Desert Island Discs: What would be the song for your life?

When I was twenty years old I spent almost thirty days on a bus tour of Western Europe. Each day was begun by listening to Sita’s Happy, a song that has probably never made anyone’s top ten list.  This song was not chosen by me, but rather the overly exuberant Australian tour leader who was eager to keep us relatively alert during our morning rides. Too many students study abroad and use it as an opportunity to become a connoisseur of only the local pubs, since the drinking age abroad is considerably lower than the US mandated 21. The tour leader wanted us to get our money’s worth; he wanted us to see everything along the way and not take a moment to sleep off a wild night.

While I appreciated the sentiment, Happy would never be the song that I would use on the soundtrack to my life. My in-laws travel the world on their motorcycle and they start off each excursion by listening to the same song to celebrate the continuing adventure. Inspired by their travels, I often try to imagine what should be the song for our own continuing adventure, particularly now that we are about to embark on a milestone journey.

A fellow WordPress blogger, Fidophiles, introduced me to the charming BBC Radio program, Desert Island Discs, a show where notable Brits expound upon what music, literature and other sentimental objects they would bring along with them to a deserted island.  Alfred Wainwright was a guest on this show in 1988 (almost thirty years ago) and you can listen to his musings here: BBC – Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Alfred Wainwright. Thanks, Fidophiles! (Check out her beautiful blog).

Wainwright was sort of a British Andy Rooney, a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, but in his interview I find him rather charming and honest. A man who appreciated his solitude, yet had great compassion for others. His depictions of his modest childhood home in Blackburn, resonated with me, particularly his notion that poverty is durable when you are among those who share your struggle. Although a solo walker, Wainwright regrets that there’s no song for walking that fully represents the feeling of walking in the Lake District. For his Desert Island Discs, he instead chose songs that he felt could be collected on the soundtrack for his life.

Of Wainwright’s choice of songs, I could only establish a connection to two of his choices: Oh What A Beautiful Morning, which we sang every day after the Pledge of Allegiance in nursery school and the Johnny Mathis song, Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago. Now I have never seen Dr. Zhivago (there are quite a large number of must-see movies that I have never seen, so large a number that I am petrified to reveal some of the titles in such a public forum), but as I child I did learn to play Lara’s Theme on the piano.  I don’t feel an attachment to Lara’s Theme per se; music was another one of my very unsuccesful endeavors, particularly my brief career in the school choir (my third grade music teacher once asked me to just lip synch, to make us sound a bit better). It is Johnny Mathis, to which I feel a particular attachment. For years I knew that I was named after the song Gina, but for some reason I attributed the song to Julio Inglesias, rather than Johnny Mathis.  I searched for this non-existent Julio Inglesias song for almost two decades and finally, on my wedding day, I heard the song for the very first time. After almost twenty years of anticipation, it was lovely to understand my parents’ connection to that song, but I didn’t feel that it was in any way an anthem for my life.

I’ll be thinking about the importance of songs over the next few days as we prepare for our journey. What songs would you choose for your Desert Island Discs? What would be the song for your life?

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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15 Responses to Desert Island Discs: What would be the song for your life?

  1. sgyoung says:

    I’m sure I really would like a dessert island better than a desert island. I picture it like a salad bar only better.

  2. Interesting indeed.. If I could bring any songs to a deserted island with me, I’d bring ALL of Josh Groban (I hope I’m allowed a collection of songs!), Walking In The Air by Nightwish, Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks, Make It Stop (September’s Children) by Rise Against, Hurricane by 30 Seconds to Mars, and May I by Trading Yesterday. The song for my life would be Affirmation by Savage Garden (which would also be on my desert list as well).

  3. maudlin says:

    God, this is such a hard question. There is so much beautiful music out there! If you forced me to choose right now it’d probably be something by Leonard Cohen, because I never grow tired of that man’s music/way with words, but I wouldn’t know which song in particular…

  4. Josh M says:

    This may a be a somewhat ironic choice for a “desert island,” but if I could listen to only one piece of music for the rest of my life, it would be John Adams’ “Dharma at Big Sur.” If I were to choose an album, it would probably have to be “Kind of Blue,” Miles Davis. It’s mellow, with tones of melancholy that somehow always happen to open into moments of hopefulness, and has just a little bit of swing tossed in for good measure.

  5. Mary Brown says:

    kiss me i’m irish by gaelic storm… great tune and a fun song 🙂
    maybe those 6 songs should be chosen to go with six moods you might have on a desert island… even though i like that fellow’s suggestion of a dessert island… yum!
    a fun song for a fun mood, a sad song for a sad mood, etc….
    gina i really enjoy reading your blog!

  6. Pingback: My Desert Island Discs | 30 Ways of Walking

  7. dianeledet says:

    Funny you should ask about a song for my life! I’m writing a book entitled Through the Rain (Barry Manilow song) based on how much that song reminds me of my life as a single parent.

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