Welcome to Letters from Quotidia, the footnotes! Regular listeners to the posts know that the letters just refuse to lie down and die but rather, taking their cue from the coronavirus, continue to mutate: first they were plain old letters, then postcards, then postscripts, now they have become footnotes!
This is the fourth and final footnote of the quartet, Demos for Damocles and it deals with teenage love as well as love in old age- and, also, a strange meeting along the winding way. But let us start in the maelstrom of hormones turbocharging the adolescent brain that finds expression in all sorts of media from the ubiquitously crude anatomical scrawls on the doors and walls of public toilets to the sublime lines of William Shakespeare’s deathless drama: Romeo and Juliet. Between the dung-pit of the former and the sunlit pinnacle of the latter, you will no doubt be able to slot in many examples of your own.
But listen: Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs./Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;/Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears./So says the grandiloquent Romeo, but Juliet effortlessly surpasses his efforts at expressing love- as found here, Give me my Romeo, and, when I shall die,/Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night,/And pay no worship to the garish sun./
In a previous Letter From Quotidia I recounted a poem I used with year-nine teenage students purportedly written by a girl whose boyfriend had gone off to Vietnam. It’s by Merrill Glass and whether true or apocryphal, it had a powerful effect on my class, Remember the time you lent me your car and I dented it?/I thought you’d kill me…/But you didn’t.//Remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was/formal, and you came in jeans?/I thought you’d hate me…/But you didn’t.//Remember the times I’d flirt with/other boys just to make you jealous, andyou were?/I thought you’d drop me…/But you didn’t.//There were plenty of things you did to put up with me,/to keep me happy, to love me, and there areso many things I wanted to tell/you when you returned from/Vietnam…/But you didn’t.//
The song I offer as a study in teenage love has two parents: First, Wordsworth, who defined poetry as emotion recollected in tranquillity. Second, Thomas Hardy, who was 72 when he began to write some of the most moving love poems as a reaction to the death of his wife Emma. I wrote then, Now- deluded as I may be about a lot of things- I’m not about to compare myself to these giants! I’m thinking about my mid-teens when I was caught a maelstrom over the developing relationship with my girlfriend- who is now my wife- ineffable proof that even miserable sods like me can strike it lucky. Here is From Your Spell [insert song]
I’ll now present Ambrose Bierce’s version of the 10 Commandments. According to Poetry Foundation he professed to be mainly concerned with the artistry of his work, yet critics find him more intent on conveying his misanthropy and pessimism. In his lifetime, Bierce was famous as a journalist dedicated to exposing the truth as he understood it, regardless of whose reputations were harmed by his attacks. For his sardonic wit and damning observations on the personalities and events of the day, he became known as “the wickedest man in San Francisco.”
I prefer to remember him as I presented him in Postscripts Episode 4, “He served with distinction in the Union Army during the Civil War, receiving newspaper accolades for his daring rescue under fire of a gravely wounded comrade at the battle of Rich Mountain. He sustained a traumatic brain injury at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864, but he survived and thrived, …Bierce’s ultimate fate remains a mystery. He wrote in one of his final letters: Good-bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it is a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico–ah, that is euthanasia!”
Here is his take on Arthur Hugh Clough’s The Latest Decalogue which he entitled, The New Decalogue. Have but one God: thy knees were sore/If bent in prayer to three or four.//Adore no images save those/The coinage of thy country shows.//Take not the Name in vain. Direct/Thy swearing unto some effect.//Thy hand from Sunday work be held—/Work not at all unless compelled.//Honour thy parents, and perchance/ Their wills thy fortunes may advance.//Kill not—death liberates thy foe/From persecution’s constant woe.//Kiss not thy neighbour’s wife. Of course,/There’s no objection to divorce.//To steal were folly, for ’tis plain/In cheating there is greater gain.//Bear not false witness. Shake your head/And say that you have “heard it said.”//Who stays to covet ne’er will catch/An opportunity to snatch./
I have a large store of riffs and chord sequences built up over the years. One sequence from, forty years ago, popped into my head trailing remnants of text behind it. This was the chorus, of the song, A Brief Encounter, you are shortly going to hear. The image of an old man with a suitcase, waiting in the rain on the side of the road surfaced and, perhaps, he was quoting from Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary to while away the time as he waited for someone to stop and offer him a ride, Cannon (n) An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries. Faith (n) Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. Religion (n) A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. And then I pulled over to the side of the road and asked him if he wanted a lift. [insert song]
The final song of the Demos for Damocles is one I never imagined I would write, as I was speculating about it all those years ago. In Postscript 5 I wrote, “I was a callow youth with pimples and pretensions in the year 1967. To be anywhere in the British Isles in those years of the mid-sixties as a music-loving teenager was to be in some iteration of heaven. Hey Joe, knocked me sideways when first I heard it, and Purple Haze knocked me completely out of the park! In the summer of 67 ‘, I went into a music store to buy Hendrix’s first LP, and the strangest thing happened: the girl behind the counter tried to talk me out of making the purchase. Apparently, the cover design with the flamboyant Hendrix with his band and what she had picked up from scuttlebutt and the usual puerile vapouring of presenters on local radio prompted her to attempt to save me from…who knows?
I bought the LP after a brief tussle with the assistant I have no ill aftereffects to report more than 55 years later. The B side of Purple Haze was 51st Wedding Anniversary and I had just started going out with my girlfriend, later to be my wife, and remember puzzling about what such an anniversary would be like for me, for us. I don’t need to puzzle any more as that very anniversary occurred on 3rd July 2022. Here is the song I wrote to mark the occasion- Our 51st Wedding Anniversary Song.” [insert song]
Thus endeth the final footnote of Demos For Damocles. If there were to be more footnotes, I imagine they would have to be tied to something similar to the Demos and with my penchant for alliteration they would have to carry the burden of a title such as, oh, Covers For Castaways? As usual, only time will tell. But let me finish this post with what Ambrose Bierce had to say about Youth (n.) The Period of Possibility, when Archimedes finds a fulcrum, Cassandra has a following and seven cities compete for the honour of endowing a living Homer. Youth is the true Saturnian Reign, the Golden Age on earth again, when figs are grown on thistles, and pigs betailed with whistles and, wearing silken bristles, live ever in clover, and cows fly over, delivering milk at every door, and Justice is never heard to snore, and every assassin is made a ghost and, howling, is cast into Baltimost! I guess he didn’t much like Baltimore. So, until, perhaps, a next time- take care!
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (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.