John Donne once wrote “No man is an island.” While I don’t doubt that Donne wrote this, I doubt he was ever stranded on an island. Sadly, I haven’t been stranded on an island either–unless you count my time at the Honolulu Marriott. But just because I lack experience in the Castaway-department doesn’t mean I lack basic island survival skills. I have read Lord of the Flies, stand-up paddle-boarded, and even eaten food containing coconut (Massaman Curry and Almond Joys). In short: I would outlive your ass any day, on any archipelago.
When other people talk about islands, they play hypothetical games involving stingy genies or friend-group cannibalism. They are missing the entire point of being marooned: to do it in style. It isn’t IF you survive, it is HOW you survive. And personally, I like to survive with a soundtrack. Bashing your best friend’s skull in with a rock is a lot more satisfying when accompanied by swelling violins or a wailing guitar. So here are my Top 3 Albums for when you are stranded on an island.
On the Beach by Neil Young: The title track is perfect for that initial landing, when you and five elderly cruise ship patrons come floating to shore on a half-deflated life raft, your best friend’s bloody body draped over the side. Neil’s detuned guitar solo kicks in, and you’re unloading the last of your meager provisions: moldy biscuits and rotten kelp. On the mid-tempo rag-romp “Revolution Blues,” Neil sings “We’ve got twenty-five rifles just to keep the population down.” Upon hearing this, you immediately wish that you had at least one of those rifles, so you could shoot the two khaki-wearing grandpas for their pelts. “Vampire Blues” expands on this cannibalism motif, giving you artistic licence to suck the old timer’s blood and combat your growing iron deficiency. And when your chapped lips crave the taste of fresh water, the classic track “See the Sky About to Rain” is almost a sufficient replacement (except when heat stroke sets in). Neil and his stoned-out studio band played the LP’s second side at a whining, inching along tempo, which lulls you to sleep as you watch the moonlit waves. The closer “Ambulance Blues” is a well-timed reminder about the lack of professional medical services on the island.
Teflon Don by Rick Ross: Wilson be damned; the best way to stave off your growing sense of isolation is by listening to abundance of features on this album. How can you be lonely when you’ve got Kanye, Ne-Yo, Jay-Z, and Gucci Mane spitting twisted bars all over Rick Ross’s magnum opus? Ross confirms his status as the King of modern rap with his boasting delivery on “No. 1,” a song that should be played every time you slay a wild boar. Lyrically, “Live Fast, Die Young” is an unapologetic indictment of the bling-bling lifestyle, packed full of stunners like “fuck life insurance, I live for the moment.” This line also prompts you to simply exist on the island, and forget about the fact that you are leaving an avalanche of credit card debt to your family back home, who presume you are dead. “Free Mason” is a track best saved for when your friend Mason gets taken prisoner by the island natives for shitting on their sacred stone obelisk. Your dramatic rescue of Mason–who is tied to a spit and about to be roasted over a bonfire–will be better if you shout along when Ross raps, “Free Mason! Freelancer! Free Agents! We Faster!” If you’re looking for some mad flow that isn’t tidal, this album is for you.
Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones: The title says it all. When your fiancée takes a stick to the neck, you let it bleed. When your firstborn son trips and cracks his head open on a coconut shell, you let it bleed. When the loyal labrador retriever who led you away from the cruise ship’s burning boiler room and into the life raft gets his paw cut on a seashell, you let it bleed. Because you can always use more food, and roasting dog haunches on a piece of bamboo is not the same without the howling harmonica of “Midnight Rambler.” The legendary opener “Gimme Shelter” blares while you collect large branches and palm fronds, arranging them into your very own hut. A week later, after the storm has deprived you of any sense of humanity, you crawl out of the leveled hut, gnashing your teeth at a wild boar as Mick Jagger sings “I’m a Monkeyyyyy-uhhh.” Rock and roll has never been so lowdown and dirty. And after you get trampled to death by the wild boar, the album’s bittersweet closer tells the navy midshipman who discovered your dead body about that universal truth: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
About the Author: Marmaduke Grylls has been a contributor to the Spark for 15 minutes. He hails from Wrexham, Wales where 19 years ago he began his lifelong love affair with survival. An avid basejumper, highliner, bodysurfer, extreme snow-tuber, snow-polo player, Finnish baseball player, and organic gardener, Marmaduke received knighthood last year for spearheading the Prince William bathtub rescue mission (he recommends Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub” if you find yourself in a similar situation). Marmaduke writes extensively about survival and music in his blog “Giardia and Guitar Pop: The Soundscape of Shit.” His father is famous adventurer Bear Grylls, but Marmaduke resents the hell out of him. His memoir about 80s Arena Rock and fire-building is forthcoming from Doubleday with the tentative title “Eye of the Fire: A Childhood of Kindling and Mullet Music.”