Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 125 – 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.
We all know the story about the frog in the warming pot: how it habituates to the increasing heat until it cooks. I wonder who discovered this- some hungry French peasant craving a feed of frog legs? I reckon the frog in a pot story is a crock but the moral of the story has legs (please excuse the double pun, Quotidians!) I, for one, have been reading the signs of the times from as far back as 1968 when I read Paul Erlich’s, The Population Bomb. I was repulsed by his sanguine writing off of tens of millions of humans beings in South Asia who would starve to death in the inevitable famine that he saw as imminent. I must have missed that particular catastrophe.
But the warnings about overpopulation, pollution, and the drain on finite resources have become increasingly strident over the decades and only the stupidest of news anchors, conspiracy theorists, shock jocks and politicians still hold that everything’s hunky dory. Mind you, this still leaves a very large number of numbskulls out there to annoy you with their nonsense. As early as 1962 with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, we have known that we were all in trouble; that big corporations and governments were not about to turn off their own personal money tap just to safeguard the environment.
All down the years of my life they have been lying to us with impunity. Throw a rock in any parliament or chamber of government and, chances are, you’ll hit one of the venal and complicit rogues who place obstacles in the road of anyone seeking urgent reform before it is too late. And, of course, the poets put it best. Here is an excerpt from a poem that I can relate to, by Joy Harjo, the incumbent American Poet Laureate and first Native American to hold that honour:
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world./Then we took it for granted./ Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind./Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head./And once Doubt ruptured the web,/All manner of demon thoughts/ jumped through—/We destroyed the world we had been given/For inspiration, for life—/each stone of jealousy, each stone/Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light./
So that’s what my song, Summer Rain is all about: how the symbols of hope in the natural world have become ominous in the truest sense of the word as the music thickens and ratchets up while refusing to develop and grow. Not really a typical song of mine, but it insisted on being written. See what you think. [insert song] A bit of a post-script: the tenor sax in the song is a reference to the fact that Joy Harjo is a musician as well as a poet and she plays the saxophone.
Now to the next song. I first came across it in Wollongong at some musical do or other in the mid-70s. Then, I was disdainful as only the newly minted zealot on “real” Irish folk music can be against all that smaltzy, Hollywood, B-grade, Oirishry that I classed the song in with. The band playing it were wearing jackets of emerald green with shamrock-festooned waistcoats- I felt nauseous. But that was then- now, well…now I am less, ah, Taliban-ish about tastes and fashions that differ from my own. Is it a function of age? Perhaps, but that is not the full story.
For quite a few years now, I have co-hosted a community radio show which plays requests for a range of songs and Irish music from listeners to our program, many of whom are in what some people choose to call, the golden years. Although many of our audience cope with aspects of life that are less-than-golden, such as loss of long-term partners, illness and poverty, they don’t whinge about it but request music and lyrics that have real meaning for them. You soon learn not to pass judgement: a saccharine lyric to one is the purest, sweetest honey to another because of personal association.
The Irish have been in Australia from the first convict ships arrival in Sydney and at one time comprised a quarter of the population. There is not the time to sketch, in even the flimsiest detail, the Irish contribution to Australian culture and life, but here is a poem by 19th Century poet, John O’Brien that speaks to me:
Oh, stick me in the old caboose this night of wind and rain,/And let the doves of fancy loose to bill and coo again./I want to feel the pulse of love that warmed the blood like wine;/I want to see the smile above this kind old land of mine.//So come you by your parted ways that wind the wide world through,/ And make a ring around the blaze the way we used to do;/The “fountain” on the sooted crane will sing the old, old song/Of common joys in homely vein forgotten, ah, too long.//The years have turned the rusted key, and time is on the jog,/Yet spend another night with me around the Boree log/
That gathering around a blazing fire is a magic circle. Now to the song, written by anonymous probably sometime in the 1950s: it tells of the emigrant longing for home and love of the new country- Australia. Its name? If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here.[insert song]
The songs for the next letter, again, remain provisional owing to the fact that the newly-minted candidate has to be written in pretty short order and the choice of the folk song is predicated on the shiny, new acquisition. So, now I will settle into negative capability the pre-creative mood of any artist, a wellspring of our humanity and an explanation of how periods of indolence may give rise to bursts of creativity.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments
Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021