15 Albums that Changed My Life

I generally avoid Facebook memes. Yes, I once created a "How Well Do You Know Me?" quiz. I did not post "25 Things You Don't Know About Me" (though I did write it up, because I am a list-geek). Farmville and Top 5 quizzes are bad news. But I saw an interesting "15 Albums that changed my life" list by my friend's older brother whose musical tastes influenced ours during high school. I'm going to blow this idea up into a whole blogpost!

A life-changing album would have to be one with intense personal significance, that was a soundtrack for my life for an extended period, has songs I can still lipsynch to this day, is something I would still want to listen to and sometimes do, and comes with stories that help explain who I am and how I got that way. I notice that as I get older, albums are less likely to "change my life." The most recent album on my list came out back in 2001. I've just stopped going through album-length phases. If I love new music, I love one song at a time. Probably the Internet is to blame, since these days I mostly survive on promotional mp3s. The album as an organized and cohesive art form is lost to me... and probably to many others. Even when I do buy one, I am prone to hit "Forward" on the ipod at a moment's notice. I can't just LET THE MUSIC PLAY.

Here's my list. It's roughly chronological in order of obsession.

1. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles. My parents had this on vinyl back when vinyl was the only viable listening choice. I was raised mainly on classical music with a smattering of folk, so Sergeant Pepper's blew my mind. Once I figured out how to play records, I would put this on and lie under the coffee table with the sleeve and liner. I liked to read the lyrics whilst they were sung (sorry Jarvis Cocker) and stare at George Harrison in the gatefold. He was TOTALLY DREAMY. (Wow, I looked up "gatefold" on Wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly, and the demo photo is of the exact picture I'm describing. Freaky.)

2. Thriller: Michael Jackson. Incredible in so many ways.

3. Like a Virgin: Madonna. I was not the girl in our school who actually dressed up like Madonna every day (black lace, mini skirts, multiple necklaces, frosted hair with bows). But as your average American girl in the early 80s, I was caught up in Madonna's vast charisma. Like a Virgin is not just an album, it's a madeleine of happy 80s memories. It reminds me of running away to New York City and getting a modeling contract, chewing gum in a sassy manner, partying at art-dance clubs, sleeping on the floor in an alphabet city squat, and generally living like a Tama Janowitz character as much as possible. (I never did any of these things, except maybe the gum, but Madonna transports me there anyway.)

4. Big Lizard in My Backyard: The Dead Milkmen. OMG! In early high school, my friend decided to get "into" punk rock, which doesn't seem very punk rock in retrospect. I think she liked a guy who liked that music, so she decided she'd like it too. She bought Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and DRI and the Forgotten Rebels and spiked her hair and wrote things on her jeans jacket in black marker. She also, possibly by mistake, bought the Dead Milkmen. I took to it right away--fast, irreverent, and so so funny.

5. The Lion and the Cobra: Sinéad O'Connor. Sinéad is like the anti-Madonna. Super real, gritty, raw, bald. I remember the day Nancy, still one of my best friends, played me this record after school and told me about Sinéad. We memorized her weird yelps and warbles and Gaelic raving. This was about when high school got a bit more bearable; I stopped worrying so much about fitting in and started enjoying being an individual.

6. Horse Rotorvator: Coil. Mmm, industrial. It makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. Dark and gorgeous and gross and morbid, it's actually a great pick-me-up if you're in a bad mood or if the weather is getting grey or the days growing darker... like now. This album was very helpful when depressing things were happening in my life.

7. Appetite for Destruction: Guns 'n' Roses. I think this is the first on the list that was my very own commerical album--not someone else's or a tape-of-a-tape. I went to Buzzo's and bought this with my own money (on tape, of course) and I'm still listening to it. Basically any taste I have for cigarettes or Jack Daniel's or tailgating or monster stadium tours can probably in some way be related to this album.

8. I Just Can't Stop It: The English Beat. What a relief to discover ska. Thank you, college!

9. Fishbone EP: Fishbone. Is it cheating to list an EP? This album or whatever is just so vivacious and fun and noisy. I think with the possible exception of #12, the English Beat/Fishbone tape has gotten the most play of anything in my life. (I had #8 and #9 back-to-back on the same yellow cassette.)

10. London Calling: The Clash. In first year university, the guy across the hall came into our room, put this on the tape player, lay on my roommate's empty bed, and sang every song to himself. I fell in love with it (not him). This is just pure goodness.

11. Red, Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter. It must be cheating to have a various artists collection on my list, but here it is anyway. Like Sergeant Pepper's was my introduction to pop/rock sounds, this Cole Porter collection by pop artists was my entree to music that swings. You know how in High Fidelity the narrator claims he can explain how he got from Deep Purple to Howling Wolf in 7 records (or something like that)? Well Red Hot & Blue led me to Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Fred Astaire, Benny Goodman, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Shirley Horne, Dinah Washington, Bobby Short, Hadda Brooks, etc. etc.. Basically it showed me that music I thought was stuffy, unbearable and "for old people," was actually really, really cool.

12. Paul's Boutique: Beastie Boys. I discovered this late, after believing all the crappy reviews when it first came out. But they couldn't keep me away for long because I LOVE THE BEASTIE BOYS. This album is an amazing piece of work and endlessly entertaining. I am still figuring out some of the samples they put on there. A true desert island disc.

13. Blood Sugar Sex Magick: Red Hot Chili Peppers. My deep onetime love of the Chili Peppers now seems fairly uncool. But I did so love this and also the albums that came before it. (The ones that came after it? No way.) When musical attention was largely focused on the grunge coming out of the American Northwest, I was turning to Southern California and the Chili Peppers. I drew their eight-armed asterisk logo on my wrist all the time in some kind of fake tattoo solidarity.

14. Elastica: Elastica. In the mid-90s there seemed to be a bit of concern over whether it was OK to like "Britpop." I'm not sure if it was the Brit part or the Pop part, but I did like it. While Blur and Oasis were fine, Elastica, fronted by the well-read Justine Frischmann, was awesome. I had a theory that each song paid individual tribute to a different band or genre... this song is the Cure and this song is Blondie and so forth. I have now forgotten all the brilliant arguments I put together to illustrate that theory.

15. Nightsongs: Stars. Stars gave me hope that lush, romantic, forlorn pop like the Smiths might rise again. As if there was any question about their planned direction, the first Stars song to get much play was their cover of "This Charming Man" (c.f. Little Darla Has a Treat For You, volume 15). I have documented my love of Stars elsewhere, but this album is what cemented it in the first place.

So what about you, care to share? Leave comments or Facebook about it!

The new shape of sourdough

I have been continuing to bake sourdough bread each week since I started my project back in April. I still have 2 starters going--my mom's recipe and the "wild yeast" one. However I've given up depending on the wild yeast to leaven well by itself. I "spike" the wild yeast dough with regular yeast to help it along. I know, it's totally cheating. Also I'm still using the "40-second knead" method that I discovered. It really seems to work and is gentle on my hand bones.

The breads are turning out to be pretty tasty, though not always pretty. We often use them for lunch-time sandwiches, or I'll just eat a hunk with butter or cheese for a snack. But I've still been bothered by the shape of my loaves--or lack of it. That's why, when I recently won a blog contest for a CSN gift certificate, I decided to use it to get some bread-making gear I'd been coveting since the beginning of this project. (Thanks ValleyWriter! I know I was thinking of a pasta maker, but I was so excited to find CSN stocks bannetons!)

Here are the 2 bannetons (or "brotforms," aka bread molds) that I got--one round and one long/oval. My dough is rising in the background.

For my first banneton experiment, I decided to put the entire batch of dough into the long/oval one to see what it would look like. The idea is to dust the banneton with lots of flour, set the dough to rise (seam upright, if you make a seam), then dump it out right-side-up on the baking sheet.

Here's my shaped dough on the baking sheet. The flour in the banneton makes a pretty pattern on the dough.

Then I slashed it with my dedicated box cutter. (Still gotta get one of those fancy bread blades.)

Here's the baked loaf. It was kind of huge, but I really liked the shape! Also see that gigantic wire rack it's resting on? Another purchase with my CSN prize! (It is LOAVELY. <--That was a typo, but I left it.)

Here's the loaf sliced for another view of the shape. Good size for sandwiches.

This is a different batch where I used both bannetons (the long one was not quite as full this time). I also used 2/5 whole wheat flour here, my first use of anything but King Arthur All-Purpose. The whole wheat experiment was OK, but it's not the same moist, sandwich-ready bread that we've gotten used to. I do want to get that fiber in there though. Maybe 1/5 whole wheat next time.

Final note: I just finished Michael Ruhlman's book The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America. I highly recommend it to anyone curious about what it's like to go to cooking school. I went to cooking school myself once, though a shorter program than the Culinary Institute of America's. Anyway, reading about the exacting nature and professionalism of the Culinary's chefs and students reminded me how much of an amateur newbie I am when it comes to bread baking. Trust me, I know this. But I enjoy sharing my little experiments with you anyway. Thanks for reading them!