Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 137 – 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.
Socrates, facing trial in Athens in 399 BC for impiety and corrupting the youth uttered the famous statement: the unexamined life is not worth living. Facing death or exile he chose death, as living outside the Athenian polity, unable to enquire about meaning in the only society he could countenance living within was more than he could contemplate. Far be it from me to cast a ballot that Socrates should drink the hemlock, but it is worth pointing out a number of inconvenient truths about the situation:
1. Socrates was no lover of democracy and regarded the ordinary voters as little more than bleating sheep to be herded by their betters. (Free male citizens only, of course! Women were not enfranchised). 2. Socrates, openly disdainful of the mass of voters, spoke approvingly of Sparta’s closed society at a time when Athens had endured and survived two antidemocratic uprisings resulting in mass executions and confiscations of property. 3. He proposed, as a penalty instead of death, that he be granted free meals for life at a communal kitchen. Got to give him credit for bare-faced cheek!
Previously a figure of fun, lampooned by such luminaries as Aristophanes, by the time of his trial the mood of the polis was darker and less open to Socratic thought which posed an existential threat to the state. So, rather than just putting up with an ageing gadfly, for the few years left to him, the voters opted to hear him no more-permanently. As a contrarian of sorts myself, may I cite the Uighurs as proof that the examined life in China’s mass surveillance state, is not worth living either.
When I eventually got around to examining the bases of my life in my usual, procrastinatory, fashion, taking decades of drip, drip, drip, self-interrogation- what did I find? That I had inculcated the tenets of male superiority from the cradle and have only recently accepted the fact that men should identify as feminists if they wish to assert the principle that all people are and should be treated as equals. That’s the noble reason, the other, closer to the truth, is the prospect that such assertions enrage the knuckle-dragging troglodytes who infest and are the audience for those so-called news sites grotesquely masquerading as part of the fourth estate.
As an antidote(or should that be prophylactic?) to the first song you are going to hear, I shall quote a poem by an American I admire for her clarity: Sara Teasdale. This short, matter-of-fact poem is titled, After Love There is no magic any more,//We meet as other people do,/You work no miracle for me/Nor I for you.//You were the wind and I the sea –/ There is no splendour any more,/I have grown listless as the pool/ Beside the shore.//But though the pool is safe from storm/And from the tide has found surcease,/It grows more bitter than the sea,/For all its peace/ The next poet I wish to quote was just one year old when Sara Teasdale died in 1934.
Sylvia Plath’s poetry has shone darkly for me from the mid- 1970s when I first came across her Ariel poems. Here are the opening and closing stanzas from Mad Girl’s Love Song I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;/I lift my lids and all is born again./(I think I made you up inside my head.)//… I should have loved a thunderbird instead;/At least when spring comes they roar back again./I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead./(I think I made you up inside my head.)/I’ll conclude the course of verse to be applied to your sensibility for protection against the song I wrote by roaring up to date with a contemporary poet I discovered recently on that fine site, Poetry Foundation.
Jill Alexander Essbaum is a Texan-born poet and her poem, Parting Song, knocked me out! Critic Rick Marlatt noted, “Known for their remarkable mix of eroticism and religiosity, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poems vibrate with well-proportioned rhymes, unforgettable imagery and a unique realization of form. Here it is: First it is one day without you./ Then two. And soon, our point: moot. And our solution, diluted./And our class action (if ever was) is no longer suited./Wherewith I give to looting through/the war chest of our past like a wily Anne Bonny who snatches at plunder or graft./ But the wreck of that ransack, that strongbox, our splintering coffer, the claptrap bastard of the best we had to offer, is sog-soaked and clammy, empty but for sand./Like the knuckle-white cup of my urgent, ghastly hands in which nothing but the ghost of love is held./ Damn it to hell. Here’s Take What You Want To Take:[insert song]
The Irish Times published an obituary on 6 April 2018 for a singer/songwriter I introduced at the end of the last letter as having the CV you generally come across in spy novels. In abridged form it reads: Thom Moore’s contribution to the musical tapestry of this country was substantial. Born in Los Angeles in 1943, he spent his formative years in Ethiopia and Lebanon. Graduating from the American Community School in Beirut; he entered the US Navy and served three years as a journalist with the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour. Following this, he enrolled in UCLA and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Slavic languages and literature in 1969 and a master’s in Slavic languages in 1970. His innate musicality and spirit of adventure brought him to live in Sligo in 1971 where, with friends, he formed a couple of bands which had a seminal influence on the nascent Irish folk scene. Thom’s song writing skills were exceptional: he was a musician who could effortlessly marry beautiful melody lines with sublime lyrical content. His music was much sought after by other artists. Thom returned to the US in 1978 where he continued to write and perform. The signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and USSR in 1988 reignited his interest in Slavic culture and language, and he subsequently moved to Votkinsk in Russia where he worked as an interpreter-inspector at the permanent INF monitoring site. There, he fell in love with and married Lyuba Koroleva, a Russian interpreter. In 1993, he quit his government job and became professor of English at the Udmurt National University in Izhevsk. Thom’s linguistic talents continued to flourish in his translation of seven books by the Russian dissident writer Yuri Druzhnikov. Thom finally moved back to Ireland in November 1995. Sligo had always featured centrally in his spirit and his music.
Wow! Some CV! He died on St Patrick’s day, 2018 and his ashes were scattered from the top of Knocknarea Mountain, in legend, the resting place of Maeve, Queen of Connacht. Which brings me to the second song of this post: In 1979, his song Cavan Girl won the Cavan International Song Contest – it was inspired by the relationship of a Cavan couple, Michael and Rita Woods, who befriended him and gave his group regular gigs at their pub, Coolera House, close to Knocknarea mountain. [insert song]
That song was a favourite of Sam Beggs, who sang it frequently with our wee folk group, Banter. Would I add insult to injury by foreshadowing the theft of another of his songs for the next letter? It’s not a real question- course I would! So then, letter 138 kicks off with The Lark in the Morning a folk song first published in Edinburgh in a broadsheet in 1778. It features a ploughboy and a maiden. If you haven’t heard the song before you can probably guess the rest. The other song dates back to 1982 when I tried to break the mould of habitually writing songs using just three or four simple chords. Did I go overboard? Perhaps, listen in next week to decide for yourself- and, as you may know if you have followed the letters published over this past pandemic year, the sort of chordal complication I attempted in the song, What More Can I Say? was not a practice I adhered to at all in the subsequent decades.
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