Name Bob Guccione Jr.
Best known for Depends who you ask! My beloved girlfriend thinks I’m a menace. Come to think of it, so did my father, actually. Um, come to think of it… Well, other than that, starting this magazine! And publishing WONDERLUST (wonderlusttravel.com). And generally pissing people off, if I’m being honest.
Current city Milford, PA
Really want to be in Italy. Always Italy. Where I would be careful not to do any more than the average Italian does. To be culturally sensitive, you know?
JOHN MELLENCAMP, PAINTER
Excited about Watching SPIN climb out of its decade long inertia and become kick-ass and meaningful again, in that order.
My current music collection has a lot of World music, classical and jazz, which are the three kinds of music I listen to most. I have no country and almost no rap (except for early PE and Ice T. And the Geto Boys! The Geto Boys record is not for listening to, just an historical artifact. The Smithsonian will come to me one day for that.)
And a little bit of New age and ambient — I love Windham Hill records, and Richard Clayderman. And Steve Reich and Philip Glass and Music for Airports by Brian Eno. I also have the exquisite Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares. The first album is the best. And a lot of African music. Fela, of course, but also King Sunny Ade and Salif Keita, and Angelique Kidjo, hands down the foulest-mouthed person I ever met. I love her.
Don’t judge me for Bette Midler’s first album, The Divine Miss M. I’m not at all embarrassed by that, to be clear. It opens with the breathtaking “Do You Want to Dance?” and follows that with the bouncy pop “Chapel of Love” and then a version of “Superstar” which no-one has ever matched. The hit was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which the Andrews Sisters made a hit — in the immortal words of the Beatles — before your mother was born.
Preferred format Vinyl and reel to reel! Hands down. Reel to Reel is the best sound, but it’s hard to find recordings and the equipment is not exactly ubiquitous. Vinyl has the warmth of the imperceptible ambient sound of where the recording was made — a sound you can’t hear separately but which the performance floats in.
Followed by cassettes. Seriously — cassettes are great, while they last. CDs aren’t bad, one develops an appreciation for them having listened to the aural diarrhea that is, in that context, appropriately called “streaming.” Compressed digital music is like pouring wet shit into your ear. I mean, I imagine it’s like that — I haven’t actually poured wet shit into my ear. But I have listened to streaming and that’s as close as I want to get.
5 Albums I Can’t Live Without
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party
This is a transcendent record. Nusrat was the ultimate Qawwali singer and performer, and this album, produced and played on by guitarist Michael Brook introduced the spellbinding Pakistani spiritual music to the West, on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. The sound, and the instruments that create it, are unique. The chief instrument is the lead singer’s voice, which is hypnotic and induces a religious experience in the fervent listener. That is not, by the way, an exaggeration. The lyrics are part religious texts and part mumbo jumbo, just made up words blended in for overall effect, for the sound and rhythm, not meaning.
Blows Against the Empire
Paul Kantner, Jefferson Starship
This is the first album I ever bought, after my cousin played it to me to an almost brainwashing degree. I was enchanted by it, a sound — hippie space age, quasi-symphonic rock ‘n roll? — and lyrics I had never heard the like of before. The album is based airily on the science fiction of Robert A. Heinlein, conceived by Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner as a side project, hence the spin off name, which the band co-incidentally adopted four years later after some of the original members left. It’s played on by Airplane musicians Grace Slick and Jack Casady, plus other folks who wandered into the studio while the recording was happening, like David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Graham Nash, Mickey Hart, and Quicksilver Messenger’s David Freiberg. (It’s rumored Carlos Santana also played on it but couldn’t be credited due to record company prohibitions. Who knows, who cares?)
It’s a brilliant album! The theme is, basically, steal a starship (they were around, bear with me) and leave Earth, because this planet is fucked, and look for somewhere else to live and start over. Ridiculous, right? Unimportant — the songs are so good, and you can get lost in their hypnotic aural embrace: The percussive, aggressively-lyriced opening track which sets the revolutionary mood, “Mau Mau (Amerikon)”, the sweet fantasy of “The Baby Tree” (yes, exactly what you’re thinking), the ethereal “Sunrise” and the beautiful “Have You Seen The Stars Tonight,” “Home” and “Let’s Go Together.”
Incredibly — to me at least — this album is sometimes referred to as one of the worst albums ever recorded! This is poppy cock. The people who say that are Philistines (and include some Rolling Stone critic — I rest my case). I will say however, that the CD version is not as good as the original recording on vinyl, and I don’t know why. It’s not a sound quality issue, I think there are audio tracks missing from the original performance, perhaps because artist permissions were rescinded. The CD version feels thinner.
Brandenburg Gate: Revisited
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
A pure masterpiece. Jazz played on the same spiritual plane as the greatest classical music. I think it’s nominally intended as a reworking of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, but it stands on its own plinth. The first side is the title track and as a teenage boy I would play that side for months at a time, every day, sometimes through transporting headphones, sometimes just lying on a couch, listening to it coming through the big wooden speakers, filling the room like clouds. I still play it. The second side consists of four perfectly lovely songs, but really nothing could compare to the eternally fresh, dramatic opening side.
London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn. Carl Orff, composer.
There are many recordings of this iconic cantata of medieval poems in Latin set to music, but this is the best one. It is extraordinary, and also the version you’ll know without knowing you know it — “O Fortuna,” the opening (and closing) track is the dramatic, pulsating theme music of the King Arthur movie Excalibur, and about 3,000 TV ads. Other recordings don’t reach the mystical elevation of this one.
It is hard to fathom that this was only Morrison’s second solo album. It’s perfect, from the first gentle guitar strum of the title song to the dying chord of “Slim Slow Slider,” the last track. Throughout, Van’s voice, not just what he’s singing, is poetry. The four middle songs “Cypress Avenue,” “The Way Young Lovers Do,” “Ballerina,” and “Madame George” are unequivocally four of the greatest songs ever recorded. That they are on one album is stupendous, that they are contiguous is like the saloon door in Heaven being left open and for about 27 minutes you heard the angels, off duty, singing together.
Because David Crosby did it, I’m going to, too…
Playing by Heart
Chet Baker, John Barry and Chris Botti
This is really a soundtrack by John Barry, for a long forgotten movie of the same name, and features Botti more than Baker, but it’s Baker’s agonizing trumpet that inflates this gorgeous record and sucks it and us to him, before gently releasing us back into the ordinary world.
Mahler’s Ninth Symphony
One of the most powerful, soaring, purest Classical compositions ever.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Simon and Garfunkel
So full of heartache and hope. Every song is great, but the title track, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” and “The Boxer” are immortal recordings.
Sketches of Spain
The Master’s most masterful record, I think the most sublime jazz record ever made.