There's a song by the band the Hold Steady that contains the lyric, "Certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls."
And it's true: music has a way of becoming part of who we are. It's not because it's technically the best or the most important music, either; it's often just the stuff that hits us at precisely the right moment in our lives.
The same can be said for certain books and certain movies, too.
So we asked each member of our team to tell us about the music, literature and film they've found themselves returning to most often throughout their lives.
Their desert-island collection, if you will.
Walker Loetcher, Editor in Chief
Album: HAARP by Muse
Every music junkie can tell you about the period their life when they “started listening to better music.” For me it was the summers of 2007 and 2008, when [redacted; he's a lawyer now] and I would smoke copious amounts of marijuana and then drive around swapping new music for two hours. Muse was on heavy rotation, and while I would never credit them as being one of the better bands I listen to, they certainly helped lead me to those bands. For me, their seminal achievement will always be this 70-minute live album, which they recorded in front of a staggering 180,000 people at a newly reopened Wembley Stadium in 2006. Frontman Matt Bellamy is at his histrionic best throughout, from the snarling vocal breakdown on opener “Knights of Cydonia” to a pyrotechnic guitar solo on fan-favorite “New Born.”
Movie: Boogie Nights
The biblical story of the Prodigal Son retold as a Golden-Age porn epic in 1970s L.A. It's at turns hilarious, heartfelt and tragic, and culminates in one of the greatest closing-scene reveals in film history. Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of ratcheting up tension, and the scene where Dirk, Reed and Todd Parker get caught up in a bad drug deal at Rahad Jackson's place is wound up so tight it gives me goosebumps just to write this sentence.
Book: Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
It has become so fashionable to discredit, parody and renounce David Foster Wallace in recent years that I almost decided against this entry, mostly for fear that I was outing myself as exactly the kind of privileged white cis male reader that is so often pilloried in those critiques. Then I remembered just how much fun it is to read David Foster Wallace. It's like watching LeBron James play basketball or Prince shred guitar: yes, he is showing off, sometimes gratuitously so, but that is the f*cking point. The f*cking point is for you to stand there and shake your head in disbelief and say things like, "Holy sh*t, how did he do that?" And Oblivion, his final collection of short fiction, is DFW at his most gymnastic, pulling out every trick in the literary toolbox to surprise, confound and delight his reader, and I could read it 100 times and still be left wondering just how the hell he managed to pull it off.
Mike Conklin, Executive Editor
Album: If You're Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian
Thanks in part to Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity — which I also could have chosen as my movie, despite recent critical readings of it pointing out that Rob was kind of a dick — famously referring to Belle and Sebastian as “sad bastard music,” they’ve earned a reputation for being exclusively depressing, which is totally not the case. They’re also slyly hilarious and, if you pay attention, even optimistic. They also know their way around a melody like it’s nobody’s business.
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
I probably feel more of a personal connection to Rushmore, given that I was born not into a dysfunctional family of geniuses who put tons of pressure on me but to a regular middle-class one that was happy to let me go down whatever path I chose. And make no mistake about it: I have watched it more times than I can count. But, man, there are times when I no-joke find myself wishing my surroundings looked more like the set of The Royal Tenenbaums, the most Wes Anderson-ish of all the Wes Anderson movies. All those pinks, reds and browns, the rich textures of the clothes, and the intricate details of the old-timey New York architecture. Oh, and all the failure and deep, deep sadness! And, fine, a little bit of redemption, too.
Book: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
So, yes, you could make the argument that my album choice is the music version of my film choice and vice versa — and you could probably go ahead and toss my book selection into that equation as well. When we first meet Franny — for my money, Salinger’s most interesting character — she’s making herself sick over the sneaking suspicion she’s got that her life is on a pointless track, and by the end, she’s been talked down by her loving brother, Zooey. It’s a scathing takedown of academic life (and maybe capitalism and other empty, soul-sucking parts of modern life), but it’s also a beautiful portrait of a loving family.
Kirk Miller, Managing Editor
Album: Since I Left You by The Avalanches
The Aussie electronic group used thousands of samples to build their debut album — it's a fun, weird, psychedelic dance record that continues to surprise nearly two decades after its release. It's so revelatory with each listen that I actually didn't mind that it took 15 years to make a follow-up record (that was almost as good).
To be fair, this pick should really be the box set of all the Alien flicks, including the underrated third and fourth entries, the not-so-bad first Alien vs. Predator entry and even the intolerable trifecta of AvP 2, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Anyway ... while the first Alien was a perfect horror film, the James Cameron follow-up kept the chills but brilliantly added the tropes of a great war film while making pointed statements on both motherhood and gender roles (the most useful "man" was a robot, the hero was a woman and the most sympathetic character was an orphaned girl). Also: Bill Paxton. Game over, man.
Book: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace's Pynchon-esque epic seemed like the Internet before the Internet was really a thing — it effortlessly mixed genres and storylines, featured hundreds of pages of footnotes that read like the world's greatest Wikipedia binge and loosely revolved around a piece of entertainment so enticing it caused people to lose interest in the outside world and eventually die.
Alex Lauer, Senior Editor
Album: This Is Benny Goodman Vol. 2
Save a screenshot of this album in your phone, then pick it up for a couple bucks the next time you’re in your local record store. It’s not my favorite, per se, as much as the movie and book choices, but this particular King of Swing compilation is my default album (double, actually) for any occasion — date night, entertaining or just doing the dishes. Unfortunately it’s not on Spotify, so The Essential Benny Goodman from 2007 will have to do. It starts with the essential “Let’s Dance” and includes “Goody-Goody,” but it’s unfortunately missing, “I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby.” Nothing but classics.
Movie: The Phantom of the Opera
Pre-2004 Alex didn’t give a second thought to musical theater. Post-2004 Alex is a musical evangelist. It’s all because of this. I’ve seen Phantom four times on Broadway, but none of those performances matched the rush I felt the first time I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s work performed by Emmy Rossum (did you know she joined the Met Opera at age seven?), Patrick Wilson (he’s in Aquaman now!) and Gerard Butler (three years before 300!). I challenge you: put your phone away, have a drink, then watch this by yourself on the biggest screen you have. If you don’t get chills at least once, I’ll lay down my MacBook and walk away.
Book: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I keep coming back to Tartt’s masterpiece (yes, this one’s better than her Pulitzer winner) because, at the most basic level, I somehow feel everything I need to know about life can be found in its pages. The main characters — a small group of simultaneously gifted and melodramatic Ancient Greek scholars at a liberal arts college in Vermont — wrestle with ethics and morality and meaning on a level that’s irresistible to those of us slogging through 9-to-5, and it’s all set within an equally thrilling murder mystery-esque plot. Not convinced? Tartt began writing this in college, where she attended alongside another writer working on his debut novel: Less Than Zero.
Tanner Garrity, Associate Editor
Album: Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
Senior year of high school, I got to choose a solo for my last concert. I played the alto saxophone, and was basically terrible, but it was a loyalty thank you from my band teacher. I distinctly remember trying to pick the most crowd-inclusive songs I knew — to make up for four years of us sending parents to Snoozeville, USA — and sourced some sheet music that mixed Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Proud to say I pulled off the solo, and the crowd loved it. How could they not? Songs is a 17-song Holy Grail of R&B/pop, with rhythms to satisfy carseat tots and parked car lovers alike. It is shower music, it is cooking music, it invites off-pitch crooning and crazy-leg dancing, and as happy music won’t go out of style anytime soon, it is here to stay.
Movie: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Oh, c’mon. The two best action stars of all time are father and son?! And they’re going to defeat the Nazis while completing antiquity’s greatest quest?! We didn’t deserve this one. Top-five film ending ever, too.
Book: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More
Was vacillating on Dahl deep-cuts here, and also considered Danny, the Champion of the World, a novel about a dad and son’s massive heist from a local baron’s pheasant farm. I’m going with Henry Sugar, though, the writer’s lesser-known novella/short story collection. Dahl is one of the funniest children’s storytellers of all time, and endlessly re-readable, which is probably why he’s hopped generations with ease. Instead of relying on jokes and lessons (which grow tired, or belong to an era), his books focus on character and behavior. The stories here run the gamut: a pickpocketing, self-dubbed “fingersmith,” a spoiled British brat who tries to cheat poker via Hindu mysticism, a boy who talks with animals … I’ll be reading these tales to my kids one day, and a couple more times once I grow old, just for good measure.
Logan Mahan, Editorial Intern
Album: Red by Taylor Swift
Yeah yeah, whatever, say anything you want about Taylor Swift — I’ve heard it, she’s heard it, we don’t care. While so much of her music has had an impact on my life, her Red album is, in my opinion, lyrically her best. Swift has the power to dig into feelings I didn’t even know I had, and rarely can I listen to that album in public. Track #5, "All Too Well" (arguably her best song ever), is almost emotionally draining to listen to — but ever so cathartic to scream-sing.
Movie: Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s story of teenage journalist William Miller touring with the fictitious rock band Stillwater trying to get his Rolling Stones cover story set in the early 70s inspired my aspirations to be a journalist — or as Jason Lee says in the film, “the enemy.” I’ll never get tired of watching the entire tour bus sing Elton John’s "Tiny Dancer" or Russel (Billy Crudup) scream “I’m a Golden God” as he’s about to jump from the roof into a swimming pool. But mainly I rewatch for Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane and her iconic '70s attire.
Book: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
The only book series I have read multiple times is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a young adult fantasy series about Greek gods, monsters, and demigods; I devoured in the sixth grade. I would even make excuses as to why I couldn’t hang out with my friends, so I could spend the day reading. Now the book spines are cracked, pages are falling out, and the target readership isn’t for me anymore, but I still go back to them from time to time. There’s comfort in knowing the characters and stories you fell in love with as a kid are still there, unchanged, even if you have.
Eli London, Director of Parterniships and User Acquisition
Album: Discovery by Daft Punk
I find that much of music taste is so tightly tied to developmental times in my life, and this one is no exception. Daft Punk was really my first foray into anything other than hip-hop in my early college years, and it will forever hold a place in my brain for that. Aside from the nostalgia, very few albums are able to encompass such a broad range of music — everything from party-starters to lonely love ballads — and I'll surely want that if this is the only album I can ever listen to.
Movie: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Every time I watch this film, I find myself laughing at a new part that I've completely forgotten about. It's so artfully written and spares no detail, many of the aside comments are the funniest parts because even the minor characters have been so well developed that it makes me laugh that what they just said is "so them." And don't get me started on the powerhouse cast including Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Russell Brand and most importantly Mila Kunis, who I fall madly in love with every single time I watch this movie.
Book: Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
This is one of the few books in recent memory I've felt the need to re-read, so I'm putting it on here. At second read it was a different experience than the first (but not any less good), which is really what you want when rereading something. Ben Lerner expertly tells a semi-autobiographical tale of loneliness, romance, neurosis and self doubt, all while living abroad in Madrid. It's funny to boot.
Danny Agnew, Creative Director
Album: Appetite For Destruction by Guns N' Roses
In the Age of the Spotify Playlist, it's very telling that I'm still knocking out AFD start to finish as often as I am — and I believe you can chalk this up to three key factors:
1. It was the first tape I ever bought for myself, and thus will always hold a very special nostalgic place in my headbanger's heart.
2. It clocks in at just under 54 remarkably consistent minutes that not only kick ass, but require no skippage whatsoever.
3. Those 54 minutes begin with the most deservedly iconic facemelting opener in the history of rock — the first 40 seconds of "Welcome to the Jungle" are like a goddamn heavy metal rocket taking off and I could (and maybe ultimately will) listen to them 10,000 times without it ever getting old.
Movie: Point Break
Let me put it this way: if I'm sitting on my couch and this epic tale of a young FBI agent's journey of self discovery (led by the very surf svengali bank robber he is pursuing) comes on the TV, and then, a moment later, said couch catches on fire, I've got a very serious choice to make.
Book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My dog-eared copy of Heller's absurdist masterwork is the only physical book I travel with anymore, as somehow finding a new train carriage/bar/beach to read it in/on feels like the ideal combination of discovery and familiarity. Not to mention the fact that laughing out loud while reading more often than not elicits queries from neighbors, which more often than not leads to spirited conversation, which more often than not leads to new friends. Hooray, friendship!