My British cousin, Jamie Gosney, recently decided to put together a compact disc — he calls it a family album — featuring the clan’s favorite songs as a tribute to his mum, my aunt Jen-Jen, who turns 80 in August.
And he offered up a method with which everyone is familiar: “If you were, indeed, shipwrecked on a desert island, this would be the one piece of music you just couldn’t live without,” he wrote in an email.
Well, you can’t ask me a question like that, it just opens up a host of others. My brain is a bad neighborhood, and if I spend too long walking down the dark alleyways, I will get mugged. And that’s what happened with this inquiry.
First of all, as my wise 16-year-old pointed out, the question is probably about a deserted island, not a desert island, although it could certainly be both. No matter which, I would like to know how the hell I got there. For me to get to a desert(ed) island would require money for plane fare and plenty of vacation time, neither of which I have coming to me in the near future. I can barely afford to get to Shelter Island.
Second, what am I listening to the music on? If I have a little portable CD player, what am I plugging it into? Or is it solar?
“It would run on coconuts,” explained the wise 16-year-old patiently.
“Apparently, so would I,” I said.
If I were cast away on a desert island I think I would be too busy trying to find food and plan my escape to sit about and listen to one song, over and over, on some newfangled coconut-powered electronic.
Would I become attached to this machine, this one relic of my past life? If it got sand in the works and died one day, would I be cradling it in my arms and screaming “Sony!” a la Tom Hanks?
And then there’s the question of the song. This was easy for my kids. They just picked their favorite songs of the moment. When you’re a kid, whatever you’re listening to right now, today, is the best ever and you will love it until the day you die. Ask kids what is their favorite color, their favorite movie, their favorite food, and you get a cut-and-dried answer.
For adults, or at least this semi-adult, it’s not so black and white. Rather than think of a song, I started thinking about that song’s qualifications, like some sort of psychological evaluation.
I would want to add a song to the family album that was something that the whole family, from the doddering elders to the bouncy brats and everyone in between, could enjoy.
The song would have to be up, and happy, and evocative of people doing stuff collectively, family activities, since those are the things I would be pining for on the island. I would want the performer or performers to sound like there were in-jokes, a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork, while they performed. In fact, the song would have to be about teamwork and doing things together.
And if by chance I were not to escape from that island prison, and my anguished bones were found one day, with the cursed song still playing on the fruit-energized machine, I would want it to define me, for people to nod and say, “Ah, yes. That song was pure Bridget.”
I was putting a lot of pressure on this song. And on myself. I lay awake at nights, cursing my sweet cousin James, looking at the endless empty line of an imaginary horizon, waiting for a ship, a plane, anything to come and remove me from my solitary hell.
This went on for months.
Until just a week ago, as I was on a long-distance drive and a song came on the radio. I hadn’t been thinking about Jamie’s question, and yet, here it was. The song. The song that fulfilled all my requirements. A song I could, if need be, listen to over and over, using the tune as a musical crucifix against the blood-sapping repetitiveness of lapping ocean waves and eternal sand.
I quickly sent it off to Jamie and have been doing my very best to wash the taste of raw crabs and seaweed and loneliness out of my brain-mouth ever since.
I hope I never do get marooned on some faraway strip of sand in the sea, but whenever I travel, I will be sure to take the “family album” with me, to chase away feelings of despair until help inevitably arrives. Let’s just hope there’s plenty of coconuts there.
Bridget LeRoy is a reporter for The Star. If she were on a deserted island, she would choose “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles as the song she would most like to hear over and over and over and over.