The one radio show I make an effort not to miss each week is ‘Desert Island Discs’.
That’s the radio show where they invite an unusual celebrity along each week: actor, explorer, philosopher, scientist, just interesting people.
And they say, “Imagine you were cast away alone, on a desert island with only 8 records for the rest of your life.
What would you choose and why?”
Sometimes the celebrities are interesting, sometimes not.
But, what’s always useful from our point of view is this.
Here’s someone who’s lived an entire life and picked out the 8 most powerful pieces of music from everything they’ve heard over all those years.
Of course some weeks you won’t hear anything useful.
But some weeks you will.
I think it’s our job to spot stuff.
So, if we’re smart, we put ourselves in places where we’re most likely to be stimulated by things we might not otherwise encounter.
Of course you could just go to a concert and listen to whatever sort of music you like.
But you’re really not going to learn much that way.
You’ll just hear 2 or 3 hours of the same sort of stuff.
With Desert Island Discs you hear the key music throughout a person’s life.
Music for all their different moods, their different ages, their different influences, their most evocative memories.
You’ll hear classical music, rock, country, world music, rap, modern jazz, blues, and opera.
Every piece is, for them, the sound equivalent of Proust’s ‘Madeleine’.
Something so powerful that it transports them immediately back to wherever they first heard it.
Now I’m a big believer in the maxim, “Don’t work hard, work smart”.
And I think these people do a lot of our work for us.
Selecting the 8 most powerful tracks from a lifetime’s listening.
Not only that.
Because the programme’s only half hour long, they can only play a minute or so of each piece of music.
And in our job, we need powerful music that can work in short time lengths.
So this programme is like me getting someone to help me do my job.
Someone to do music research.
And I’ll take all the help I can get.
I’m not proud.
Years ago, we decided to take the family skiing.
We’d never been before, so I used the Desert Island Discs’ principle.
I asked Gordon Smith.
Gordon goes skiing every year, sometimes twice a year.
He’s an expert and he’s been all over the world.
So I figure I don’t have to go through the whole painful learning process for myself.
Gordon’s already made all the mistakes, sorted out the good from the bad.
It would be dumb not to use that.
So I asked Gordon and, like anyone who loves something, he talked about it for ages.
Eventually he decided Europe would be wrong, as we were beginners and had small children.
He said America would be best.
Because everyone speaks English, they’re more tolerant of novices, the slopes are wider, and Americans love children.
Whereas Europe has too many competing nationalities, most runs are for experts, not as much room on the slopes, and restaurants are much more formal.
So I took Gordon’s advice and went to Colorado.
It was perfect and we went back every year.
For me this is what our job’s about.
Getting the right answer.
We don’t have to invent the right answer out of our own heads every time.
But we do have to take responsibility for making sure the right answer happens.
So we need as much input, as much stimulation as possible.
Ideas from places we wouldn’t think of looking.
And I would rather get to the right answer the fastest, smartest way possible.