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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

I’m making a film with a friend of mine, Al: a journey all the way up from sunny Acton in West London to Iona in the windswept Scottish Western Isles and the birthplace of Christianity in the UK. I was dubious about the religious angle in all of this but Al assured me there’s no better place to go on Earth if you a) want to have a good time or b) get completely pissed. He says that the locals are practical people who like a good laugh and leave all the mumbo jumbo and airy-fairy carryings-on to the tourists.

So that’s alright then. But still, it’s a long journey and whilst the scenery outside the car windows will be breathtaking – which hopefully we’ll be able to see if the stair-rod rain holds off – this might not be enough to break any awkward silences or the frustration that always comes from being cooped up in a confined space for any length of time. Mind you, as Al’s been completely paralysed from the neck down due to Multiple Sclerosis and in a wheelchair for years, he is in some way used to this and has a much better approach to any kind of discomfort, both mental and physical, than I have, meeting everything life throws at him with courage and indefatigable humour.

Not having his equanimity I’ve been thinking about how to minimise the annoying aspects of a long drive. Sitting in the front (always better unless you’re in the back of a limo) might not be an option and I hate boiled sweets and ‘I Spy’: “No, you cannot have ‘A’ for air: you can’t bloody see it.” “Well you can’t see the air-bag either!” “Oh, for f***’s sake: have the point.” Crisp crumbs get everywhere and all the salt makes you thirsty and there are no services when you need them. So the answer’s got to be music.

Al wants to go to Iona to meet up with his old friends and his first love, whom he hasn’t seen for 30 years. Her name is Mags. They met in 1975 when Al was 18 and happily for their romance Rod The Mod had released Maggie May four years earlier. Al used to sing it to her. And he wants this played in the van.

It is in fact ideal material for the now obligatory singalong sequence in every film featuring friends in a car on a journey. And don’t they make you feel good! Actually singing impacts on your body on a cellular level: I’m sure I’ve banged on about this before, but I’ve recently discovered there’s a school of thought that believes certain musical frequencies release particular emotions that have become stored in our body on a cellular level when we experience them. Which is why music is fundamentally cathartic.

So we’re thinking about a cathartic track listing for the mobility-van singalong. I’d love to reprise that scene in Wayne’s World and belt out Bohemian Rhapsody, me, but as I can only really sing in my imagination and this isn’t a comedy (well it is, though not always at my expense) and Al’s MS has been grim and he’s now losing his voice forever, we’d need something altogether more simple.

Any suggestions therefore welcome (to the usual address) for ‘songs for a joyful journey’. Short, sweet – and as Stevie Wonder might put it – in the key of life.

Elizabeth Kinder


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