Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 126 – 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.
Reading obituaries: not something that young’uns do, as a rule. I can remember shaking my long-haired, and largely empty, head in puzzlement at my mother’s avid perusal of the death notices in The Irish News. “Joe, Joe!” she would exclaim to my father, “did you hear that old Mrs Morley is gone? D’ye think we should go to the funeral. She’s being buried from Glenravel chapel at 11 on Wednesday next.” And they would weigh the options, including should they attend the wake- yes, if the bonds of kinship or friendship or some other form of obligation necessitated this. And, indeed on a couple of occasions I accompanied my mother to one of these gatherings which were very common in the rural Ireland of my youth.
Common enough, too, in the Irish diaspora. In one of the breaks between the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns in Sydney we drove to a rural property where there were tents, refreshments, music and general catching up with people we hadn’t seen in ages. It was the belated wake for an old friend who had died in 2020 during lockdown with COVID regulations stipulating only family at the service. My wife has taken to reading the obits in The Sydney Morning Herald in recent times and earlier this year she called me into the kitchen: “Did you know that Kevin is dead?” This, a reference to another friend I had known for almost fifty years- although, we had lost contact for a while. Obituaries have been around for centuries and our newspapers of record will provide a full-page spread for those VIPs whose life has recommended itself for a wider audience than the few lines that most of us are likely to be accorded- although we’ll be past caring by then, won’t we?
Which brings me to the song. It was written by Tom T Hall who died on 20 August 2021. This song was one I was working on for performance with Banter; however, general indolence on my part, and then, the virus meant that it never saw public performance. In this song, Tom T has memorialised one of the humble and forgotten folk and it stands as a testament to life with an understated and non-judgemental lyric. Anyone who was the subject of a song such as this would, I think, like it better than the platitudes that populate most obituaries. There are exceptions and my wife will read aloud quirky examples that people sometimes submit for publication. The three elements of Tom’s song can be found in three of my earlier posts: Old Dog in Episode 7, Children in Episode 20 and, for wine, the second song in Postcards, edition 29. Listen here to my take on Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine. [insert song]
FYI- I’m drinking an excellent Cabernet, once bound for China, until that imperious superpower decided that Australia needed to be punished for its temerity by speaking out about the mistreatment of the Uighers, the subjugation of Hong Kong and sundry other matters the Middle Kingdom reserves as China’s business alone! It’s an ill wind, eh? I’m enjoying a wine I couldn’t ordinarily afford- and all because of geopolitical shenanigans!
The only obstacle to China’s seemingly inexorable rise to global dominance is America. Notwithstanding the burgeoning might and influence of this populous powerhouse, I’m still part of those old liberals who barrack for Uncle Sam, although that cheer squad is somewhat diminished of late.
Which brings me to the second song for this podcast. I have long admired the vitality and diversity of American literature, particularly the poetry. I have, unashamedly, plundered this vast trove twice before in the Letters From Quotidia. First, in Sylvia, Episode 8, where I construct a song using snippets of her darkly brilliant verse; then, in The Emperor of Ice Cream, Episode 71, I fabricate a punk-driven fantasia with an elegant overlay of lines from Wallace Stevens.
Now I have, after the proper rituals and obesiences, summoned forth the shade of John Crowe Ransom in order to- Not really, Quotidians, as my source material, I’ve just purloined one of his very fine poems, which has an affinity with Cervantes’ hero, Don Quixote, and also a famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur confronts a black knight blocking his way. They fight and the King lops off the arm of the knight who refuses to yield, commenting “‘Tis but a scratch!”
This scene is cut from the same cloth as Ransom’s poem, Captain Carpenter. I read it first as a callow youth and have revisited it from time to time over the years. This 64-line poem, comprising quatrains rhyming abab, seems to me a telling and comic commentary on our journey through life- which proves the truth of a well-known saying by Solon, the great Athenian statesman and poet, “Count no man happy until he be dead”. I’ve had to compress it to 14 rhyming couplets interspersed with four rhyming couplet choruses and a coda which is also a rhyming couplet. Of course, if you can, read the original or find a YouTube recitation should your preference lie this way. [insert song]
And, as before, circumstances find me staring at the ceiling hoping that inspiration for the next song swings down from one of the cob-webs swaying almost imperceptibly in the currents of air, eddying around the four walls of my weary work-space. But wait! I still have some of that Cabernet left. I wonder if a glass or two of this fine red wine will assist the process? I’ll let you know when I return next week…
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