Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 182. The scene is a duplicate of the previous one. The apartment is empty, just the lights of Manhattan visible through the large picture windows. Now the lights come up as he re-enters, one of the motion-sensor switches has been engaged. He is carrying a guitar and its stand. The guitar is expensive, it has a translucent, shimmering blue finish. It is obviously a custom job. At long last able to indulge himself, he has jettisoned the entry-level boxes of his youth and early adulthood and now sets it down in front of his chair and sits back admiring it, lifting a book of poetry from the stand next to him. He begins to read. It is from The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens.
The man bent over his guitar,/A shearsman of sorts. The day was green./They said, “You have a blue guitar,/You do not play things as they are.”/The man replied, “Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar.”/And they said then, “But play, you must,/A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,/A tune upon the blue guitar/Of things exactly as they are.”…/Ah, but to play man number one,/To drive the dagger in his heart,/To lay his brain upon the board/And pick the acrid colors out,/To nail his thought across the door,/Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,/To strike his living hi and ho/To tick it, tock it, turn it true,/To bang it from a savage blue/Jangling the metal of the strings…/So that’s life, then: things as they are?/It picks its way on the blue guitar./A million people on one string?/And all their manner in the thing,/And all their manner, right and wrong,/And all their manner, weak and strong?/The feelings crazily, craftily call,/Like a buzzing of flies in autumn air,/And that’s life, then: things as they are,/This buzzing of the blue guitar.//[play Let Them Not Fade Away]
But everything does fade. Even protons will evaporate at the dark, cold, close. Still, innocent and enabling fictions do keep entropy at bay- or maybe just seem to. As sunset started to fall on the twentieth century and the light began to fade, so did my eyesight. Advancing age may or may not bring sagacity, but it certainly brings illness. The body, now surplus to evolutionary requirements- procreation and nurturing of the next bunch completed- forgets to tell certain cells to switch on and forgets to tell others to switch off. Hence the proliferation of nose-hair and the thinning of bones. We become experts at our own demise. I thought it comical, years ago, watching my father and mother reading to one another the obituary columns of The Irish News, ticking off friends and acquaintances, deciding whether to send a Mass card, letter of condolence or go to the funeral. Etiquette in this matter was as precise and necessary as that of an Oriental court. My aunt, lying under her quilt covers, knowing death was a matter of weeks away, dictated to her hapless husband and children the minutiae of her passing, she didn’t want a shroud of traditional brown to be her final covering but one of cerulean blue. It was important, and it was done.
But death had no dominion in that fabled decade from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties in the fairy-tale that was an Aruban childhood. With the single exception of the native fisherman, so easily taken by the sea, I can bring to mind no other death. There must have been, of course, but in that dispensation that was Pax Americana, it was as if the triumph of the Dream had banished death. It was excusable that we felt this was the case- but that American foreign policy makers seemed to accept it as dogma too ensured that shortly after, the Dream collapsed in Vietnam. But then, risk-taking was de rigueur for us. Exploring caves and abandoned mines, climbing cliffs, racing cars and bikes, running down the sloped roof of the beach-hut at Rodgers Beach, leaping out and over ragged coral teeth and into water a couple of feet deep, turning in mid-air so that the sand didn’t break leg-bones but bruised, instead, the bones of our butt-cheeks- this was fun, fun, fun.
And as I cast back in memory, it is a solitary vision that now emerges from the deep- it seems so real that I can feel it kinaesthetically. Am I floating? Above-ground pipes criss-crossed the colony. The island was composed of coral and rock, you see. The pipes carried water from the island’s desalination plant- a world class unit everyone was proud to boast- the pipes carried water into the houses built for the oil company executives. The pipes were paired- one for drinking water, one for brackish water. I loved to use the pipes as a highway, balancing effortlessly as barefoot I traversed the coral and cactus rough land that surrounded the houses and tended gardens of Seroe Colorado. Bare feet feeling the warmth of the sun, feeling the rush of liquid life. I never fell off. Not once. Not once. Life was glorious light, but, and this is borrowed … shades of the prison-house began to close upon the growing boy. Now the light glows only in memory, and maybe brighter because of that. [play Everything Goes/Restless Paces]
The scientists are wrong. Just as we found out, some time ago, that the priests are wrong. The experts are wrong: the town planners, the educationalists, the pundits, the technologists- all wrong. Which makes me uncomfortable. The pharmaceutical companies, long the villains of the piece, have kept me alive for some years. At last count I consume eighteen different pills, ten in the morning and eight at night. To say nothing about the latest nauseating liquid concoction they are testing on me. To be beholden to those we despise is a delicious irony, wouldn’t you say? But why should they expect gratitude, after all, they have our money.
During one of my spells of unemployment, at the beginning of the eighties it was, I remember watching a documentary on the BBC. East German scientists, in the days when there were two Germanys, were performing experiments on rats to find a cure for homosexuality. And they were caricatures of what we imagine mad scientists to be; white coats, music-hall German-accented English, and steel-framed glinting glasses. I had been drinking at the time. I remember checking the TV guide next day to determine whether I had been hallucinating. And it was there. I didn’t feel reassured. If real-life was serving up stuff like this, then real-life was deeply pathological. No, I didn’t feel reassured at all. I always turn to the poets to tell me what is really real. Abba Kovner has this to say to me, to you, to everyone!
They’re wrong, the scientists. The universe wasn’t created/billions of years ago./The universe is created every day./The scientists are wrong to claim/the universe was created from one primordial/substance./The world is created every day/from various substances with nothing in common./Only the relative proportion of their masses,/like the elements of sorrow and hope,/make them companions/and curbstones. I’m sorry/I have to get up, in all modesty, and disagree/with what is so sure and recognised by experts:/that there is no speed faster than the speed of light,/when I and my lighted flesh/just noticed something else right here-/ whose speed is even greater than the speed of light/and which also returns,/ though not in a straight line, because of the curve of the universe/or because of the innocence of God./And if we connect all this to an equation, according to the rules, maybe/it will make sense that I refuse to believe that her voice/and everything I always cherished/and everything so real and suddenly/lost/is actually lost forever./ [play The Answer]
The expensive blue guitar is now held by our protagonist: will he play it? He knows how to hold it and his left hand is forming what looks like a chord-shape. Ah! He starts to finger-pick the instrument but- it’s a bit ordinary, and I wonder if it is the effect of the various concoctions he has consumed or was he just never much good as a guitarist? Hard to say… But hold on, that sounds familiar! It can’t be! He wouldn’t dare, even in the secluded, elevated, and isolated nest he has obtained high above Manhattan. Thank God! He has now abandoned- what seems to my disbelieving ears to be the intro to Stairway to Heaven! He rests his forehead on the headstock and grasps the neck with both hands. It is an affecting tableau. I think we should just leave him there, now, don’t you?
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