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Saturday, December 2, 2023

A 302-track playlist of Anthony Bourdain’s favourite songs

“You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” – Anthony Bourdain

As a sullen teen who felt he was sheltered from the cutting-edge of culture while living in a stilted New Jersey suburb that his struggling family could ill afford to live in, Anthony Bourdain hungered to get out and devour the feast of the happening world. However, as he hurled himself into the hustling life of heaving kitchens, he did so with a monkey on his back.

In shedding this, he paired his love for dining with a literary outlook, striking gold and a new lease of life with the travelling realisation that the way to grasp the world’s heart is through its stomach. In the process, he became not just a culinary inspiration but such a clear communicator of style that you could even describe music as having a Bourdain quality.

His tour diary was more akin to George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London than some highfalutin fancy guide to caviar coteries. In true counterculture fashion, he shunned elitism and sampled what really made the world tick, even stating the following about death row meals: ”When we ask ourselves and each other the question, what — if strapped to a chair, facing a fatal surge of electricity — would we want as that last taste of life, we seem to crave reminders of simpler, harder times. A crust of bread and butter…poor-people food.”

He lapped up music in a very similar fashion. He got to the heart of how it made societies tick, recognising that a bowl of seafood broth is intrinsically linked to the sound of Buena Vista Social Club or that a baloney sandwich is somehow, in some way, connected to the CBGB boom — it is all part of culture. And as it happens, the culture Bourdain liked is the culture that I liked, the playlist chartering his favoured music makes me feel seen to such an extent that I’m paranoid that he might have hacked my iPod in his time with us.

He had friends in the form of Iggy Pop and even started his culinary journey with a sort of kitchen rock in mind. “[W]e recruited every young, pot-smoking, head-banging hooligan we’d ever worked with, filling their heads with dreams of glory. ‘We’re forming … like … a rock and roll band, man, an all-star group of culinary superstars … kinda like Blind Faith’,” he writes in Kitchen Confidential. His aim was “a faithful re-creation of the kitchens we’d grown up in: insular, chaotic, drenched in drugs and alcohol, and accompanied constantly by loud rock and roll music.”

Thanks to Morgan Neville, the director of the documentary charting Bourdain’s life, Roadrunner, we get an insight into what was playing. The creators rifled through his record collection and notes on music to provide a mammoth playlist of the songs he loved most. And now we are the benefactors of this cracking listen. To hell with all the restaurant recommendations he may have made, this is probably the most delectable treat that the late, great Anthony Bourdain left us: delicious peasant food for the ears.

Anthony Bourdain’s favourite songs:

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