Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 133 – 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.
In 1962 we flew from Aruba to Puerto Rico for a holiday: my mother and father, my two sisters and me. Sixty years later memories are rather hazy: I remember a day at a beach; also, stopping off at a waterfall on our journey up into the mountains of the rainforest and horse-riding with my sisters at the resort we stayed at. But the most vivid memory is of an incident on the flight back to Aruba on the propellor-driven aircraft. Someone noticed black smoke pouring from an engine on the starboard side.
Amid the shouts of alarm and consternation, the salient feature for me was seeing several passengers on their knees in the aisle with their rosary beads in their hands as they prayed, volubly in Spanish, for deliverance while the cabin crew struggled to regain control of the situation- as they did, after a few moments. The propellor was feathered and the pilots cut the supply of fuel to the errant engine: so, we continued on our way with only three propellors, disembarking without further upset.
That memory became incorporated into a song that I wrote, or more accurately, started to write, in Wollongong in 1978. I finished the song by appending a last verse after we had returned to Ireland in 1979. I must have been obsessing about how I had failed to live up to one ideal after another. The more sceptical songwriter I have grown to be over the decades would not write such material now, but the theme of betrayal endures as one of the most potent of tropes.
As Wikipedia notes in its article on the denial of the premier apostle, Peter: All four Canonical Gospels state that during Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, he predicted that Peter would deny knowledge of him, stating that Peter would disown him before the rooster crowed the next morning. Following the arrest of Jesus, Peter denied knowing him three times, but after the third denial, he heard the rooster crow and recalled the prediction as Jesus turned to look at him. Peter then began to cry bitterly. As well he might! I must say, though, that I can’t recall crying at any stage in the various betrayals I portray in the verses of this song, but, obviously, I felt just bad enough to write about it. Handy, that, don’t you agree?
Nevertheless, the theme of betrayal resonates: remember Et tu, Brute? As the dying Caesar, witnesses his noble friend Brutus wielding the blade delivering the fatal stroke. And William Blake reminds us it is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend. How much harder, then, to forgive ourselves our own trespasses. Listen now to The Rooster Calls. [insert song] Have you noticed how the words meme or memes have entered common usage and seem to have supplanted, what, at first glance, is the perfectly serviceable term, image.But let’s examine this contention more closely. Wikipedia’s dictionary yields the following: Meme
- an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.[for example]
“celebrity gossip and memes often originate on the site” ·
- an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. [sorry you can’t claim your kids as memes, no matter how cute they are! Unless they do something weird on Tik Tok, of course ]
- create an internet meme from (an image, video, piece of text, etc.). [for example]
“there’s always one audience reaction shot at the Oscars that gets memed” [Good Lord!]
Three points here: it can be any form of text not just a visual image. It is typically humorous which fits in with one of the main drivers of internet use- entertainment. It can be used as a verb- who knew? But, as we all know, the internet is not all kittens playing piano. There is also vile, exploitative content such as child pornography. The troll farms in Russia churn out disinformation on an industrial scale. QAnon holds in thrall countless thousands of followers who, isolated in their echoing silos, fear the lizard overlords who are plotting their destruction.
I am reminded of one of W H Auden’s poems, Gare du Midi, a short eight-line account of a man getting off a train in the middle of a city. He is anonymous but there is something about the mouth which distracts the stray look with alarm and pity. The last lines are truly ominous, clutching a little case/ He walks out briskly to infect a city/Whose terrible future may just have arrived. At the time of writing, Australia is still on tender hooks. Will the NRL Grand Final in Brisbane go ahead or has someone from interstate walked out briskly recently to infect the city of Brisbane with COVID?
On a personal note, will our once deferred 50th Wedding Anniversary weekend in a swish apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour still go ahead? Both these questions will be answered by the next post. Whether Auden’s poem, written in 1938, refers to a man carrying a suitcase full of vials containing biological agents or, more metaphorically, pamphlets extolling fascist or other extremist ideology, doesn’t really matter- either is deadly if it spreads throughout the population. The power of image and metaphor existed long before internet memes. The many paintings adorning Medieval churches and Renaissance palaces attest to this. But not everyone has the wherewithal to appreciate such glories of art either in person on via those vivid OLED screens.
The rest of us make do with the images held in the art gallery of the mind and imagination. And it is one such image that I wish to explore from the second song of the podcast: Tommy Makem, with the Clancy Brothers, kick-started the resurgence of Irish music in the 1960s. He performed solo and with others throughout his life until shortly before his death in 2007. He wrote the song, Four Green Fields. Wikipedia informs us: The song is about Ireland (personified as an “old woman”) and its four provinces (represented by “green fields”), one of which remains occupied…The song is interpreted as an allegorical political statement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The four fields are seen as the Provinces of Ireland with Ulster being the “field” that remained part of the United Kingdom after the Irish Free State separated. The old woman is seen as a traditional personification of Ireland herself.
Makem would often preface his song in concert by reciting Requiem For The Croppies, by Seamus Heaney. The poem details the guerrilla tactics of the Irish resistance after the rebellion of 1798. It ends: Until on Vinegar Hill the final conclave/Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon./The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave./They buried us without shroud or coffin/And in August the barley grew up out of our grave.[insert song]
The image, Four Green Fields pre-dates the Makem song which was written in 1967. Irish artist, Evie Hone was commissioned to provide a stained-glass work for the Irish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. It is presently installed as the main window of the entrance hall to Government Buildings, a large Edwardian structure enclosing a quadrangle on Merrion Street, Dublin.
Next week, there will be two posts: first, for Thursday, 11th November. This is the date of the Armistice which ended the slaughter of World War One. I will feature two songs about this conflict by Eric Bogle, one of Australia’s best-known songwriters. I’ll admit that I had toyed with the idea of shifting this podcast one day forward to Friday- my usual podcast day but decided that to do so would not be…right. What! my better angel sneered, so you’ll have to expend a little more effort for this week? Mmm, not so great a sacrifice, the podcaster decided upon reflection, compared to those made by so many, including relatives I have written about elsewhere in these letters.
The songs commemorating Armistice day are: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man’s Land a.k.a. The Green Fields of France in Ireland, thanks to Finbar Furey! The regular Friday podcast will feature two songs: first, Bomber, an original composition. The second is one I have yet to arrange or record but one I had long wanted to cover in public: Standing on the Moon by The Grateful Dead, which featured Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals. But it never happened. Instead, an internet premiere on Friday the 12th.
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