I am prepared for fame. I’ve got my Oscar speech written (best adapted screenplay), I’ve got my glitter makeup ready, and I’ve been practising my look of delight (better than the look of crawling gratitude). I’ve thanked all sorts of people for a variety of books. “Season of the Falling Sun” has won the Booker Prize every year for the last ten years, so often have I thanked the panel of judges. “The Exodus Sequence” has been turned into a TV series although I’m still trying to decide which streaming service deserves it best. And the “Honeysuckle Rage” series is being optioned for a seven movie deal. Not forgetting “The Fleet Quintet” (now actually a quintet in this famous future of mine) suddenly becoming a cult classic.
Fame, from what I’ve observed, involves a lot of interviews. Being somewhat excruciatingly shy, I’ve been working out how to deal with these interviews. No TV, for a start. Radio is fine. But even that I’m not sure about because I don’t like my voice. That leaves print. Lots of print, then. Obviously no one can come into my crummy council flat – oh, but wait, by then of course I’ll be living in my luxury mansion. Hang on a sec, I don’t actually want a luxury mansion (too much dusting). A quick check on Google and it seems I can pick up a nice house with a turret (i.e. a bit of a castle) for less than £1m in Wales. That’ll do me. But who’s going to want to come out to Wales to interview me? In the meantime, I’ll be happy to meet up at my local Costa.
Some of these interviews are going to take a bit of work. Desert Island Discs, for example, means you have to get eight tracks ready for discussion. Naturally, like everyone preparing for fame, I’ve had my list ready for decades. It’s changed several times. Sometimes it’s all classical music because the pop picked by celebrities often shows up their phenomenal naffness. One must, at all costs, take care not to appear naff. However, you can also tell when the person just wants to shock everyone, like the wankerdoodle actor who picked some utterly rubbishy punk rock thing (not even a good punk rock thing), claiming he was listening to this when he was five years old. Show me a five year old in 1982 and I’ll show you someone who is still singing “the wheels on the bus.” You can also tell when the person doesn’t actually listen to music at all. This will be the person who chooses all the obvious stuff: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, some crap disco thing from the eighties, Coldplay and a rap thing someone told them would make them look cool. People who are not trying to look cool usually have the best music. And the people with the best music are almost invariably NOT the actors, pop stars and sportsmen. It’ll be the unknown name. The scientist. Someone who did something amazing but no one has heard of them. So in other words, someone who is great in their field but not a household name. Those Desert Island Disc episodes are rare now. It’s all about celebrity, not about work.
Naturally, having practised a lot, I’m NOT going to fall into the celebrity trap of trying to look cool. Because, frankly, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I used to. But then I got old. It’s one of the fab things about being old. Or older. You just don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. It’s very freeing.
Anyway, I thought I’d entertain you with one of my imagined Desert Island Discs playlists. I thought an all-classical one (does anyone remember the good old days when it was ALL classical?) would be quite hard for me to pull off, although I will give it a go…on another day. I’ll also have to do an all-soundtrack list because soundtracks have played a huge part in my life. For the moment, this is what my pop playlist would look like.
Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen
I first heard this when I was around seven or eight, when my mother’s boyfriend moved in with us. He was much younger than she was so we were three awkward generations in one house. He was mad about Bob Dylan and ran a folk club at the time. This was my favourite in his record collection. Yes, I know, it sounds really pretentious saying that I was listening to Leonard Cohen at the age of eight but it’s not like I knew how to use the record player. It was just that when he played music for my mother and I, I would always pick this one. At the time I had no idea what it was about, but it was very evocative. For a long time, I wanted to live in New York because of this song.
Fears of Gun by the Birthday Party
I grew up in Pretoria which was very much cut off from the kind of music I wanted to listen to. The radio (I only had FM, no SW) played nothing “indie” and my local record store didn’t sell this stuff either. Then I discovered a record library. It was brilliant. You could rent the kind of LPs I’d been dying to hear – The Banshees, the Cure, Joy Division. I still listen to A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, Pornography and Closer: they are my go-to 80’s albums (now on CD rather than worn-out tape). But the band that blew me away was the Birthday Party. I’d never heard anything like them. Nick Cave was a revelation. I used to blast out the Bad Seed EP daily, probably freaking out the neighbours in suburb-land. I had to wait until my parents went out though and one day was extremely embarrassed when my mother came home early from work and heard this. It’s not something you’d want your mother to hear.
Papa don’t preach by Madonna
When I was twenty, I escaped Pretoria and ended up living in hellish poverty in London. When I escaped the coercive control relationship I was trapped in, I vowed to only ever listen to the kind of music I wanted to listen to, no matter how bad or silly it was. I think I liked the lyrics of this song because it was about a young woman taking control of her life. Also, it just sounds great.
The Big Sky by Kate Bush
I first heard Kate Bush in my very early teens. I was gobsmacked by “Wuthering Heights” – I’d never heard anything like it. Who had!! No one I knew liked it but I was charmed by it and still know all the lyrics. The Kick Inside was one of the first albums I was ever given. I asked for it for Christmas and still remember unwrapping it. I really wore out that album! But my most favourite Kate Bush album was, and still is, Hounds of Love. I’ve never stopped listening to it. It’s full of exquisite moments, each as perfect as a droplet of heaven, and in one line she even says: “I put this moment … here.” One example is the male choir that appears in “Hello Earth.” I want them to go on singing forever. My favourite track has mostly been “Cloudbusting” because I want it to be about rain (it isn’t, really) but the one that is full of wild energy is “The Big Sky.” She just lets go on this one – the joy, the freedom, the wildness! The best version remains the album track, in my opinion, which appears not to be available on Spotify. It is on YouTube though. But honestly, just buy the whole album. It’s hilarious that “Running up that hill” is a hit all over again because of Stranger Things. Hopefully new fans will explore the album further.
Blackhawk by Emmylou Harris
When my marriage was crumbling, I decided to try a whole new genre of music, having worn out all the rock I’d been listening to for years. Country music seemed to be the exact opposite of everything I’d ever listened to although I began to realise that I’d been subject to quite a lot of it in the 70s. I also realised that I didn’t like modern country music that much. I did discover Nancy Griffith though and loved her early albums. I even went to see her live! I was heartbroken when she died. The “country” music that endured from that part of my life can’t really be called country music at all, although Emmylou Harris is known for folk and country. “The Wrecking Ball” had quite mixed reviews, apparently. People either loved or hated it. I thought it was a work of genius. It was produced by Daniel Lanois whom I was vaguely familiar with having listened to a lot of U2 (once). I never get tired of this album. It’s so grungy. It’s so grown-up. It tears your heart out.
Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson
I cried for six months after my mother died. And then I got angry. It was rage I’d never before experienced. I wanted to stand on top of a hill and scream my lungs out. It was the point in my life that I stopped taking bullshit from people. Having spent my entire life trying to be NICE to people, it was time to just be me. And the real me was raging. So when this track popped up on a “Stargate Atlantis” episode called “Vega” (the second last ever episode), I was blown away. I rushed out to buy “Antichrist Superstar” and I was transformed. I was addicted to that album. I listened to it two or three times a day. I couldn’t get enough. For the first time in my life, I understood the ugly part of my early twenties, years that I’ve never confronted and never understood. I began to understand rage. I began to understand what I was rebelling against – I’d never worked it out. I’d never been able to express it. This album had a profound influence on my life. I found myself but better than that, I found my writing self. It took many years for the rage to abate and I don’t much listen to Marilyn Manson anymore, although I still feel a frisson of excitement when I hear his voice. I think he is an extraordinary artist. His music at its best is brutally honest. (I try not to think about the rest and I also loathe his videos, in fact, he is quite loathsome so don’t judge me here. It’s the music. Forget everything else.)(The original music video is “cleaned up” but I managed to find this one.)
Silver Lining by First Aid Kit
When my mother’s boyfriend (the young one – they never did get married) died, I had to fly to South Africa and sell up the house. It was the most nightmarish three weeks of my life I have ever lived through. I was in such a state of shock that I’d lie sleepless every night unable to stop shivering. Losing the house I grew up in – the very house I ran away from at 20 – was truly awful. For years afterwards I’d wake up in a state of panic that I’d lost my house, my home, my foundation. The irony that I loathe every ounce of my South African-ness hasn’t been lost on me. The house was the last memory I had of my mother and having worked through all the rage, I found that I could, with the death of my “step” father at last begin to truly mourn her. My daughter and I had a terrible time of it, the details of which I’ll spare you. We watched a bit of TV each evening, a ghastly old set, rather small, and utterly saturated with colour. There was nothing to watch but the ads were great. One of them – I can’t remember what ad it was now – used this song by First Aid Kit which I’d never heard before. The lyrics seemed to reflect everything I was feeling, not least of which the search for the silver lining I’ve yet to find.
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
I’ve always loved this, it seems. I still do. There’s no story attached to this at all, perhaps that’s why. At the end of Desert Island Discs, when your music choices wash away and you can only save one, it would be this one.