I'd rather go blind.
"I'd Rather Go Blind ..."
"Than to see you walk away from me"
Title and chorus of that very well known American blues song covered by Rod Stewart among many others.
Many of you who know me are aware that every career move I've made in the last 40 years has been nothing more than a scheme to get me invited on to BBC Radio 4 to share my Desert Island Discs with the listeners. All those long days and nights in the studio with Sade and the gang, the exile in California with The Grateful Dead, the trips to Norway in mid-winter to make Winter Olympic music, helping carry drunk members of The Poges into a minicab, collecting lead singers from The Priory on the way to the studio and dropping them back on the way home, talking down hip hop producers carrying Magnum pistols ... all this and more simply to garner enough credibility to get on a marginal radio show.
When I got the note from Who's Who to say they had awarded me an entry and could I fill in the form and what were my hobbies I wrote 'trying to get on Desert Island Discs'.
All this has availed me of nothing. I now have about 400 different alternate 'Robin's top 8 records of all time' on file. I've had endless philosophical debates with myself ... do you choose records because they signpost events in your life? Do you choose records that will impress listeners with your musical taste? Do you choose records to turn people on to stuff they don't know? Do you choose any records you actually made? All these are vexing questions and each list bears little or no resemblance to another.
With one exception. The only song which has made it to every single selection is "I'd rather go blind".
This may seem obvious in an ironic way. But what is interesting is how the reason that I include it has altered over the decades. It is the route map of my philosophical journey through my life from age 21 to age – well, now.
As an angry, vulnerable, dim-sighted, handsome, articulate young man this song infuriated me. You would rather go blind than to watch your girlfriend walk off with the bloke next door? I don't think so mate. You have no idea. Going blind is unimaginably horrible and painful. It makes me cry almost every day. It makes me hate God, Jesus and every priest who ever lived. It makes me jealous of every young man who can drive a car, ride a motorbike, see a girl in a night club. It will prevent me from success. It will mean I'll never be cool. It's making college work a nightmare. I can hardly even read any more. How dare you write that song? How dare you sing that song?
Ten years on and I'm running a car rental company – Ferraris – I'm friends with Jodie Foster and Keith Richards, I've made love to Nathalie Delon, I'm still handsome, I've got some money. Maybe things aren't so bad.
Then I start a studio, meet Sade, have a big hit record. Now I've got loads of money. I've got 4 Ferraris, 2 Bentleys, 2 Jensens, a house in the country with a pool and a tennis court ... actually this is all going OK.
I stop thinking about that song. It's still on my Desert Island Discs but as a reminder of how I've changed.
Then, in 1985, in the space of 6 weeks, I go completely blind. Completely. I'm in a residential studio in France recording. I can't find my way from my room to the studio. I have 2 little children and I can't see their faces. I literally can't see the food on my plate. I can't see the guitar, the mixing desk, the singer.
I broke down and ran home. I ranted and shouted at everyone. I left home and my family. I took up smoking pot. More than anything else I hated that bloody song.
Now it had really happened. I'd gone blind. I'd bottomed out and it sucked. It was so so different from having even a little sight. Suddenly I didn't exist in a room. I wasn't really there.
Then I took a deep deep breath and I said 'either I change this or it destroys me'. I went on retreat. I changed all the things I did have control over. I stopped smoking, drinking, caffeine, eating meat. I did my yoga every day. I meditated every day. Most importantly, I took myself out of the centre of my life. I committed to finding people less fortunate than me and working to help them.
Then I went back home. I went back to work. Nobody recognised me. I was ten years younger in body and ten years older inspirit. For the first time in my life my eyesight stopped getting worse. It stayed the same.
So from that moment on I started to learn how to do things without seeing them. so like learning an instrument or a language, each month I practised I got better...and better...and better.
I won't go through a blow by blow of the next 25 years. Fast forward to now. I'm as different to what you imagine a blind man is like as it's possible. You can't even imagine. I've practised 16 hours a day for all that time. I'm a virtuoso. I'm as good at being blind as Barenboim is at playing the piano. I see nothing but I see everything. My blindness is what I am. It's why I am here. it defines me, the way I handle it gives strength to those around me. It won't change. I'd rather go blind than to see you walk away from me. much rather, actually.
As for Desert Island Discs? What do I have to do? I've tried everything. I'm not giving up. I just got back from being away and have just updated my list to include a very cool rare bossa nova from the 1950's, a little known early Schoenberg piece on love and sex and a Kylie track because it makes me think of my kids when they were young ... oh yes, and “I'd rather Go Blind” - the 1967 Etta James version, because as a record producer I think it's a really well recorded vocal and I'd like to know which microphone they used.