Ed Miliband was on Desert Island Discs this week, which prompted the usual deconstruction of his choices as either a) proof he’s boring, b) proof he’s “a normal person”, or c) proof he let advisors choose for him. What’s striking about the show is that for decades, it’s demonstrated that music can reveal something about a person that words alone never can. It’s interesting that you’re allowed one book on the island and eight records. I can’t see the programme working if the numbers were reversed. Even the very best of other people’s words don’t convey as much about an individual as music does.
So, apropos of Ed choosing his favourites, I thought I’d do mine.
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
As far as I can remember – and I have a terrible memory for occasions, but a decent one for facts – we only had two non-classical cassettes in our house when I was growing up. One was a double of the red and blue Beatles albums and the other was Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was the soundtrack to the car journeys of my childhood and so his songs revive memories of travelling with my family, my dad singing along in an appalling southern drawl. In particular I think of trips to see my grandma in Eastbourne and so alongside that peculiar sea air and old people, this song reminds me of my intermittently dysfunctional extended family on my father’s side.
Common People – Pulp
Oh my God, I love this song! I love the way it slowly builds to a crescendo of resentment and pride. A poetic “fuck you” to the classes who were born to rule, but turned out to be so hopeless at it. It’s quite old now, but never sounded fresher or more relevant. The angry socialist in me hears it as an anthem, ignoring the irony of how I would struggle to make a case for being genuinely “common”. At least I choose it with more self-awareness than David Cameron when he declared “Eton Rifles” as one of his favourite songs. I mean, really?
Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Liz. The person who listens, tolerates and supports me, despite it often being a thankless task. The woman who, during my ongoing struggles with the darker side of my mind, never once said “just bloody cheer up”, however tempting that must be. The breadwinner when I chucked in a law career to run my own business and the mother to both our kids – especially when I’m too low to get out of bed. Oh, and the friend who I’ve had the best holidays and the best nights out with. We listened to this right from the start of our relationship and one of our best friends played it on the piano as she walked down the aisle to marry me. We had “God Only Knows” as our first dance, which is also profoundly important, but for us, it’s Jeff’s version of Hallelujah that wins out.
The Drinking Song – Pele (or Amsterdam, as they now known)
I was lucky. I got given my friends early and have stuck with them ever since. By about 15, I’d become close with all of my best friends now, over twenty years later. With a few notable exceptions, it’s been a closed shop. This has the benefit of giving me the ultimate group of people I can utterly rely on, but the drawback of meaning I never really have to make much effort with new people. The boys I went on holiday with when I was 17 were the same people I went to France with this summer, along with our kids. That’s something special and although there are many contenders, nothing quite reflects the bond of friendship like this song. We still enjoy the odd drink together now, believe it or not.
Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters
This is just a guilty pleasure really. It’s got the most brilliant opening guitar riff which I never get tired of. The one thing I’d miss on the island would be the video, which, as you’ll see, is a work of genius.
Built this City – Starship
I don’t think my three year old would forgive me if I didn’t take this. If she was part of the rescue party to the island and I couldn’t play this to her on her arrival, she’d probably turn around and sail home. Especially if I swapped it for Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell”, or “the one that goes on forever”, as she knows it. Iris and I sing this together in the car, and at home, and with her mother and baby sister. It’s probably as close to a family song as we’ve got.
Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits
I’m not sure quite how, but this song is at once a soundtrack to utterly carefree nights after waiting tables in Sydney, a reminder of the follies of early teenage heartache and the reason why my daughter has the middle name she does. If we put aside the eclectic and distant memories stirred by this track for a moment and concentrate on the most recent, then it was one of the first songs playing on Magic FM at 1am just after Stella Juliet was born at the Maidstone Birthing Centre this October. I heard it, got a bit teary and about three days later plucked up the courage to suggest the name to my wife. She went for it.
You get eight choices on Desert Island Discs. I’m going for seven. Just in case I get invited on. I don’t want to completely ruin the surprise, you see.
(The last one would probably be this: http://youtu.be/MYVM9q_rHXQ)