We’ve all done it – at least those of us who listen to radio 4 – we’ve all thought about choosing our own Desert Island Discs. I used to have a definitive list which included at least four Leonard Cohen’s but recently I’ve been taking a different approach. I’ve decided to do it chronologically, choosing one record which reminds me of a particular time in my life. So, the first has to be ecclesiastical because my childhood centred on church; the second relates to school, the third is (of course) the first time I heard Cohen – and so on. Here they are:
1.’O Jesus I Have Promised’, which reminds me of a time when the organist asked for my favourite hymn and then played it for me. I couldn’t think of one so I said the first thing that came into my head, though I seem to remember my actual favourite was ‘I Vow to Thee My Country.’ It has to be the old tune though, not the bouncy modern one.
2. The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’. I remember everyone singing this in the playground at junior school. At the time I had never heard of The Beatles and I thought the Rolling Stones were something to do with the Flintstones.
3. Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’. I won’t bore you by recounting for the millionth time how I came to hear this.
4. Another Cohen, ‘The Stranger Song’, which haunted me all through my teens.
5. For a time I lived in a one-horse town called Leigh in Lancashire where everyone was into Neil Young. I too am a lifelong fan of this maverick and utterly individual musician; and the track that most reminds me of Leigh is this one:
5. Back to Cohen, this time the first track I ever heard from ‘I’m Your Man’, which is ‘First We Take Manhattan.’ This reminds me of my first year in Leicester.
6. Now we skip to Madrid, and a track by Juan Luis Guerra which is a plea for social justice:
7. I have to have something yogic, so here is Steve Hillage of Gong with ‘Om Nama Sivaya’. Strictly speaking this belongs to my time in Leigh but it’s my favourite version of the mantra:
8. ‘If It Be Your Will.’ This to my mind is the most sublime thing Cohen ever did – and though Anthony’s version is transcendent, I’m going to go with the original.
And that’s it. I have to say – and perhaps this is normal – that nothing much has moved me in the last two decades so much as it did in my teens and twenties. Even in my thirties I was still discovering musicians and styles, but lately everything pretty much leaves me cold. Still, I’d like to have included some Bach – perhaps a fugue instead of the Beatles – some more Cohen, and a few of the singers I loved in my youth, such as Joni Mitchell (‘River’ is amazing) James Taylor and Carole King. But like Caitlin Moran said on today’s programme, you start off thinking it’s a great honour to be on Desert Island Discs and end up realising it’s a Sisyphean task.
Ah well. Sisyphus is my middle name. So go ahead and invite me already.