Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 191 – 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.
Conspiracy theories have been around forever- or if not quite that long- we find evidence of these pernicious mental burrs as far back as the garden of Eden where a certain serpent whispered in Eve’s ear that the big bloke in charge set a sanction concerning the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil just so He could corner the juiciest stuff for Himself: And we all know how that turned out. Now, which one of the many theories abounding amuses you most?
(I’m assuming that, as a listener to this podcast, you have a more questioning cast of mind than most people and tend not to fall down too many rabbit-holes.) You will, undoubtedly, have heard that the moon landing was faked. Or what about the fact that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-and-sound-alike? Everybody knows, of course, that most of the leaders of this world are lizard people who are secretly in league with extra-terrestrials to take over the earth and who feed on human souls to hide their reptilian form from our oh-so-easily-fooled eyes. But, please, don’t club me in with those superior scoffers who patronisingly scorn any person whose beliefs are different to the inalterable dogmas of their own particular tribe.
I know that I’ve been fooled a number of times, and, unlike that Pete Townsend song, I am likely to get fooled again because we are easily fooled- our more skilful professional magicians depend on it to make a comfortable living for themselves. Fraudsters and scammers the world over depend on our predilection for bamboozlement to rake in their disreputable billions.
Like so many people on this planet, I have found myself transfixed and despairing over what has been unfolding in Europe over the past two weeks. As I was making notes for this podcast and starting to put together music for my original composition the phrase, the late great planet earth, surfaced in my consciousness. I knew it was too good to be original, and-sure enough- a few googling strokes delivered the information that it is the title of a book published 52 years ago by a Christian evangelical biblical literalist, Hal Lindsey who, at the time of this writing, is still living and probably still prophesying at age 92.
I was vaguely aware of the book back in the 1970s but never read it. And having seen the blurb on Wikipedia about it, I’m not likely to start now. Basically, he believes we live in the end-times foretold in Biblical texts that he has decoded: they’re being realised before our very eyes. The book has sold tens of millions of copies since its publication and a film starring no less a personage than Orson Welles made a pile of dough for its producers. I’ll let that bastion of fake news, a.k.a The New York Times, according to number 45, supply a comment that pretty much summarises what this sort of stuff is all about, the most memorable sequence shows a computer conducting a numerological analysis of various politicians’ names, to figure out if Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or Ted Kennedy is the Antichrist. And Hal Lindsey, who co-wrote the book upon which the film is based and who appears with Mr. Welles as a co-narrator, speaks coolly, almost enthusiastically, about the prospect of worldwide destruction.
And he isn’t Robinson Crusoe in that enthusiastic longing: quite a number of American politicians from the fundamentalist part of the spectrum are cheering on Putin in the hopes of precipitating the end of the world and the ensuing Rapture where they will be transported to glory along with a few fortunate fellow believers. Whatever criticisms I may have about this book, I will concede that it has a very good title, indeed, so I have purloined it as the title for my song. American poet Archibald MacLeish provides, in sonnet form, an account of the end of the world that will serve as well as any other: the metaphor of the circus is great:
Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot/The armless ambidextrian was lighting/A match between his great and second toe/And Ralph the Lion was engaged in biting/The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum/Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough/In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb —/Quite unexpectedly the top blew off.//And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over/Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,/There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,/There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,/There in the sudden blackness, the black pall/Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all. Here is my song to greet these grim times, The Late Great Planet Earth: [insert song]
And now, from a grand planetary apocalypse to the death of an individual. The grief radiating from a young man who had just lost his wife to a Russian shell in a scene from the non-stop coverage of the carnage in Ukraine or the agony of a young mother’s wailing response to the loss of her 18-month old child to shrapnel will haunt me, for years to come: this raw, human emotion is multiplying across the ravaged landscapes and cityscapes as desperate and heroic people try to defend the place of their birth- and so it may prove for way too many- death.
It brought to my mind a strange and striking poem written by an Irish wife about her soldier-husband, slain on May 4th, 1773. Eileen O’Connell was from an important Irish family- she was the aunt of the great liberator, Daniel O’Connell. She fell in love with a dashing young soldier, Captain Art O’Leary, home on leave from serving with the Hungarian Hussars. When Eileen first laid eyes on Art he was on leave and visiting his hometown of Macroom, Co Cork. He was wearing his sword in public, something that Catholics were forbidden to do. Enter the villain of the piece, Abraham Morris, the High Sheriff of Macroom.
To put Art in his place, Morris invoked the Penal Law against a Catholic owning a horse worth more than five pounds and demanded that Art sell him the valuable mare for a fiver. Art refused and was declared ‘notoriously infamous’ by Morris. After a time on the run, Art, weary of living as a fugitive, determined to kill Morris but was betrayed and killed while resting under a tree. His horse galloped seven miles home to Eileen who mounted the mare which took her to where her husband lay bleeding by the side of the road. She cupped her hand in his blood and began to intone the first part of her keen or death poem. Her poem has been called the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole of the 18th Century by Peter Levi, Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1984.
There is a powerful version of this poem on YouTube, dated 15/4/2017 by SH Bean- Photographer: it goes for just over 14 minutes. Being male, I am not able to do justice to that lament, which in any case is much too long for this post. Instead, I offer one of the oldest folk songs in the English-speaking tradition, The Unquiet Grave. Dating from the 1400s, it captures the grief of a young man mourning for his dead love twelve months and a day, when she asks who it is disturbing her rest. I first heard this sung by Luke Kelly off The Dubliners Now LP of 1975. Here is my version: [insert song]
Again, no trailer for next week as I am flat out just responding to what is going on around me- huge floods here in New South Wales and a prolonged clearing up, just for one example! I will end with another short poem, this time by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. A lot of people think this is about a break up in a relationship- after a spat, perhaps, but it is, in fact, a poem of mourning: I hold it true, whate’er befall;/I feel it, when I sorrow most;/’Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all/ So, to all lovers of peace, those who are grieving and suffering loss, keep faith in the power of light over the pall of darkness hanging over our world that good will ultimately prevail in all of our lives. So, until next week when we meet again in the sanctuary of Quotidia- stay safe !
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. The various conspiracy theories are from this site as well as material about Art O’Leary and Hal Lindsey.
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.