Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 179. Time hangs heavy on the hands of anyone who has little to do but mark time, who wait, for- a verdict? A diagnosis? A visit? And so, it is for our apartment dweller as he looks at lights flashing out there in the Manhattan night. He seems to feel that pacing back and forth in front of the vista is a suitable way to pass the time as he thinks of how he is really looking forward to meeting his wife later in the day. And he thinks about his grandson, so let us re-join him as he paces. He decides to fill his flask again from one of the crystal decanters on the counter of the built-in bar.
Small children have an affinity with those the all-conquering youth generation and their go-getting parents call old. They respond to the easy tolerance and gentle understanding of their grandparents. Alas, I didn’t experience this at first hand as both sets of grandparents had died before I was born. And I regret that I am not fated to become an indulgent grandad surrounded by the progeny of my progeny. But I have one grandson, one link to the universe beyond, the only way in which my being can truly live into the future. My God, how I quake at the idea that anything will happen to him before he…
I don’t buy, and never have, that hogwash that claims all parents as evil, warping pathologies in the development of their children. The strident attacks on the supposedly artificial nuclear family by ideologues of left and right never quite rang true- the generation gap, for me and lots of people I know, was not a yawning chasm boiling with hellfire, but a difference, not all that astounding, comprising difference in age, experience and changing culture and expectations. As the kids of Seroe Colorado Junior High in Aruba would have responded, as they did to any fatuity: Duhhh!!
Of course, what I have said is a generalisation and I was to encounter in the stories of other people’s lives a vast, often dark, forest where fiends do, indeed, lurk. However, the tabloids of paper and TV would have us believe that behind every vicarage curtain a satanic coven meets and …you know as well as I the variety of paranoia peddled, the range of hypotheses hyped by those who profess an interest, not all of it well-intentioned, in the care of children.
As young parents, we were anxious to do the right thing, and, like so many of our generation we read the Spock child-rearing manual with the same avidity that theological students use scouring Scripture for the meaning of existence. I wish I had found out earlier than I did that we would have been better employed assimilating the words of wisdom uttered by the pointy-eared Vulcan of the same name. Appropriately enough, Star Trek lives on. As do so many innocent and enabling fictions.
In our house in Cushendall, my father set up, in a front room overlooking the lawns, his beloved hi-fi gear, B&O of course…his AKAI reel to reel, state of the art when he proudly purchased it a couple of years before- a retirement present to himself, perhaps?… his writing desk and chess sets and comfortable chairs. An ornately carved chest smelling of camphor gleamed dully in one corner and, around the walls photographs in polished wooden frames peopled by grimly countenanced Victorian and Edwardian gents and ladies.
Two photographs in oval frames on adjacent walls, stared into space at right angles to one another. One his father, an imposing moustachioed man in his sea-captain’s uniform; the other a pale and delicate young woman in a ruffled blouse closed at the neck with a cameo brooch – his birth mother. He was comfortable with reminders, not of his twenty-five years in the sun, but with the mute artefacts that recalled the early years of the century. He thought of those war years when he was just a small child and, as I read in my anthology, a poem by Joseph Brodsky, the cataclysm that still reverberates to this day is summoned in words: Nineteen-fourteen! Oh, nineteen-fourteen!/Ah, some years shouldn’t be let out of quarantine!/Well, this is one of them…/In Paris, the editor of Figaro/is shot dead by the wife of the French finance/minister, for printing this lady’s/ steamy letters…/Jean Jaures. He who shook his fist/at the Parliament urging hot heads to cool it,/dies, as he dines, by some bigot’s bullet/in a cafe. Ah, those early, single/shots of Nineteen-fourteen! ah, the index finger/of an assassin! ah white puffs in the blue acrylic!/There is something pastoral, nay! Idyllic/about these murders./Well, to make these things disappear forever,/the Archduke is arriving at Sarajevo;/and there is in the crowd that unshaven, timid/youth, with his handgun…
The texts from those times are as dated as the flock wallpaper of an Edwardian drawing room. The inheritors of modernism, those pop mavens, working in animation, the written word, sound, and stone as well as on canvas have made everything glowing and immediate. Simple, bold, fluorescent statements replace the mandarin meanderings of those sonorous artistic aristocrats of the first tranche of the twentieth century. Purple prose and blue blood is replaced by an apotheosis in green- Warhol’s wall of dollar bills becomes the central image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of our imagination. Radix malorum est cupiditas- croaks the Pardoner- the love of money is the root of all evil. Well, those roots have spread under the foundations of our civilisation.
So, what’s new? Maybe nothing, there have been greed and violence as well as selfless love and self-denial since Adam was a lad. I’m not a pundit; I can’t predict what my cat will do next never mind the whole, vast shebang. But I know that the language has been ripped back to reveal…what? Orwell was wrong; it wasn’t the thought police of a totalitarian state that eviscerated expression. We did it to ourselves, pursuing the dream, once called American. It responds only to monosyllables or those articulated words that it sanctions: words like Proactive, Functionality, Multitasking, Consumerism. And in the race the swift make sure there is nothing left for those who lag too far behind-not even what our predecessors would have called language.
Eleanor Brown in her poem, The Lads, says it really well: The lads, the lads, away the lads;/we are the Boys, who make this Noise: hoo, ha; hoo, ha;/a-way, awayawayaway, a-way, away;/ere we go, ere we go, ere we go;/we are the Boys, who make this Noise;/ hoo ha;/Away the lads, I love your poetry,/It strips the artform down to nakedness,/distilling it to spirituous drops/of utter poetry./I like the way you shout it all so loud,/revelling in the shamelessness/ of its repetitiousness; the way it never stops/
It may not be as obvious to you, as it is to me, that our recent Manhattanite is drinking more than would be strictly necessary to just take the edge off. Of course, he can indulge his taste in expensive drops now- and his wife, who can keep him in check is not returning until later in the day, so he’s probably thinking that he might just as well push the boat out. But there is no one here to help him celebrate? If that’s the word, so perhaps he has just decided to get Hammered, Wasted, Buzzed, Sloshed, Pie-eyed, Loaded, Skunked, Three sheets to the wind all on his own. I’m not sure any of these metaphors quite capture the strange mood he is in. And I’m not sure what impact the mixture of alcohol and the drugs he is taking is having on his mental state. Still, you only live once, eh?
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. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition