Debby Harry was on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island discs this morning. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the show, each week a different guest is asked to choose eight pieces of music that they would take with them if they were going to be a castaway on a desert island. The person is interviewed about their life and their record choices, interspersed with clips of the music. Because it’s Radio 4, the guests are sometimes famous, sometimes not quite so well known, but they’re always people whose reputation is based on notable achievements – actors, sportsmen and women, artists, musicians – rather than that bloke off of Big Brother series 37.
I really like the format – I like how the social, historical and biographical context gets woven around the music, and I like idea of choosing music to fit an imagined place – but I usually find the choices made pedestrian and predictable. Most people go for stuff like the Beatles, Elvis, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, James Brown, the standard canon of popular music classic, with the occasional fairly obvious jazz or ‘classical’ choice. Not bad music necessarily, just not very exciting. One of the most disappointing I’ve heard was John Cale (viola player who played in the Theatre of Eternal Music with Tony Conrad and La Monte Young, and then formed the Velvet Underground). I’d have thought of all people he might come up with something a bit more unusual, but again it was all Beatles, Dylan, Leonard Cohen. Yawn. I guess that’s Radio 4 for you.
So thank God for Debbie Harry, who was on the show this morning. Her choices weren’t exactly radical in the scheme of things, but I found the music she picked more interesting to listen to than 99% of what normally gets played. She’s 65 – that’s nearly as old as my mum – and there she was choosing Fever Ray and Peaches, swearing a bit (a very rare occurrence on Radio 4) and talking about the Blondie gig where she wore a dress made of razor blades. Is Lady Gaga going to be this cool in 40 years’ time? By the end, the fact that she referred to Mahler 5 as ‘the music from Death in Venice’ grated my pedantic sensibilities only slightly. To listen to the show, and search through an archive of previous epsiodes, go here.
Also, the BBC is giving all of us a chance to choose our own Desert Island Discs. This is my opportunity to make some more interesting choices! Except so far the first two things I’ve come up with are Beethoven 6 and West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys – again, these are fairly safe choices, but they’re important to me for personal reasons. Maybe in the end the set-up encourages a certain middle-of-the-roadness. If you’re going to a desert island, you need stuff you know you can listen to repeatedly, and for most people that would probably exclude the extremes of their record collections.
The other thing to say is that, by coincidence, next week’s guest on the show is Roger Waters, who I was writing about in my last post. I bet he picks one of Pink Floyd’s early hits with Syd Barrett, like Arnold Layne, plus some Beatles/Stones/Hendrix. I’d love to think he’s going to get some Krautrock on there, like some of that pre-Kraftwerk stuff from Tone Float; being slightly more realistic, perhaps some Velvet Underground or a bit of prog stuff like Soft Machine or Led Zep. Somehow, I think even that might be wishful thinking..