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.
What links Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, mystic and writer with an international reputation; Stephen Fry, writer, TV presenter and quizmaster of the popular show QI and Jacob Beser, radar specialist on the aircraft Enola Gay and Bockscar? They all impacted or commented upon the life and experience of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a modest Japanese engineer who avoided publicity for decades, choosing instead to raise his family away from the glare of the limelight, which he could have claimed early, had he so chosen.
Mr Yamaguchi who died in 2010 aged 93, survived both atomic blasts; first, in Hiroshima, then, three days later, in Nagasaki. They had a big laugh about it on QI in December 2010, commenting that the bomb just bounced off his head while the host speculated about whether he was the luckiest or unluckiest man alive. Not that any offence was intended, of course, but sometimes, with the best of intentions (see info about the road to hell, etc.), misunderstandings do arise.
One of these concerns the work, Original Child Bomb, by Thomas Merton- a supposed poem (although it comprises a series of prose statements about the context, development and use of the bomb.) Here is the first statement, or stanza, if you wish, 1. In the year 1945 an Original Child was born. The name Original Child was given to it by the Japanese people, who recognized that it was the first of its kind. Except, it wasn’t: according to Wikipedia, the phrase “original child bomb” was derived from the Japanese term for the atom bomb, genshi bakudan. Genshi, which means “atom,” contains root characters which, when rendered individually, can be taken to mean “original” and “child.” Merton’s poem claims that the Japanese called the weapon the “original child bomb” because the bomb was the first of its kind. It is unlikely, however, that native Japanese speakers would have translated genshi as such, or that the phrase “original child bomb” was ever used by the Japanese. Still, there’s a 2004 English-language documentary with that name, so it must be true.
And so, to the third person mentioned in opening- Jacob Beser. He was the person of the trio mentioned who probably had the most profound effect on Tsutomu Yamaguchi. As the on-board specialist responsible for ensuring that the electronic conditions for detonation of the bombs were optimal, Jacob Beser can claim total success. Both Little Boy and Fat Man (the names given to the devices of mass destruction) exploded over their assigned targets- Hiroshima and Nagasaki at shortly after eight fifteen and eleven o’clock in the morning respectively. As a life-long employee working for the military-industrial complex of the United States, Mr Beser never expressed any regret for his part in these historic events: I feel no sorrow or remorse for whatever small role I played… I remember Pearl Harbor and all of the Japanese atrocities…I don’t want to hear any discussion of morality. War, by its very nature, is immoral. Are you any more dead from an atomic bomb than from a conventional bomb?
But let’s leave the last words to the survivor of both blasts, Tsutomu Yamaguchi. As mentioned previously, this unassuming employee of the Mitsubishi corporation shunned publicity for decades. In his daughter Toshiko’s words, he was so healthy, he thought it would have been unfair to people who were really sick. However, he did endure the cancer-related deaths of his wife, Hisako, and son, Katsutoshi, as well as the life-long illnesses of both his daughters before succumbing to stomach cancer himself. Gradually, he began to realise that he had a responsibility to future generations and he became engaged in anti-nuclear weapons activities. In the documentary Nijuuhibaku (Twice Bombed, Twice Survived), screened at the United Nations in 2006 he’s finally able to weep, in his 80s, as he recalls watching bloated corpses floating in the city’s rivers and encountering the walking dead of Hiroshima, whose melting flesh hung like ‘giant gloves.’
He resorted to poetry over the years to try to encompass his experience usually tanka, 31-syllable poems. In 1969 he wrote, Thinking of myself as a phoenix,/I cling on until now,/But how painful they have been/ the years past. According to The Economist obituary of January 14, 2010, He wrote hundreds, each one an ordeal. When he composed them, he would dream of the dead lying on the ground. One by one, they would get up and walk past him. Carbonised bodies face-down in the nuclear wasteland/all the Buddhas died,/and never heard what killed them.
At 90, on his first trip abroad…in front of the UN, he pleaded for a non-nuclear world, If there exists a God who protects/nuclear-free eternal peace/the blue earth won’t perish. Amen, to that. The song you will hear now was written over a couple of days in early August 2005. It was written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. However, as I was writing the song, I realised that there was another, more personal anniversary- of a sort- for this particular date also marked the passage of time where the duration of my son’s time on earth was balanced by the time since his passing. This realisation coloured the composition of the piece which had started out as a straight remembrance of that epoch-shattering event but morphed into a more personal threnody. [insert song]
The poetry of the marvellous Langston Hughes starts our next letter. We also hear from the composer of A Boy Named Sue, the multi-talented Shel Silverstein. Lovers of more traditional verse have not been neglected for they’ll get a wallop of Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard to sate their hunger. Those whose metier is visual arts are not shunned either as Brueghel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death is considered as part of the deal.
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.