This week I was asked what my Desert Island Discs would be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t by Kirsty Young.
For the longest time, I have thought about what my eight songs, one book and one luxury item would be if I were cast adrift on a desert island, but until now, nobody had asked me. The conversation was more of a back-and-forth and I can’t promise that if I am ever on the show that the songs would remain the same (I’ve just realised I missed Led Zeppelin out). For now though, these are my Desert Island Discs.
1. Tubby The Tuba – Danny Kaye
When I was a kid, we spent a fair amount of time with my mum’s parents, my grandparents as it were. Understandably, they didn’t have a lot of toys but they did have an old VHS of the 1975 animation, Tubby The Tuba. For those of you who aren’t up on your cartoons about brass instruments, it tells the tale of a tuba who goes on an adventure to find a song of his own. He’s a vicious and podgy little narcissist but aren’t we all at some stage.
We watched Tubby every time we were there. I never really appreciated the brilliance of it at the time. I heard the opening spiel on 6Music recently and it brought all these memories of my grandparents flooding back. This track is the sound of the orchestra gearing up. It reminds me of the opening of Moonrise Kingdom too, which can only ever be a good thing.
2. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? – R.E.M
To this day, my parents swear that we would always listen to Automatic For The People but this is the opening track of Monster and I know what I’m about, son. As kids, we holidayed for two weeks in the south of France every year. Mostly because my dad is scared of flying. There, we would stay in a caravan and try and make friends with French kids, by shouting at them in English.
These holidays involved driving through the whole of France, listening to cassette tapes. I remember The Beautiful South, Joseph & The Technicoloured Dreamcoat soundtrack and R.E.M. As the opening track of the album, it always signaled a change in tone. I was too young to know that R.E.M. were fucking cool but it definitely set a tone for my tastes in music.
Listening to them always invokes these mad stories of our time together as a young family. Accidentally getting an enema from sliding down the flumes over and over again, falling in love with any girl who dared make eye contact with me, my father in drag for some reason, reading Lord Of The Rings, mum flicking butter at our next door neighbours, stealing my brother’s chips until he noticed and cried, watching my other brother get split in two by a bungee trampoline. Ahh, the good old days.
3. With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles
This was the first song I learnt to play on the piano. I had lessons when I was very young, before I really appreciated what my parents were trying to do. I used to visit this old woman in a block of flats for lessons. Her name was Mrs Udaman. She was fascinating and terrifying. She used to give me cherryade and tell me stories about riding on the backs of elephants in Africa.
That aside, she babied both my brother and I in our lessons. It seemed forever before I went from learning Catty, Ducky, Eggy (C, D, E) to an actual, recognisable tune. That tune was With A Little Help From My Friends. It was a real lesson in what music could do and how creating noise could make you feel. It’s obviously from one of the most important albums of all time but this song in particular has a deep message about friendship and love too.
I can’t find the studio version on YouTube but look at them!
4. I Know It’s Over – The Smiths
As Nick Hornby says, via Rob in High Fidelity; “what came first, the music or the misery?”
I believe Morrissey came first. There’s something about The Smiths and the time you come to that band that very heavily influences you. The first time I heard The Smiths and remember it impacting me was when my friend Sam used Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me as the soundtrack to a short film we shot at college. I can’t remember the details of the film but he was adamant we used the song. I was hooked. It felt like Steven Patrick Morrissey was reaching into my heart and soul and understanding just how misunderstood I was. I appreciate now that’s it silly. In the same way that my book of choice isn’t really for the me I am now, that’s why I continue to listen to The Smiths. I can imagine this being played in my funeral. What a better opening line for that day. It touches something in the loner and allows them to belong. What better way of indulging in your own masturbatory pursuits while adrift on a desert island than listening to this?
5. Claude DeBussy – Clair De Lune
I used to spend a lot of time with this girl. I don’t know what happened there but we used to lie in her bed and listen to piano moods. I was in my early twenties and I didn’t think I had any time for piano moods. It didn’t fit in with what I was feeling or who I thought I was. I don’t even know if this is one of the songs that we would listen to but there’s something about the vibe of it that has stuck with me. It also featured beautifully in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited. Why can’t I take one film with me onto the island? That’s the real question here because it would definitely be that. There’s something about the mood of this piece that I absolutely adore. I’ve spent hours with this piece of music playing on repeat as I try to fathom my way through something I’m writing. That’s why a bit of DeBussy makes the cut, it helps you to turn off from everything else and just zone out for a while. It’s intricately beautiful. It drives something up from within me that contemporary music can’t. Sometimes it’s nice to pretend you’re swanky with some piano moods.
6. Boys In The Band – The Libertines
Going from one extreme to the other, this song reminds me of the best part of my coming of age. I will never forget the number of times I have bounced around, clad in leather and denim, arms around someone I love, screaming every sloppy lyric in their ear. I will always love this band and I will always love this song.
7. Kooks – David Bowie
This track is from one of my absolute favourite albums. I have my parents to thank for that. I remember listening to it on vinyl when I was very young. I would run my finger along the contours of his face on the cover. The wonder of records was that you paid so much more attention to the artwork because it was so big. The album sounded completely different to anything I had ever heard before and this track is sublime. It has a touch of madness to it which I believe is linked to his feelings about his brother. I can relate.
It’s like a nursery rhyme to me and was the start of my love for David and my love for vinyl. If anyone asks, I grew up with three parents; Trace, Si and Bowie.
8. Road To Joy – Bright Eyes.
So this is my last song. I’ve placed it last because it is the closer on one of my all-time favourite albums. The way this song drives and the bombastic ending with the trumpet wailing and the hoarse way Conor shouts the words over it all kill me every time. This was an album that my friend introduced me to. He’s one of those people who is always into cool stuff before anyone else seems to have had the chance to have heard it. He’s always a cut above. I remember going for long, roaming drives with this on as we smoked roll ups and talked about our dreams.
Do I still have to take a bible? If we are talking works of fiction, there are others I would much rather switch it out for. I know I get the complete works of Shakespeare as well. If anything, this will be a good opportunity for me to read them. I’ve never really committed to it. I hope I can find a way of relating them all to something else, in the way that I can only process Hamlet by thinking about The Lion King.
My choice though, my favourite book of all time, is actually tattooed on the back of my leg. It’s a cliche I know but it’s Catcher In The Rye by Jerome David Salinger. Like The Smiths, it was a piece of culture that smacked me between the eyes at just the right time. I read it at least once a year, usually around Christmas time. I would be only too happy to do the same on a desert island. Sure, there are parts of Holden’s personality that I now find insufferable, but that’s only ever going to be because I am becoming more phoney as I grow up. I can still see what I saw in that book then and that’s what I hold now. It’s a work of absolute genius. It’s one of the most important works of the 20th century. I know he grew to despise the way people treated him because of it but J.D. Salinger shaped a lot of people and it would be my absolute pleasure to be adrift with his work.
A luxury item?
Can I have two? They go hand-in-hand, literally. A bucket and spade. Every day I could go down to the beach and create something. The tide could take it away and then I could just begin again. That would satisfy me greatly and the fact that I would be repeating the same process every day and looking for a different result is the first sign of madness. What a beautiful place to go insane.