GETTING well-known people to talk about their favourite music is a hardy perennial: Desert Island Discs, Tracks Of My Years, Inheritance Tracks, and My First, My Last, My Everything are just a handful of radio features that do this. Long Players is of the same genus. But the difference is that the chosen candidates are all writers — 50 of them — including Ali Smith, Bonnie Greer, Lionel Shriver, Will Self, Marlon James, and Ben Okri. It blends memoir and music writing — and it’s a very good, dippable read.
The albums that the contributors write about are not necessarily their favourites, but, as the book’s subtitle says, it’s music that “shaped” them, struck a chord, lit a spark. For instance, Deborah Levy — writing about The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie — says: “Its effect was nothing less than throwing petrol at the naked flame of teenage longing and desire for another sort of life.”
Time and again, these commentators (who often write evocatively and poetically) talk about the existential quality of music. Sarah Hall, on listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer, says that it is “an amplification of a moment, so the feeling when listening is a kind of enhancement of life in real time”. Ben Okri says that Kind of Blue, by Miles Davies, when he first listened to it in Lagos, became “an invisible fact of life, woven into it like cloud in the sky, or trees along a road.”
Music refreshes the parts that other artforms cannot reach. Will Harris, eulogising the rhythm at the heart of Regulate . . . G Funk Era by Warren G, writes: “It’s a philosophy you feel in your toes, an aporia in which sound and self dissolve and briefly become one whole. Which is to say, you can only understand it when you’re listening to it.”
The Revd Malcolm Doney is a writer, broadcaster, and Anglican priest. His most recent book is Lifelines (2018), with Martin Wroe (Books, 30 November 2018).
Long Players: Writers on the albums that shaped them
Tom Gatti, editor
Church Times Bookshop £11.69