There’s a show on UK radio that’s been running since God was a nipper, in which celebrity guests are invited to bring along their eight favourite pieces of music (still referred to quaintly as ‘gramophone records’) and talk about their lives and careers. The pretence is they are going to be abandoned on a desert island, hence the title Desert Island Discs. At the end, they are allowed to choose one book (other than the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, which unfortunately they get anyway) and one luxury item, which can’t be a boat or a telephone. (Can I take Hunzi? If I can’t, I’m not going!)
The game for the audience is obviously to sneer at the guests’ taste in music, and to wonder how anyone so clever and successful could possibly want to condemn themselves to listening to such a terrible selection of light opera, bluegrass, skiffle or whatever, for the rest of their natural lives.
I was about to observe that the cleverer the participant, usually the worse their taste in music, as evidenced this morning by Professor Stephen Pinker, the renowned theoretical psychologist and Deep Thinker.
I have thought deeply about which eight tracks I would bring to the party, and long ago came to the conclusion that my favourite musicians would not play well in 45-second soundbites. You can’t just dip into a Coltrane solo and get any kind of understanding or satisfaction from it, it just sounds like a bad noise, and when the clip is faded a few bars in to what is actually a flute solo by Eric Dolphy and Kirsty back-announces ‘That was John Coltrane’, the imprecision is annoying. Certain pieces of music have to be heard all the way through to have meaning, and in the case of someone like Coltrane, whose music will be unfamiliar to 99 per cent of the listeners, it all has to be heard all the way through, not just 48 bars, or even one whole track, but a lifetime of musical development.
I also concluded that 45 seconds of anything by Jimi Hendrix could lose slightly more than half the audience. When I was young and stoned he seemed like an avenging angel, but you need again to get a sense of progression, some context; you can’t just dip in and out.
Anyway, there I was, about to say those things and more, when the old familiar thing happens and my screen starts to shut down, piece by piece, until the desktop disappears and the legend comes up, Preparing to configure Windows updates… Do not switch off your computer…
And when five minutes later the Thing reboots your machine, it is back to the desktop and you have to find your way to the site and page you were working on and log-in again and try to pick up the traces of your thoughts and ideas knowing They can do this to you at any time – and in my case, that this is only one of the dire things your computer will do to you in the course of your work and leisure, as Windows 7 Pro has become unstable and crashes three or four times a day, leaving me to start up in System 32 error mode or whatever.
My version of Desert Island Discs would be that you get to choose eight people you would like to see marooned on a desert island, being cooked by cannibals, and my choice would include whoever at Microsoft decided that this was the right and proper way to go about treating people who pay through the nose for a box and a licence to run their stuff on it. If I understood the first thing about computers I would follow my kids’ advice and switch to some Open Systems software platform thing.
But for the same reason I have stuck with the same bank for 37 years, I am wedded to crappy, authoritarian Microsoft and would be lost in any other domain. And now, guess what, the bank has written to me to say my account is shortly being transferred to some other new, untried and untrusted bank the Government has invented to show it is doing something about the problems with banks, which will probably feature the state of Qatar somewhere in the list of shareholders, and I have absolutely no say in the matter. The letter goes on to insult my intelligence by advising me that this is being done to increase my ‘consumer choice’.
Get it through your head. I am not a consumer, I am a CUSTOMER.
Do you ever lie there thinking that you too may have woken to find yourself marooned on a desert island, with only the Bible and Shakespeare, and eight sad little reminders of your favourite music for company?