About a week ago I began a post on Desert Island Discs and have spent the past few days ruminating on the music that I, like Wainwright, would like to take with me to a desert island and by extension the songs that have played a significant role in my first thirty years.
Before I list my Desert Island Discs, I need to give a full disclaimer about the ways in which discussing music, particularly listing or ranking songs gives me tremendous anxiety. My musical choices are in no way derived as a way to display a certain coolness or a level of indie rock elitism: not even in my youth have I have ever been what one would classify as cool. In the fourth grade we had a new exchange student enter our classroom from China, Sheung, who spoke very little English. My teacher thought that I would be the perfect person to both welcome this new student and to help her become acquainted with American Culture. As someone with no older siblings, the only music I listened to were the songs to which my parents listened and let’s just say Barry Man’s Who Put The Bomp probably should not have been Sheung’s first introduction to American Culture of the 1980’s. As Sheung proudly sang “Who put the Ram in the Ram a Lang a Ding Dong” during recess, she too, was destined to be picked last for kickball during her one year in America. If by the miracle of the internet you are reading this Sheung, I am so sorry that I didn’t really know about Madonna, although I suppose, in hindsight, it was a good idea that your first English song wasn’t Like A Virgin.
I have received so many thoughtful and kind letters from trentagenarians (and quatragenarians and septuagenarians, etc.) about their own thoughts on being a work in progress, particularly emphasizing the literal concept of work. Many readers discuss their confusion about the path they should take within their respective professions and are increasingly looking inward and closer to home, among their friends and family, for a stronger sense of meaning in day to day life. In all of this confusion, I see a direct connection to music.
In life on the other side of the millennium, before you could call upon any song the moment you wanted to hear it, there was an unexpected joy in catching that song on the radio. It was as if the radio gods knew you needed that song at this particular moment. In hearing even a few moments of that long-lost song, you were transported to an earlier version of yourself, something it seems we are looking to locate. Now that we are our own DJs on top of being our own photographer, chef, real estate agent, financial planner, travel agent and seemingly our own everything else, there are fewer opportunities to be caught by nostalgic surprise. From the letters I receive, it seems that everyone, from all different walks of life, simply wants to return to a point in life where we felt truly alive.
At some point my husband and I will need to discuss what will be the anthem for our specic Coast to Coast adventure, but for now, I humbly present my Desert Island Discs.
Sarah Maclachaln’s Elsewhere
- Sarah Maclachlan was the first artist to which I truly felt a connection. As someone who is pretty much tone deaf, I relate to music mostly through lyrics and the poetry in her words really influenced me as a writer. As a walker, this is the song I would listen to on my cassette walkman with my closest high school friends when we walked through the neighborhood at night discussing all of our thoughts and anxieties about the future. We don’t know it then, but it was so amazing to be able to see your closest friends, almost every day and have hours of time to talk.
Edna’s Goldfish Veronica Sawyer
- It’s not this song in particular that I love, but rather the whole Ska movement that as a suburban teenager in the ’90’s spoke to our particular place in time. Although there was a lot of aimlessly riding around the neighborhood in the days before we realized the value of gasoline (both fiscally and environmentally), but we also did a lot of walking around, both the ‘burbs and the city, for hours. This video is just particularly fun because if you look closely, my friends and I are in the video, our one moment of fame before the band broke up and MTV took it off the TRL circuit.
Dar Williams’ Are You Out There
- A friend introduced me to this song my freshman year of college and although I went to college in a place with more days of snow and rain then sun, we tended to spend a lot of time in the evenings walking through the nature preserve and the more remote parts of campus. Although freshman year was tumultuous in many ways, it was this overwhelming moment where new friendships are born.
The Smiths’ Panic
- As someone who negotiates a rather high level of anxiety on a daily basis, I find something uniquely calming about this song. A friend introduced this song to my group of college girlfriends and travel companions during our trip abroad. With discman in hand, I listened to the Best of the Smiths for four months straight throughout most of my European adventure.
Mumford and Sons’ cover of Wagon Wheel
- Although I only first hear this version of the song last year, this particular song encapsulates my travels throughout the West and all of the uncertainties associated with this period of wandering.
Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World
- This song is beloved by multiple generations of my family, a song that perhaps could be the anthem for at least the first part of my life. We played it two times at my wedding, so that everyone could stretch the moment just one minute longer. Imagine if we could do that for all the best times in our life?
I encourage you to write out your own desert island discs for your workout or your own personal walk wherever you’re headed. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.