80 years of Desert Island Records: the radio show that taught me the value of vulnerability


desert island pucks celebrates his 80th birthday today. Like many, I am a fan. I am well versed in the language you speak. And yet, despite his popularity, he speaks a language many of us are afraid to converse in; The language of vulnerability.

I discovered desert island pucks as a kid flipping through the radio stations one long, hot, boring summer in the ’80s. I was an avid reader and immediately took a liking to his way of telling stories of real people with real lives. He didn’t know the person being interviewed, he just knew that some songs on the show made them cry.

The whole premise of desert island pucks it is one that puts someone in a place of vulnerability. They imagine being destitute, stranded on an island, with only eight songs, a book, and a luxury item with them. The themes chosen by the guest are played and we are invited to travel through their memories through music with them. It has vulnerability at its core.

Throughout my life I have been accused of making myself too vulnerable by being too “sensitive” and “thoughtful”. I marvel at life with the same inspection as when solving a Rubik’s cube. I’ve been told that if I wanted to get ahead in life, I shouldn’t be so “open”. But exploring vulnerability is what he’s done desert island pucks a national institution. We enjoy someone’s personal journey, first through their own words and then through their choice of song. We are delighted with the reveal of formidable and remarkable characters. In this moment, they are stripped of their OBE, Oscar, Booker Prize, or whatever it is that separates them from us, and we are left with what connects them to us: pain and joy.

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I have always liked to show vulnerability; that’s why I write. I’m happiest when I’m openly bleeding all over my keyboard. A friend once told me that she could never be a writer, she would feel too exposed, too vulnerable. But there is no point in writing if you are going to put aside your humanity.

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I don’t want to be someone who wonders if someone I care about knows how much I love them. I want a person to know how much they mean to me without ambiguity. So I explain my feelings, which makes me vulnerable. The misrepresentation of having a strong emotion and then not vocalizing it is hell for me; a form of locked-in syndrome. There is disharmony in thought, feeling and lack of action. I would burst if I couldn’t express my love for someone or something. It is this vocalized honesty and vulnerability that has made desert island pucks exit; a person who climbed Everest is the same person who has a song that can move them to tears.

Mutual vulnerability is how we bond. It allows us to say “me too”. No one gets excited about a tough, steely exterior. We are vulnerable because we are situated. Where we find ourselves socially and economically has significant consequences for our chances of survival. And this awareness of our vulnerability to life and each other makes us better people. We become less self-indulgent. We see opportunities, outside of ourselves, and that helps us become who we are.

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desert island pucks, with its easily recognizable music, feels like a balm in its former familiarity. It has become “our song”. The seagulls transport us to a place, perhaps reminiscent of our own childhood. It gives us, what the Welsh call “hiraeth”. Roughly translated, it means a mix of longing for a home you can’t return to, a home that maybe never was; a longing and sorrow for the lost places of our past.

desert island pucks it has stayed with us for 80 years because it speaks to us in a way that we are often afraid to speak to ourselves. She speaks of love, loss and truth. But in essence, there is a message, and we are all happy to hear it: that, in fact, no one is on a desert island.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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