Tag Archives: Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs: Narrating Your Life Through Music

peter paul and mary
peter paul and mary

There’s a popular, long-running radio show in the U.K. where I live called Desert Island Discs. The premise behind the show is quite simple: a guest is invited by the host choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. But it’s really a vehicle for getting famous people – whether that’s Bill Gates or David Beckham or Zaha Hadid – to narrate their lives through music.

So what most guests do is to select songs that speak to different parts of their lives: a piece that conjures up their childhood or family…something to capture the time they met their spouse…a tune that speaks to the most creative point in their career or the death of a beloved relative. You get the picture.

Needless to say, in one of my occurring fantasies I am a guest being interviewed on this program about my book project on swimming and adulthood, narrating how I built my illustrious career as a full-time writer over the course of a lifetime. (Hey, we all gotta dream…)

Which of course only begs the question: which songs would I choose to tell my story?

Early Childhood

Early childhood is an easy one for me. I would select Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary. Yes, I know, a cheesy selection by certain measures. Yet, for me, that’s a song that makes me weep every time I hear it as it is about the inevitability of loss as we age: the loss of playfulness, the loss of our childhood friends, and the painful but necessary separation we must all undertake from our families of origin.

Adolescence

Adolescence is also an easy one for me. I listened to a lot of Billy Joel as a teenager, a songwriter who so clearly evokes a particular moment in the late 1970s-early 1980s – just after the Disco era ended and a particular place – most of his songs are about the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area and the longing to get out and make more of ourselves. I could pick any of his hits, but these five Billy Joel tunes probably speak to me most, still.

College

College has got to be either The Grateful Dead singing Ripple or Dire Straits doing Romeo and Juliet – the only two bands I ever went to see perform more than once. These songs readily call to mind the most carefree time of my life, a time when I didn’t worry about anything other than going to classes and hanging out with my friends (not always in that order!) and didn’t think at all about the future. It was perhaps the only time in my life that I was fully “present,” before any concerns about rent and jobs and graduate school kicked in.

Courtship

I had never listened to jazz before I met my husband, but he introduced me to this great musical tradition and to this artist – Gene Harris – in particular. During the early months of our courtship, we used to listen to Like a Lover first thing when we woke up in the morning. Bliss.

Using Music to Better Understand Yourself

Much like writing your own obituary – something I wrote about on these pages recently – thinking about how your narrate your life through music is an intersting exercise. Music reconnects you to your past. It gets you to think in concrete terms about what different phases of your life meant to you and why. And in doing that, you get a better handle on your present self – what you like about yourself, what you might wish to flee, what you miss about yourself, what you’d like to see more of in the years ahead.

So go ahead, try it. What are some of your “desert island discs”?

 

Image: Peter, Paul and Mary 1970 via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Listen To The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the many pleasures of living in the U.K. is that I have unlimited access to BBC Radio. I remember back when I lived in the States – and worked at Chicago Public Radio – I used to feel a bit put off when BBC programming came on. It felt too distant, too proper and – let’s face it – too mature.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I can’t get enough of BBC radio, and here are five reasons you should be listening too:

1. It’s combative. Much as I love National Public Radio in the U.S., NPR news programs can feel a bit…polite. Perhaps because the network is trying really hard to fight the perception that has a liberal bias, the talk show hosts go out of their way to be deferential and even-handed. Not here. Sure, the BBC tilts Left, but the “presenters” (as they’re called) are just as rough on Gordon Brown as they are on David Cameron. Have a listen to Radio Four’s James Naughtie interviewing just about anyone and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anything like it on Morning Edition. It’s really refreshing to hear journalists who aren’t afraid to take the gloves off, without devolving into shrill partisanship.

2. It’s broad. The range of programming offered is – frankly – amazing. Just the other day, I was listening to some in-depth analysis of the latest bank restructuring over here. Next up? A retrospective on Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding. And it’s like that all week long. One of my favorite programs is something called Desert Island Discs, where some famous person is interviewed about the eight pieces of music they’d bring with them if they were stuck on a desert island. What a concept!

3. It’s Informative. I think one of the sticking points for US listeners is that the BBC reports on such a broad range of topics geographically. This is true of domestic programming (Radio 4) and especially true of the BBC World Service. Americans just aren’t used to listening to *that much* foreign news. But once you get used to hearing about the latest governance debacle in Zimbabwe, it’s incredibly eye-opening and informative. (And, BTW, they do a great job with American coverage, in particular.)

4. It’s Quirky. Because – relative to NPR, at least – the BBC is incredibly well-funded, it can afford to do all sorts of odd, quirky programming alongside its flagship news shows. So, for example, radio plays are hugely popular over here. When I first moved to London, I found myself switching off The Archers (the longest running and most popular of these) whenever it came on. Now, three years later, I’m oddly drawn into this ongoing saga about families in the Midlands and have developed a sort of affection towards it.

5. It’s on all night! At least if you live in America, you can often hear top-drawer BBC programming in the middle of the night. And since we’re all insomniacs anyway, what’s there to lose? Have a listen…and see for yourself.

Image: Radio Daze by Ian Hayhurst via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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