Recently I’ve become obsessed with the backlog of the Radio 4 Desert Island Disc programmes on the podcast app for when I’m out and about, which has inspired me to chart the soundtrack to my life (so far) and what I’d take with me if I was left stranded on a desert island. So, as the setup goes, here are my eight tracks, my one book and my special item. What’s yours?
The Rasmus – Chill
As a kid I don’t remember being all that involved with music with the exception of The Spice Girls and S Club 7. However, when I was 13 there was this one song that to many is probably a one hit wonder, In the Shadows by The Rasmus. For the rest of my Secondary School years, my whole presence changed, and I introverted into this rock pop music, wearing black and blending into the literal shadows. This was a time before downloading online was easy and there was no such thing as streaming, it all had to be on a CD and I remember going to an independent music shop in Chesterfield Town Centre, scanning The Rasmus every week to see if any more of their old albums had been added. There was this one album called Into that never seemed to be stocked and eventually it took me ordering and shipping it from Finland to get hold of it when I was perhaps 15 years old. My last few years at School were a struggle, I spent a lot of my time isolated from others and recall spending most of my time locked away in the IT rooms where my Tutor allowed me to keep working through lunchbreaks and late after school. This one song, Chill, was one that I remember playing on repeat. The calming, literal chilling sound of the song always unwound me, and it played such a huge part on my life that I can clearly remember putting the CD in the drive, plugging my earphones in and feeling a wave of relief as the opening guitar riffs kicked in. The Rasmus went on to continue playing a big part in my life, but this song is perhaps the one that will always stay with me.
Rod Stewart – I Don’t Want to Talk About It
Growing up, my Dad always used to drive us around in his works van in the evening to break up the boring Winter nights. He would take us over the Peak District, through Sheffield and beyond and we always ended up at a McDonalds drinking hot chocolate and eating apple pie. He came to me one day and asked me to get hold of an album, one that he used to listen to all the time when he was younger. It was Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing. I Don’t Want to Talk About It is probably one of Rod’s better-known songs, and there’s a reason. The lyrics are stunning, his voice just melts through butter along with the gorgeous guitar interlude. I am forever grateful of the memories sitting alongside him in his van, singing along to this song, his fingers tapping the steering wheel and his head nodding along so immersed in the simple beauty of this song.
Nine Inch Nails – The Great Below
The first real introduction of Nine Inch Nails was when a friend who was a big fan kept playing the Fragile album on repeat to me. I never thought I could like music like this, it was distorted and there was no clear sense of track rhythm, and yet it struck a chord deep inside my soul. There are many incredible songs written by Trent Reznor, but his slower ballads always hit a nerve. During a dark period of my life, the lyrics resonated and said everything I felt I couldn’t. It was probably this music that inspired me to be more poetic in my writing, to be more emotionally revealing and to be able to raw in the words that I wrote. The Great Below I think hits the nail on the head in all of those ways.
Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
This was a song that we all I feel have some form of relationship to and most people of my generation would probably state that they want it played at their memorials. However, this holds heavy in my heart after my Dad heard it on Radio 4 when a Father was telling his story of unexpectantly losing his daughter and that writing letters to her after she passed helped him cope. He also admitted that this song helped him through grief. Green Day would go on to play a big role in my relationship with my Father, which culminated in a choir playing Good Riddance at my graduation ceremony the year before he passed away. Looking back, I have no idea how on earth we managed to navigate his oxygen needs in an eight-hour road trip to Carlisle and back just, so he could watch half an hour of my standing in a cap and gown. But walking out the cathedral, seeing him smile proudly with a tear in his eye as the choir sang Good Riddance is a memory that is forged into my heart. When it came to my Dad’s funeral, he had few requests, but I made one very clear, that we play this song. And that we did as his coffin was taken from the Church, with his family following close by after the most precious and uplifting memorial I think I will ever be a part of. Despite the sad connotations of this song, it never fails to make me happy as I distinctly remember his smile as I walked out that Church.
PMMP – Lautturi
The first song listed is by a Finnish band and consequently by being a fan, I fell in love with Scandinavian culture as a teenager and it just always seems to have stuck with me. This song is by a Finnish band, sung in Finnish and yet whilst the translation is something I’m iffy with, I somehow manage to learn all the words verbatim so much so that I once surprised my friends when singing along perfectly at a festival in Helsinki. This track translates to Ferryman and is in a nutshell, about the passage of life to death, like crossing a great ocean. Ever since a young age I was always somewhat enamoured by the process of death and the fact we all end up there, it fascinated me and in a lot of ways I desired it which made me struggle with my existence. This song somehow fills that void of finding a beautiful melody to sing about something that should be considered so morbid. Recently, I’ve began to understand the song in a new light and that is since losing my Dad, I’ve noticed this same passage that I feel I’m on. That I’m still stood on the shore, and he’s moving further and further away from me as he too is crossing a great ocean into his own death.
Gregorio Allegri – Miserere Mei Deus
Classical music has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. My Dad religiously listened to Classic FM and without fail could identify each piece of music played without prompt, he was a sponge when it came to symphonies. Trying to think of just one piece of classical music is difficult, there are a whole plethora of compositions that will stay with you. However, Miserere Mei Deus came to me for a few reasons. Firstly, the whole piece is stunning, it can bring you to tears, and yet it can inject life. Secondly, the fact that Mozart as a teenager was able to hear this only a handful of times and compose it note for note perfection astounds me. Thirdly, the translation of lyrics is filled with asking for forgiveness and moving forward from hatred and sin. It reminds me to be grateful, to myself ask for mercy and to accept the things I cannot change, it really helped me through the dark times of accepting my Dad’s loss. Fourthly, and finally. Perhaps the last time I remember listening to this song was sitting in the car alongside my Dad a few weeks before his death. We were in Wales visiting the Hay Festival and driving down the country roads in the dark to see Stephen Fry speak. This music came on and we sat in silence, turned it up to full volume, both of us immersed in the beauty. Looking back, I think maybe we were both aware that the end was soon and perhaps we were asking for forgiveness from each other and praying to God that we could make it through what was about to happen. I’m not sure if I played this when he was on his deathbed, but in no uncertain terms, it was there in my mind. Whenever I hear this music, those memories come back to me and I always try to ask for courage and strength to help me through the grief. And yet, the sound of the choir always manages to settle my sorrow.
Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime
This final track is inspired by my Mum and holds two very dear memories. The first being in a bathroom shop, fascinated by a Bluetooth mirror and playing this song through the speakers, both of us dancing like burkes surrounded by toilets and sinks. Secondly, it was the first New Year’s Eve after Dad’s death and in no uncertain terms, me and the 31st December have never got on. It’s always filled me with dread, this one more so than ever because it was bittersweet. It was looking ahead to a future without Dad and it was moving further away from when he was last here. After plenty of tears, it was close to midnight, we were both fed up watching the rubbish on television and so began to find songs on YouTube. As midnight struck and the fireworks were going off in the neighbourhood around us, we chose to believe in going forward with hope and so danced in our dressing gowns on the patio drinking prosecco with the dog looking on like we were a bunch of mad women. There’s no way this song comes on that I can’t dance to it like it’s New Year’s Eve, which means it’s probably going to become a tradition to play this when the clock strikes midnight.
Delta Goodrem – Innocent Eyes
I don’t recall how I found this song other than the fact I had seen her on Neighbours. She had a big hit before this to boost her music career, but it was this song that consumed me. I was going through my teens which I found horrendously difficiult, I have always felt some essence of being an outsider and somehow this song tapped into that. That feeling of letting go of my youth, embracing my adulthood and somehow not losing myself along the way. This whole album in fact was something I listened to, so when I found out not too long it had fifteen years since its release, I was flabbergasted how fast time had gone and yet the lyrics to this song somehow run deep in my veins.
Book: Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air
Choosing one book is a nightmare, though reading the full works of Shakespeare and the Bible will keep me plenty occupied. However, this book was the first one to inspire me to write memoirs about Dad and it helped me come to term with his impending death. The author writes so eloquently and the fact his wife finished the book so beautifully after he passed away is something that stayed with me, it helped me to fully comprehend the way that words can bring about emotion and resonance.
Special Item: My Dad’s diaries. He has diaries going way back to the seventies, most of it is job numbers and weather reports but there are some hidden gems in there that never fail to bring me to tears or laughter.
Track to save from the waves? Perhaps Miserere Mei Deus as it’s the one piece of music I could endlessly listen to and never get tired of. It never fails to give goosebumps.