Pete Seeger Boxes
As a child, our family drove through France every year for our annual biweekly camp at La Paillotte, in the Landes department, near the Spanish border. Being the youngest, I was able to ride in the trunk of my father’s Ford Cortina estate, along with the tents, and everyone joined in when he sang this. song.
I can’t hear it without a wave of the smell of the pine groves surrounding the campsite and the taste of the exciting wraps of a franc of chips from a little cabin there. I went back to the same camp with my own family and nothing had changed except that I could have so many chips as I would.
Leonard Cohen fingerprints
Leonard Cohen has been the soundtrack to almost every vacation I have taken. I can remember, for example, in the first years of marriage, when I was in Lindos in Rhodes and one of my stepdaughters would come out of her room and shout, “Why, why do we always have to hear this dreadful old man sing?” (Since then he has patched up his ways.) Since 2014 I have been mentally and literally immersed on the Greek island of Hydra, where Cohen had a home and where my novel A Theater for Dreamers takes place. Those highly publicized photographs of his first concert, writer Charmian Clift singing alongside him, surrounded by the legendary bohemian community, have always made me wonder what he was playing. I imagine Fingerprints (Although it wasn’t recorded until Phil Spector’s album, it was previously published as a poem.) As for the subject, I think it is an ideal candidate for this long song from 1960.
One of the first times I went on vacation with David Gilmour (the Pink Floyd guitarist, now my husband) we went to the small island of Kastellorizo in the Dodecanese, which is the easternmost point of Greece and at that time hardly inhabited. One night, David’s luggage tag broke and he realized that hidden behind it was an acid pill that he had been given when he visited the Soviet Union in 1988 for a rocket launch, and he had forgotten . Subsequently, he had unknowingly taken it everywhere, even on a Pink Floyd world tour. The impregnated sheet had been an image of Gorbachev and this smidgeon was his red birthmark, the strongest part, apparently. David doubted it still had much potency, but we dissolved it and shared it in a glass of water. It turned out that he was wrong. I wrote something about it at the time and years later I found my notebook, some lines of which made their way into the lyrics of this song.
I was seven months pregnant with my first child when his father and I went to Dingle to swim with the wild dolphins. It was September 1989, and although the sea must have been freezing (and no wetsuit could be found to suit my stroke), I don’t remember being cold because it was so exhilarating. We spent a month there, swimming with the dolphins every day (“the first of God’s creatures to see our baby,” said his father, referring to his sonar) and at night the music in the pubs was so good: all the traditional Irish instruments – violins, whistles – and this song stays with me as part of that happy moment.
This is all the summers of my teens in song, and then again in my 20s, on a vacation from my editorial work, cycling from Bordeaux to Biarritz, overwhelmed by the huge typescript of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. It took up every inch of my saddlebags and is now inextricably linked with singing this song to myself and wishing I had a change of clothes instead.
I’m completely loveless for air supply
One year we went to Union Island in the Caribbean and we met a lovely man named Pleasure who cooked us a barbecue on the beach. The meat turned out to be Iguana, which was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted, but that hasn’t tainted my memory. Pleasure had a guitar and said he would play us his favorite song, which turned out to be I am completely without love. A couple of years later we returned to the same lovely beach, having rehearsed the song to surprise him. Three members of our group were professional singers, but Pleasure seemed puzzled throughout its many verses and claimed not to have heard it before.
One year we took a rusty little plane from Mexico to Dallas (where DG was playing a concert) and suffered a sandstorm that required flying extremely low between skyscrapers on the way to an emergency landing. All I remember is the pained faces of my children and playing this on repeat on my headphones and thinking that it would be the last thing I would hear. David kept saying it wasn’t a problem, but when we landed, the pilot got off and got dizzy on the runway.
When I was 20 years old, in my first publishing job and with a salary that made traveling abroad a distant dream, I wrote my name to be a courier and the opportunity to go to Hong Kong arose. It was the weirdest thing, it cost nothing at all, but I had to carry some mystery packages. I stayed a month and it was glorious to be alone and discover the city and islands of Lantau and Lamma and cycle the length of Macau to the leper colony. There were so many escapades on that trip and this song always makes me think how fearless I was then.
One Easter we drove from Rome to Puglia in a rented Fiat Multipla that we hated at first glance, only to realize it was the best car in the world because it could seat three in the front, making it look wildly carefree and retro. Every time I hear this song, I think of Puglia and that car and the fields of wildflowers and a child or another bouncing between us and everyone singing and trying competitively to keep that long note of daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.
Yes, I have ghosts of David Gilmour
This is another with my lyrics, but it is so tied to my last vacation, pre-Covid, that it is impossible to write this list without including it. This song was written about Charmian Clift and being haunted by people who are not dead. The last time I left the UK was in March 2020 to go to Hydra where we recorded a video of David singing it, but I had no idea what was to come. It is now inextricably linked to the ghosts of the life we lived before this pandemic.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism