec for a spell, and eventually became a French teacher. She had several albums by Edith Piaf that she acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, and certain Piaf songs—like the plaintiff yet commanding "Mon Dieu" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"— are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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Brian Teare

Before poetry became central to my life, music was everything. From the ages of 13 to 21, I studied the flute, and for about five years during that time I also studied composition. When I wasn't practicing scales or Bach or Mozart, I was poring over scores by Brahms and Ravel or listening to the tapes I made from radio broadcasts of new music. For most of my adolescence, I had almost no time for or interest in pop culture, though friends from high school did introduce me to MTV, to Cyndi Lauper and Erasure, and to what was then called "college" music, bands like They Might Be Giants, 10,000 Maniacs, and Camper Van Beethoven.

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Jason Koo

Interesting how the iPod has made this whole matter of picking desert island discs obsolete. We're so spoiled! If electricity is on the island (via some wire hooked up by Elizabeth Bishop that "limply leashes the whole affair / to something off behind the dunes"), we're not bringing five albums—we're bringing all of them. The iPod has Crusoed the hell out of solitude; it's made it habitable in a way Defoe never could have imagined.

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Alli Warren

I am limiting my list to albums I own (either on vinyl or on CD).

Hank Williams, Sr., 24 Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1977, vinyl

This double LP will remind me, in my lonely island despair, to have a sense of humor about my desperation. And to sing-along.  And to drink whiskey and remember all those times friends gathered and despaired of love, and hard living, together

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Kenneth Goldsmith

1. JOHN CAGE: 4'33" (1952). The classic. In three movements. Premiered by David Tudor on piano, although it sounds pretty good even in transcriptions. Not to be confused with either the showier 0'00" (1962), "to be performed in any way by anyone" "in a situation provided with maximum amplification," or the watered-down Tacet (1960), which "may be performed by (any) instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time." Recommended recordings: Frank Zappa's acoustic rendition on A Chance Operation [Koch 7238], or Lassigue Bendthaus' electronic version on Render [KK Records 115]; the definitive recording of 0'00" is by Peter Pfister [hat ART CD 2-6070]. For real range and lots of artistic license (well, lots of license at least), check out Roel Meelkop's compilation of nine different performances on 45:18 [Korm Plastics 3005].

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Dean Young

In no particular order:

Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes.

I know it's not 1974 anymore so you can't listen to this in Ken's dorm room that had a parachute on the ceiling so it was like getting high in a cloud but this is an absolute hightide of prog-rock, marvelous musicianship, complex arrangements, wild mood swings, plethoras of melodies.


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David Lehman

You ask me to pick five records to take with me to a desert isle. Okay. Here's how I would attack the problem. My analytical intelligence takes over. I make categories and then sub-categories. On the baker's dozen principle, six equals five when that's what the dice show. And then I start making lists!

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Tony Tost

I have just been kidnapped by Harold Bloom. Heavy with wine and ill-intent, Bloom leans into me, touching his blade against my sternum, and mutters, "It's time, kid. You have yet to even find any of the other tests, let alone pass them, but, still, you must now face the severest and most ancient test of any bard—the selection of a canon."

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Dorothea Lasky

It is important to note that all of these albums were made by Geminis (that is if you count Fleetwood Mac as made by Stevie Nicks).  I have a thing for Geminis, especially music made by Geminis.  If my world caves in cause I'm stuck on an island, I'd like a lot of Geminis' sweet wisdom to surround me in sound.

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Joshua Clover

I don't even have a CD player anymore, except for the one incidentally lurking in my desktop; it strikes me that what's perhaps most interesting about music listening these days is the incomplete but irrevocable replacement of the album by the playlist. The album had its rule from about 1963-2001, the Beatles to Britney, the fall of the Wall to the fall of the Towers.

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Mary Jo Bang

Okay, I'm "stranded" on a desert island but what exactly does that mean? I have to have electricity in order to play music, right? Because, yes, my computer has a battery but how long will that last? So either I'm not going to be stranded for long . . . or I have electricity. If I have electricity, how stranded am I? If I'm not going to be stranded for long (an airport layover on my way to a bigger island?) I'd choose one list but if it were going to be a significant portion of forever, I'd choose another. So, I've made two lists. The first for a short stranding, the second for a long.

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Medbh McGuckian

Five albums I would take with me. Where I am already and always have been, on this deserted isle they call "Belfast." My choice right now my kids would rightly deem "sad,"pathetic. The tapes I mostly have no choice but to listen to are theirs, ghetto-blasting from three or four different unenterable bedrooms. Bands like Weezer or The Backstreet Boys, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Jim White, The Stone Temple Pilots, The Goo Goo Dolls. Terrific names.

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Susan Wheeler

Any kid knows that when the genie offers 3 wishes the first wish has to be for every wish you'll ever want (prudent kids wish for every wish where a wish could override a prior wish). So this is what I'm thinking: if I were going to a desert island, I'd finally invest the time to convert some music to mini-cd or mp3 format—and so could, technically, cram a lot more music onto "five recordings." A whale of a lot more. But in the spirit of this exercise, I'll give myself the nominal limit of five sets, altogether less than would fit onto one solid mp3 drive.

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D. A. Powell

I've thought very carefully about what I would need to sustain me on a Desert Island. I ruled out songs that I could—in a pinch—sing myself. After all, if one knows the work by heart, it can be replayed in memory infinitely. And one can even delude oneself into imagining that one sounds like Johnny Mathis or Sarah Vaughn or Julie London.

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Kevin Young

Records to be smuggled in: Sam Cooke's Night Beat, The Harder They Come; anything by Aretha Franklin; James Brown's Star Time; The Clash; Curtis Mayfield Live; Beck's One Foot in the Grave; or Nirvana's Unplugged (or the band's forthcoming greatest hits).

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Brenda Hillman

What kind of desert island? Does it have a mall? The decision about what music I would take to a desert island would depend entirely upon the conditions of that particular week. I would certainly hope to be the weakest link and get voted off. The music I would take this week is not necessarily my all-time favorite music so I'm going to cheat and give a few lists; the first is the CD's I've had in my little black car for more than 6 months, the second is a list of what I'm listening to right now, and a third is a rather hasty assemblage of some of my necessary categories.

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