Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 198– 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.
Antepenultimate- a fancy way of saying third last of a sequence. And that is what this post is. I may have mentioned before that I intended to call a halt at Letters From Quotidia, episode 200 for a couple of reasons: first, I need a break away from the regular discipline of putting the music and text together in order to consider what form, if any, the Letters in future might take and second, 200 is a nice round number. Unlike, say, the number 153, which was the number of fish landed by several of the disciples after they had returned, somewhat bewildered, to their former occupation of humble fishermen after the upheavals surrounding the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. According to the gospel of John, the story goes: they had been fishing all night to no avail and, as they approach the shore a Man there asks how many they caught. When they reply, none, He tells then to cast the nets to starboard with the spectacular result reported. This man was Jesus in His penultimate appearance to the disciples after His resurrection.
You can expend a rather large quantum of time in chasing the significance of the number 153 down the multitudinous internet rabbit-holes that may open up before you in your quest. I was attracted to the link to Archimedes who seems to have had a thing about the number. Others, the parish priest of St Joseph’s Kingswood included, feel the number symbolically represents all the peoples of the earth that the apostles should fish for rather than the finny denizens to be found in the waters of Lake Tiberius. And, of course, numerologists have had a field day with this number which I will not expand on here as the post is only 20-odd minutes in duration and it would require more time than exists in this or any other universe to properly expound the product of this particular rabbit-hole!
Now for some sanity in the form of extracts from poetry, the first is from Numbers by Mary Cornish, a poet from Washington state in the US: I like the generosity of numbers./The way, for example,/they are willing to count/anything or anyone:/two pickles, one door to the room,/eight dancers dressed as swans. .// Next are some typically sardonic lines from another American poet, Carl Sandburg,Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head./Arithmetic tell you how many you lose or win/ if you know how/many you had before you lost or won./ The poem ends with the following conundrum, If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she/gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is/ better in arithmetic, you or your mother?// Finally, to a poet I admire and rate highly, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote thoughtfully on the purpose of our existence in his poem, A Psalm of Life with the epigraph, What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist. Its first and second stanzas are, Tell me not, in mournful numbers,/ Life is but an empty dream!/For the soul is dead that slumbers,/And things are not what they seem.//Life is real! Life is earnest!/And the grave is not its goal;/Dust thou art, to dust returnest,/Was not spoken of the soul.// A quatrain that moves me each time I read it is, Art is long, and Time is fleeting,/ And our hearts, though stout and brave,/Still, like muffled drums, are beating/ Funeral marches to the grave.// The final stanza appeals to each one of us, Let us, then, be up and doing,/With a heart for any fate;/Still achieving, still pursuing,/ Learn to labour and to wait//
It’s amazing how many songs have numbers in their title: Eight Days a Week by the Beatles, One by U2, 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton- just to name three! For my original song I’m going to reprise one from way back last year, from Episode 68, to be precise. It’s cheating, I know, but it’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to– isn’t that how the song goes? Anyway, it’s my party and now we’re going to play Counting Game. Even if you’ve played it before! Ready? [insert song]
Longfellow’s exhortation that we should be up and doing…still achieving, still pursuing could well have been the motto for the subject of the rest of this post: Shel Silverstein. He was born in Chicago in 1930 and died in 1999 at his home in Key West, Florida. In his 68 years on earth, he crammed into it a lot of living and a lot of loving. Poets.org gives the following biographical details: “A cartoonist, playwright, poet, performer, and recording artist, Silverstein was also a Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated songwriter. His books, which he also illustrated, are characterised by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre and the silly. His unique imagination and bold brand of humour is beloved by countless adults and children throughout the world.”
A few lines from his poem Mr Grumpledump’s Song gives the flavour of his wit,Everything’s wrong,/Days are too long,/Sunshine’s too hot,/Wind is too strong./Clouds are too fluffy,/Grass is too green,/…Mr Grumpledump concludes, Kids are too noisy,/Shoes are too tight./ Folks are too happy,/Singin’ their songs./Why can’t they see it?/Everything’s wrong!// One of my favourite Silverstein songs is, Still Gonna Die where, tongue in cheek, he itemises all the health routines, diets and fads for a longer life you may sample, but ends each verse with the kicker, you’re still gonna die!
Other songs of his you may know include, Tompall Glaser’s Put Another Log on the Fire, The Unicorn, made famous by The Irish Rovers and Sylvia’s Mother, by Dr Hook. But he could write more than novelty songs, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, follows the disillusionment and mental deterioration of a suburban housewife, who climbs to a rooftop “when the laughter grew too loud”. Marianne Faithfull, who recorded a memorable version of the song which featured in the film, Thelma and Louise, said that her interpretation was that Lucy climbs to the rooftop but gets taken away to a mental hospital, and that the final line / As she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair/ are actually in her imagination at the hospital. I think it’s a masterpiece that reflects the lives of far too many women.
A lot of people will have heard what may be his most famous song, A Boy Named Sue, memorably recorded live by Johnny Cash at San Quentin on February 24 1969. And the song I’m going to cover is also one Johnny Cash recorded at Folsom Prison in 1968. It’s called 25 Minutes To Go It’s about a man who is about to be executed by hanging, and he’s counting down how much time he has before the trapdoor opens, starting with 25 minutes. The song is a shout of defiance and two other references come to my mind; first, Dr Johnson’s observation that when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully; second, George Orwell’s 1931 short essay in story-form, A Hanging. Based on his work as a policeman in Burma in the 1920s, it is an early example of his mastery of the English language and a telling indictment of the absurd cruelty of capital punishment. I would encourage any lover of language to read it. Now, 25 minutes to go. [insert song]
Listeners to my past eight posts may wonder why there has been nothing about Ukraine in this one. But it has been there, I think, as a low and subterranean murmuring, much as the heroic defenders of the last scrap of Mariupol taking refuge in the tunnels under the vast steelworks, may, and here I hope against hope, survive against all the grotesque odds stacked against them by the overwhelming juggernaut of Russian military might bearing down upon them. But whatever the case may be, I will publish this post as soon as I record it- and the last two posts as well.
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.