Letters From Quotidia Episode 135 Bomber, Standing on the Moon

Letters From Quotidia Episode 135 Bomber, Standing on the Moon

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 135 – 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.

On the 23rd of April, 1965, a vivacious 22-year-old female student, on her way to attend an anti-Vietnam War rally at the University of Oregon in Eugene, wrote, in large letters, on an envelope she attached to her sweater, “Let’s make love, not war.” A photographer with the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper, Wayne Eastburn, remembers taking the shot. He sent the picture to the Associated Press and the rest is history. The original slogan was shortened to the more declarative Make Love Not War. The name of that student: Diane Newell Meyer. I am happy to report that she is, at the time of preparing this podcast, still an activist, environmentalist, writer and photographer with a presence on social media, including Pinterest where you can see a print of Wayne Eastburn’s original photograph.

The feisty-looking 78-year-old woman, staring out from the site warms the cockles of my heart. Her, meme, I suppose you would call it now, reached across continental America and the Atlantic Ocean deep into the glens of Antrim where, in the summer of 1967, I remember walking with a couple of friends along a country road fringed with blooming hedgerows. We were shouting that slogan as we placed flowers in our hair (not quite long enough to pass as hippies but way too long for the likes of our parents- the oldies. Ah well, it has ever been thus.

Now, older baby boomers among us may remember Governor (later, President) Ronald Reagan’s quip when he was confronted by protesters chanting Make Love Not War: they don’t look like they could do either! Good one, Ron. The linguistic nexus between sex and violence, love and war has been around since time immemorial. All’s fair in love and war, anyone? Wikipedia’s dictionary defines it thus: in certain highly charged situations, any method of achieving your objective is justifiable. A definition not likely to commend itself to any reasonable person let alone the hashtag-Me-Too Twittterverse.

Protection against sexual harassment, exploitation and violence is a developing area of legislation and jurisprudence that proceeds apace in many, if not most countries. Even if, in places such as Afghanistan, it has gone backwards-  and not just by one century, but multiples of this. The protocols of the Geneva Conventions to protect the vulnerable in situations of war were drawn up in the first half of the 20th Century to rein in abuses by the military of nation-states. These protocols are frequently ignored by conventional forces  and rarely adhered to by paramilitary groups, alas. Nevertheless, they do form the basis of criminal prosecution of those who can be identified and apprehended for atrocities they commit or condone. It’s a lot better than nothing.

I wrote the song Bomber around the time of the first Gulf War, thirty years ago. Wikipedia informs us: For 42 consecutive days and nights, the coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most intensive air bombardments in military history. The coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tonnes of bombs, which widely destroyed military and civilian infrastructure. These figures boggle the imagination but who recalls them now? 2278 Iraqi civilians were reported killed in this phase of the war. Too much for me to get my head around in any meaningful way so, I bring the whole thing down to an imagined and, it must be said, impossible conversational exchange between a young woman in a city apartment in Baghdad and a young male pilot flying sorties from an airbase in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, or it may be from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

The language of love is used to propel the surreal narrative. And the power here is unequal. The woman has one four-line stanza at the beginning of the song- which is repeated-once. The man’s part in this sinister colloquy has five times the content of the woman’s and, far from merely repeating phrases which is her linguistic contribution to this drama, his develops throughout: in other words, it dominates, subjugates and, finally, exterminates. So don’t be fooled by harmonious chord progressions and a soulful melody- this is a deeply unpleasant song. [insert song]

As I said, that song, Bomber, is deeply unpleasant, but, 30 years ago, I had intended it to carry a cautionary message within the toxic twisting and subverting of the phraseology of love; it was to be a warning of the dangers of misusing  the tropes common to romantic language. And now- the Rant begins! As I survey the offerings on prime-time TV which largely consists of dating shows, cop dramas, period bodice-rippers, real estate reno extravaganzas and the like, I am tempted to venture into the digital domain, only to be enticed by proliferating sites offering whatever my loins desire. It seems to me that pornography has become increasingly normalised in our depraved media landscape. Rant over! Now I know, in small measure, how trolls feel after a foray into cyberspace to leave their slimy spoor and to deposit their anonymous, fetid, reeking scat on the websites of their prey. Of course, any reasonably educated and informed person finds it possible to negotiate a way through the malodorous dreck on every side to find oases of quality catering to a wide variety of tastes. For me, music, science, and literature posts on sites such as Flipboard and YouTube ensure that I am not drenched in the aforementioned dreck.

At around the same time as Diane Newell Meyer was scrawling her  soon-to-be iconic slogan on the back of an envelope up in Eugene, Oregon, a 24-year-old  Robert Hunter was writing lyrics for a San Francisco band called The Grateful Dead. His worked mainly with Jerry Garcia over a forty-year period until Garcia’s death in 1995. As a non-performing member of the band, his contribution to the ethos that the band established over the decades can be overlooked. Suffice to say that his lyrics underpinned some of the Dead’s best-known songs- and he wrote more than eighty! I’m going to cover one of them as my second song for this podcast. Here’s a  handful of favourite tracks I have listened over the years: Terrapin Station, Touch of Grey, Franklin’s Tower, Black Muddy River and the oft-twinned Fire on the Mountain/Scarlet Begonias.

To prepare for the song at the end of this podcast, here is a lovely short poem about the moon by imagist poet T.E. Hulme, who was killed in action during World War One on 28th September 1917: Above the quiet dock in mid night/Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height/Hangs the moon/What seemed so far away/Is but a child’s balloon forgotten after play. In 1989 The Grateful Dead released their final studio album which several critics have pretty much dissed- I wonder if they stuffed cloth into their ears when Standing on the Moon was playing? I think it showcases Robert Hunter’s lyrical prowess and Jerry Garcia’s plaintive voice perfectly. Here, I hope to do it justice on my basic equipment. [insert song]

If Bomber was filled with angst and Standing on the Moon filled with pathos, what contrasting themes and emotions will permeate the brace of songs on offer next week? More of the same, I’m afraid. I’ll start with a song of farewell and remembrance that I first came across in my copy of The Clancy Brothers Songbook-first published in 1962 The Parting Glass is the song. My original composition dates back to January 1980: I had been reading an account of the life and death of Major Claude Eatherly- the only member of the Army Air Force team who expressed any regret for the bombing of Hiroshima- the first use of a nuclear weapon. I found it in my garage while searching for inspiration one hot day in September. I was able to retrieve from memory the melody, such as it is, when I found the chords which accompany it. Its title is 237 Dollars and I’ll tell you more about it 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

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