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Defining the Discographic SelfDesert Island Discs in Context$

Julie Brown, Nicholas Cook, and Stephen Cottrell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266175

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266175.001.0001

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Personal Spin G

Personal Spin G

Castaway, 28 September 2003

Chapter:
(p.209) Personal Spin G
Source:
Defining the Discographic Self
Author(s):

Nick Hornby

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197266175.003.0017

Abstract and Keywords

Bruce Springsteen: Kitty’s Back

Rod Stewart: You Wear It Well

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Complainte pour Ste Catherine

The Jackson 5: The Love You Save

Touré Kunda: Fatou Yo

Joni Mitchell: Night Ride Home

Marah: My Heart Is the Bums on the Street

LL Cool J: ...

Disc choices

Bruce Springsteen: Kitty’s Back

Rod Stewart: You Wear It Well

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Complainte pour Ste Catherine

The Jackson 5: The Love You Save

Touré Kunda: Fatou Yo

Joni Mitchell: Night Ride Home

Marah: My Heart Is the Bums on the Street

LL Cool J: Going Back to Cali

I remember thinking when I was asked, that Desert Island Discs was probably one of the only things where I would not think twice about doing it, and that one had to do it. It’s a bit like an OBE, except that there is no moral dilemma or dimension to it at all. You just think, ‘Wow. You’ve been asked, and you should do it.’ I turn down most things. I’d rather sit in here and do whatever I do. But for that, I just thought, ‘I will have to do that.’ It’s the law. It’s the BBC law. You have to do it.

I probably spent more time than was warranted thinking about it. When my friends found out I was doing it, they all burst out laughing and said, ‘Oh, well, that’s you done with for the next three months.’ They knew it would cause me problems. I felt that I already had quite strong associations with music. I’d already revealed my musical tastes to a certain extent because I’d written about music in 31 Songs and in High Fidelity. I couldn’t imagine that anyone who had any interest in me would be particularly surprised by the choices that I made.

I think it’s easier for people who don’t like music very much because they choose a song from a particular point in their life, and their relationship with that song stopped, presumably, around the time that that period in life finished. You hear that quite a lot with Desert Island Discs. If you love music then your relationship with a piece of music and an artist evolves over years, and the chances are that the piece that you’re choosing, you’ve actually played relatively recently. That’s the reason you love it. It’s because it has taken you through. Lots of politicians and people choose dreadful things that they haven’t heard once since 1971 or whatever. I wanted to strike a balance between things that would make me at least a little bit nostalgic while, at the same time, being pieces of music that I did have an extant relationship with.

Once I had come up with the idea of the iPod being my luxury, ridiculously, it made it easier to make the choices. In my mind, I wasn’t really committing to these records because I had all the others on the iPod. Of course, it was at a particular time in history where I had to explain to Sue Lawley what an iPod was, which is pretty funny, looking back on it. I believe they ban people from having that as their luxury now. You could only do it once, really.

(p.210) I wanted to choose things that represented different stages of my life. I can remember choosing songs from school, from university, from now, something that represented my son and my current partner, my wife, and so on and so forth. I probably had my iTunes open in front of me and just thought back to periods of life and what piece of music would best represent those periods. There was nothing, I think, that specifically denoted an incident. I was probably 42 or 43 at the time or something like that, so the choices covered four decades. I knew I would have a Springsteen song, but I didn’t want it to be ‘Born to Run’ or I didn’t want to choose something that wasn’t played on the radio very often. I love the song ‘Kitty’s Back’, but it was from his second album and it felt a bit fresh to choose that. That was definitely part of my decision-making process.

I didn’t realise that I’d only chosen up-tempo pieces. I love sad music, and I can perfectly imagine choosing something that was very sad but which wouldn’t have particularly painful personal associations, in fact. It’s just a style of music that I like. It hadn’t occurred to me that there weren’t any ballads. Maybe something subconsciously guided me towards choosing up-tempo pieces. I think I was probably conscious that punchier things sounded better when they are reduced down to a minute and a half, or whatever it is. I wouldn’t have known how to choose a piece of music to illustrate a particular painful incident. I suspect it’s not how people use music, actually, that if something very bad is happening to you, you’re playing the same painful piece of music over and over again. Nor is it the case that I think it’s easy to find a particular ballad that would work in that way to, as it were, provide shorthand for a painful period of life. It’s just not how I think of music.

I wanted as broad a reflection within the spectrum of popular music that I listen to. I don’t listen to classical music. Some contemporary classical, but it would have felt fraudulent, I think, to have included that. It never occurred to me for a moment to misrepresent myself, but I did want to have winning singers in there, for example, and a mixture of black music, folk music, and rock music. I wasn’t trying to be artful so much as to fully represent how I spend my listening time.

Of course, in High Fidelity I was constructing lists of music for those characters, but for Desert Island Discs you’re doing that with the filter taken off, to a certain extent. It is scarier, I think, to do it in a way that says, ‘This is actually supposed to represent me, not a fictional character.’ I think everyone must be aware of committing themselves, to some degree. It’s easier to make lists for fictional characters because you’ve got an ‘ironic remove’, and so anything that you think of that will illustrate character or that you can have some fun with is allowable. Whereas, I think, when it’s actually yourself, you have to be … I don’t know if it’s ‘careful’, but I think having yourself judged through your taste is a very different thing to asking readers to judge a character through their tastes. One of the interesting things about Desert Island Discs is that some people do make utter plonkers of themselves, but they don’t seem to realise that they’re exposing themselves in this horrible way through the choices they make.

I remember getting an email from a college friend who wrote halfway through the programme, saying, ‘Oh my God, I remember you listening to that over and over again,’ but he wrote literally in the middle of the programme. I was quite struck by the email waiting for me before the programme had finished. Nobody said, ‘What the hell was all that about?’ or anything like that. The only things I remember people saying were, ‘I love that. I haven’t heard that before. I didn’t know that song,’ or old friends saying, ‘Oh, God. Yes, it was brilliant. You got that in.’

(p.211) Since the archive was put up online there have been a few people on Facebook getting in touch. The way I use Facebook is that anyone can be my Facebook friend, up to when they cut you off at 5000, so I have a mix of actual friends and people I’ve never met. Some of the people I’ve never met have been in touch since the archive went up to say that they listened. A lot of my social media contacts are governed by musical taste and people who have found me through knowing that we like the same music or because they’ve responded to something that I’ve written about music. It is a kind of self-selecting group.

If I were to do it again I think I would focus much more on my adult life, probably from the beginning of my career onwards. My musical tastes have changed, to a certain extent, since I was on the show, and it would reflect that. In the last three years I’ve become semi-obsessive about jazz, particularly 1950s and 1960s stuff, so I would include that. I would change both my luxury item and my book! But I’m not 100 per cent sure I’d do it a second time, actually. I think it would slightly defeat the point. I’m not quite sure why people are invited for a second time. I think I’d probably have to be a very old man before they invited me back. I don’t think I’d do anything differently, except that I wouldn’t try to cover musical eras. I suppose that’s what I was doing a bit, in that I was covering musical eras, and there would be no need to do that any more.

Nick Hornby is a novelist and screenwriter. His best known books are international best-sellers, and include Fever Pitch and About a Boy. His longstanding interest in music is evident in much of his work, particularly High Fidelity and 31 Songs. His screenplays for An Education and Brooklyn were nominated for both BAFTAs and Oscars. (p.212)