The week before she died, Chris and I had planned to share our Desert Island Discs with each other. We never got around to it so now I’ll never know which tracks she’d have taken with her as a castaway. Anyway, I decided to choose mine this week and make a playlist.
How does one choose the soundtrack to a life?
Well, after a few false starts, I discovered that it’s obviously not just about selecting your favourite eight “discs.” They would change, probably quite quickly as musical tastes develop and new music appears on the scene. These discs have to be more than that, I decided: they must represent significant phases or experiences in one’s life; important relationships and memories.
So, after much enjoyable deliberation, here, in chronological order, is the list I would present to Kirsty Young and the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs researchers if they ever came knocking on my door.
- Green Onions (Booker T and the MGs)
The first record I ever bought. It’s as good now, 50 years later, as it was then and I still absolutely love it.
- I Get a Kick Out of You (Gary Shearston)
This came out when my first wife Sara was pregnant with our – very much alive and kicking – daughter, Nicky. We were young, naive, and very happy.
- Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)
I remember dancing to this terrific pounding rythym round and round the sitting room with my kids when they were young and bumping bottoms.
- Clay Jug (Jackie Leven)
I met Jackie Leven a couple of times in the 90s when I got involved in menswork. This track includes Robert Bly’s voice. It’s powerful, deep stuff.
- Life, Love and Happiness (Brian Kennedy)
This track was my solace and consolation during the agony of separation and divorce. How do your love yourself when you are hurting others?
- Baby Come Home (John Martyn)
Chris adored John Martyn; we went to see him together once. This wasn’t her favourite track but I would sing it to her anyway: Get your skinny ass home.
- Perpetuum Mobile (Penguin Cafe Orchestra)
Chris and I played this track as we came out of the registry office when we got married. It’s full of hope and possibilities, and reminds me of her unquenchable energy for life.
- Here It Is (Leonard Cohen)
We played this at Chris’s funeral service, as we wrote our goodbyes on her coffin. May everyone live, may everyone die. Hello my love; my love goodbye.
And which disc would you pluck from the waves if you could only save one? Kirsty always asks her guests in conclusion. My answer came quickly: I would plunge into the foam to retrieve… Green Onions. I discovered it when I was about 18 years old and the uncoolest kid in town. I had a beige jumbo cord jacket, Farah slacks, white Poplin shirt, brown knitted tie, and a pair of elasticated tan leather shoes that in hindsight had something orthopedic about them. Sex hadn’t yet been invented.
But discovering Green Onions back then and deciding for myself that it was great music made me feel good, and it still does. With a bit of luck, there’ll be someone around to make sure it’s one of the tunes played at my funeral, or maybe at the wake.
Have you made your Desert Island Discs playlist?
Remember, only eight discs.
Tough choices to make.