Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. The next letter’s first draft was written on January 10, 2016 and it survives almost wholly unchanged: whether this means it is transcendental or is merely- and totally- irrelevant here and now in April 2021 is a judgment best left to you, the audience, I think…
Entry 73: The song, A World of Pain, goes back even further– it was written early in 2002. You know, it took me about six months to even believe fully in the events of September 11, 2001. I mean it. For half a year, almost, I could not totally credit what had taken place. I had read and viewed, in the mid-1990s, the news of those Mickey Mouse attacks on the World Trade Centre, where some losers were trying to situate cars with explosives next to pillars in the underground carpark to bring the towers down. Let’s face it. Those guys with towels around their heads were as laughable as the guys in black pyjamas in what the winners now call the American War and what we persist in calling the Vietnam War.
How could those murderous buffoons deliver such massive blows to the jaw and gut of the premier power on earth? I admit that I got it wrong; first, in Vietnam, and later in NYC. And believe me, it won’t be the last time I get it wrong. But it got me thinking about real paradigm shifts, when the lens through which we view the world is revealed to be flawed; where we need a new set of spectacles to see our way- until, that is, the next revelation shakes the core of our being. For me, the Bali bombings of October 2002 sealed the deal. The attack killed 202 people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 23 Britons, and people of more than 20 other nationalities). A further 209 people were injured. By the end of the year I knew that, yes, indeed, the world had changed and that there would be no going back.
But, here, from the perspective of COVID-ravaged 2021, I stand by the imaginative recreation of a possible dystopian future, outlined in the song, for people like me that I wrote in February 2002. It is as likely to come to pass as any of the prognostications of the experts I pay a dollar or two to read in the daily newspapers. (Not that the papers will last too much longer, if the pundits have got it right, even accidentally.) The song posits a post-apocalyptic world in which small groups of Westerners, clinging to remnants of their culture and past, wander through a desolate landscape, harried by bands of fanatics (the successors of the Taliban and Islamic State, perhaps) who periodically force them to uproot and keep moving.
And they have kept moving, across a virtual, frozen plain for a decade and a half while the real world spins out its revelations- some dire, some dream-laden, some disastrous and some desirous. Tonight, my son made a point of coming in to tell me the news that David Bowie had died of cancer. My first thought, after registering the info and feeling the existential hit that another of my contemporaneous heroes was gone, was that I had been in JB Hi-Fi just an hour previously and had toyed with the idea of buying Black Star, Bowie’s, as it now seems, last musical CD. But, I had decided to stream it instead.
Yes, I had obsessed over Heroes in the seventies, after singing along in the sixties about Major Tom, the Space Oddity, and reprising it again in the eighties to the strains of Ashes to Ashes. Now I am streaming the CD Black Star. Remembering that Bowie had gone to the Carinda Hotel, in northern NSW to make Let’s Dance and throw his considerable celebrity weight behind the cause of Aboriginal rights and recognition reminds me that so much goodness resides beneath the dirt that journalists seek to heap- sometimes justifiably- on those who have attracted the limelight. Vale, David.
And still the world spins crazily: my daughter dances frenetically in her room, I can feel the vibrations through the floor, my wife watches the Golden Globes on the flat-screen TV in another room, my son, in his room, trawls through footage from forty -one seasons of Saturday Night Live for material that he will use in his radio show next Sunday. Me? I try to get stuff together: I am supposed to be organising a one-week break in New Zealand, all the while, consuming the three main food groups of my diet- beer, wine and spirits.
The perspicacious among you will know that I will be hanging out for a fragment of a poem by this stage- if not the thing whole. And, yet, I am without a clue. At the moment I am listening, for the first time, to the final song streaming from Bowie’s last album, I Can’t Give Everything Away and I know I will be listening to the whole album again and again, to the accompaniment of my three favourite food groups and memories stretching back to the sixties will take me somewhere that I hope will reveal a poem to mark the entry appropriately- even though I hate the word appropriately.
And… still… my daughter dances to a Maroon 5 song on repeat, my wife watches Ricky Gervais sneering at the glitterati at the Golden Globes while my son channels John Belushi or, perhaps, perves on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And me? I just tip another glass of Cab Sav and reflect that my Christmas stash has just about run dry. So, too, my poetry search. I’ll have to end with a part of a prayer: as several poets have noted, most notably, Les Murray- prayers are poems and poems, prayers: Kyrie Elison, (Lord have mercy). [insert song]
The next stage of our journey through the interior of Quotidia will take us to the heart of darkness. Not Conrad’s hellish depiction of the Belgian Congo at the close of the 19th Century but missions in Nigeria and India, the billowing vapour, clanking rollers and shouted orders at a Magdalene Laundry as well as a glimpse into the dark night of the soul of a 20th Century icon. Don’t worry, there’s a laugh or two to be had as we trudge along a shadowy path laid out by the 74th Letter. See you there.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.