My childhood was shit. Literally, I would often piss or shit myself and get beaten for it. This probably happens to a load of children but in my case, it lasted so long that I can remember it. My parents would beat me. Once they said I had pneumonia but it wasn't pneumonia, it was a broken rib. Sounds horrible and yes it was but sometimes my father would take it into his head that it was time to listen to some music. He would bring out his paltry record collection and, in the dark with the record player plugged into the light socket, we would listen to the music. The only thing that remotely approached rock and/or roll was Poor Jenny b/w Send a Message to Mary by the Everly Brothers. But I'm not going to take that to the desert island with me because there's something that brings memories much more unique to those interludes of decency in a life that held precious little. And of course, added to that link is the fact tat through Mme Ferrier I learned of Gustav Mahler and his marvellous Kindertotenlieder (Child Death Songs). Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kathleen Ferrier singing "Blow the Wind Southerly"
At school we learned to sing. I remember some of the songs we would do, such as Halleluiah I'm a Bum (from the Big Red Song Book - yes really) and a bowdlerised version of Big Rock Candy Mountain (some of you may have heard me singing it with the Sweet smelling swampies. But the one that really sticks in my memory was Mary Hopkin's rendition of a Russian folk song translated as 'Those Were the Days'... Not only because we had to learn it but also because it gave me the ambition to get on stage and perform for an audience, so although I might fondly imagine it was the Partridge Family that ignited my desire to sing, the truth is, it was way back in the days of school concerts. And of course, because I'd had all the noise literalyl beaten out of me along with the piss and the shit, I was quiet. It was so hard for me to raise my voice enough to be heard but this song released me to a degree and there I was a nine year old singing lyrics about lost youth and the disappointment of surviving. That's the story of my life but here instead of Mary Hopkin is the Leningrad Cowboys with the Red Army Choir singing "Those Were The Days".
And then along came the seventies. It was full of disco music, northern soul (and sorry Sally but I disliked soul with a passion because it didn't speak to me). Here I was, this Gypsy/Irish Traveller kid (I'm descended from both) raised as an outsider in a violent household and having been taught that anything I openly desired could be used against me, so no wanting for me and it follows no songs about sexual desire. The first single I bought was not one of those ubiquitous love songs we were supposed to rave about in the school disco, it wasn't even T-Rex or Slade. No, the first record I ever bought was Hello, Hooray by Alice Cooper. But I'm not going to play that now, instead, here is the b-side, a beautiful song about madness and suicide Ladies and Gentlemen Alice Cooper singing "Luney Tunes".
So here I was, living in Science Fiction worlds and determined not to have to live in the world that my hormones would desire. Truth is, I thought I was the wrong gender, but knew I didn't want to be the other gender either. I've never been happy with binaries. In the real world, either/or is a choice foisted upon us, a form of oppression that seeks to force us to ignore the myriad other choices out there. It's possible that I made a mistake in the choices I made, but on the other hand, maybe it's not. Suffice to say, in my teens, when all the music was about love and I knew that was a place from which I was excluded, I didn't listen to music. The only exceptions were soundtracks of the science fiction in my head. So, I loved Hawkwind, I loved Kraftwerk, and I loved this one glorious song by Queen. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Brian May singing his own composition, "39". If you'd offered me the chance to be one of the "score brave souls inside", I'd've bitten your arm off. It was my fondest ambition to go to sleep for a hundred years and awaken when all my so-called friends were dead.
And then along came punk. Punk taught me so much about politics, about why it is really really fucking stupid to campaign for people not to vote in a general election (maybe I was right, maybe there was no difference between Callaghan and Thatcher but in this case, being right would have been even worse. But before that, all of the choices that would make up my life were laid out upon a plate, no this is not going to be the Black Angel's Death Song, it will be the story that described my life. There I was, seventeen years old, living in a movie and already I'd seen the closing credits. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Patti Smith singing "Piss Factory".
And punk carried on, I've been a punk more or less ever since. I might not dress punk, I may work in Whitehall, I may have even joined a political party, namely the Greens, but inside, I still have this anarchist black heart that knows down to the depths that whoever puts his hand upon me to govern me is a tyrant and a usurper. This is why there is another punk song here, one that sums up my politics. Comrades, I give you Vi Subversa with Poison Girls singing "Persons Unknown".
And then comes my life and it's so hard to choose one song to sum up the last thirty years. Not least because any song that would fit is probably a monstrous dirge about drudgery, frustration and wishing for things I never strove for. All those wasted years waiting to emerge from the shadows and join the oh so inevitable revolutions. Well you know what, this time I'm NOT going to do that. I'm going to go with something beautiful, something to show how it might have been if I'd let myself go and expressed my emotions out there in the mundane world instead of the virtual world in which I found myself. Sometimes you have to scream it all out bitterly. Yes, I could have been venus as a boy, I could have been all the things I wanted to be but I spent too long in the shadows. I never got laid until I was 29, possibly because I was shy, possibly because my desires were all mixed up and poisonous. But that doesn't have to be ugly, that confusion can be beautiful and bright, scouring the skies of sunshine. It can be like this. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Sinead O'Connor singing "Troy"
And finally we come to the song I want them to play as they cook me on Gas mark 10 for long enough to make me tender and nice when they eat my age-raddled flesh. (Or throw my body into the sea or wastefully burn it, or lower me into the ground as wormfood so a tree can grow from my remains). There is no choice in this and tha's the way I like it. Choices only bring guilt and disappointment and when I'm dead I don' want to leave anything like that behind. Here's Skunk Anansie boys and girls. Here's "You'll Follow Me Down".
So, since this is desert island dicks, I get to choose a book and a luxury too. Apparently the Bible and Shakespeare are already there but here in a room with around two thousand books, how the hell am I supposed to choose only one. Well you know what? I can. I have a favourite book. Sometimes there are others that I get obsessed with but over and over again, I go back to this. My book is Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, written in 1979, it's a pretty accurate depiction of the days we live in.
The luxury though. And they told me I couldn't have a lover which is a shame. I could take an infinite supply of paper and pencils, but that doesn't help me if I never get out of there. Instead, I'll take a musical instrument. Most of the ones I have are stringed or require batteries and that doesn't help if you leave me here forever and they go out of tune, so I want something with keys, something highly portable. I'll take my sansula thanks, a form of African thumb piano.