A week or so ago I tuned in to listen to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democratic activist, as she gave her choices for Desert Island Discs. Her life in opposition to the appalling military dictatorship of her homeland is utterly admirable, but I know from talking to friends that the programme was more than a bit disappointing, really, giving some evidence for the old cliché about ‘never meet your heroes’. There was no recognition of the contribution of the kids and husband she left behind in England to carry on without her, rather too much (including a record) about her father, and pretty evasive answer to a question about her refusal to condemn violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority. “Had I done so it would have been divisive” was, I think, the answer. Well, if only Churchill had been as wise in 1940.
And – I know this shouldn’t matter – what a boring choice of music. Dvorak’s New World Symphony, for goodness sake – if I wanted to hear that again I could look at a Hovis advert or ring my local call centre and listen between messages telling me that my call is important to them. Pachalbal’s Canon (also featured in TV adverts from Coca-Cola to Pantene) also made an appearance. We also got Tom Jones and the Green, Green Grass of Home. Now, an earlier blog (Sep 22nd 2012) revealed my admiration for Mr. Jones’ vocal talents, but this song is actually not about going back to your roots, but about the night before an execution. And then – I think I could see it coming, but the horror, the horror was undiminished – John Lennon’s “Imagine”. To be fair, Dr. Suu Kyi is not the only castaway to select this dirge, as a millionaire tax exile yearns for a world without possessions. 25 people from Billy Connolly to Neil Kinnock, Raymond Blanc to Natalie Wood have been happy to place it amongst the only eight pieces of music they would ever hear, for the rest of their lives. But, dear me, dear me.
I suppose what one can say is that it is good for someone not to pretend a profundity or love of music that isn’t there. Sometimes you can listen to Desert Island Discs, or similar programmes asking celebrities for favourite books, music or films, and feel a whiff of over-preparation as some dunderhead sobs at the thought of a life without Beethoven’s Late Quartets or the unabridged Don Quixote. And we were warned: Dr Suu Kyi confessed on release from house arrest to loving Dave Lee Travis’s BBC World Service music show.