LFQ Podcasts 2023 Episode 4

Welcome to Podcasts from Quotidia 2023- Episode 4. This podcast drops on the 5th of March and what does this portend? As March is named after the Roman god of war, it provokes thoughts of carnage in the northern hemisphere as armies gear up for their campaigns with the return of fighting weather. If you are as mad as a March hare, you may claim a lineage going back centuries, but should your species of madness involve multiple personalities, then today marks the 10th anniversary of Dissociative Identity Disorder Day.

If you are howling, yowling, yelping, lamenting, groaning moaning, whimpering, weeping, shrieking, sobbing, snivelling, or otherwise indulging in some form of blubbering- then, you are caught in the coils of that universal condition known as crying. In an earlier podcast I wrote: Now, I wouldn’t have pegged the Germans as a particularly lachrymose nation but must admit to being taken aback by the findings of the German Society of Ophthalmology published in 2009 which found that women cry between 30-62 times a year and that men resort to the blub on 6-17 occasions over the same period. I don’t think of myself as a flinty-hearted brute, but I doubt that I would have cried more than once or twice in the past year- if even that! There now, I’ve established my big-boys-don’t-cry credentials which allow me to introduce the first song of this podcast.

It was written in memory of my son, Brian, shortly after we flew to Airlie Beach for my younger daughter’s 18th birthday in 2009. We had rented a hilltop apartment overlooking the Whitsunday Islands and it was from there, the day before we flew back to Sydney, that we drove north for three hours to be at his graveside. We’ve been back once since then and will probably fly north again this winter just to check that his grave is in proper order. The song is called I Won’t Cry, and Dr Oliver Searle, who curates the site interestingliterature.com, provided me with the perfect poem to accompany the song.

The poem is Beeny Cliff by one of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy. Dr Searle writes, ‘Beeny Cliff’ belongs to the ‘Poems of 1912-13’ which he wrote in the wake of the death of his first wife, Emma. Although he and Emma had been estranged for many years when she died, her death provoked Hardy to revisit his memories of their life together and to pen some of the finest poems about loss and longing in the English language.  He goes on to explain that Beeny is a small hamlet in north Cornwall, near where Emma’s family lived and where she grew up. Hardy remembers Emma riding her pony along the cliff on a blustery March day and how the two of them laughed enjoying a day out in early spring, the sun shining.

Over forty years later when Hardy is an old man looking back on that March day and Emma is no more, he reflects that although Beeny Cliff remains, this does not matter to him, since the woman who accompanied him on that day all those decades earlier is no longer around. Hardy, of course, as an atheist refused to entertain the idea of an afterlife where he and his absent love may meet again. Here is the poem: 

O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,/And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free –/The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.//The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away/In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,/As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.//A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,/And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain,/And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.//– Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky,/And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,/And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?/What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,/The woman now is – elsewhere – whom the ambling pony bore,/And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will laugh there nevermore.//[insert song]

The next song references March as well and is a favourite among folk singers in the English-speaking world. I first heard The Lakes of Ponchartrain on Planxty’s album Cold Blow and the Rainy Night in 1974. The ballad is about a man who is given shelter by a Louisiana Creole woman. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she is already promised to a sailor and declines. Wikipedia states that it is thought to have originated in the southern United States in the 19th century. The liner notes which accompany Planxty’s version state that the tune was probably brought back to Ireland by soldiers fighting for the British or French armies in Louisiana and Canada in the War of 1812.

Although the tune might date to that period, the popular lyrics undoubtedly came much later, since they tell of taking a railway train from New Orleans to Jackson Town. This was most likely to be the railway junction town of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. The line would have been the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railway—whose line, opened before the Civil War, included a pre-existing local line running north from downtown New Orleans along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Most likely, the lyrics date to the Civil War, and the reference to “foreign money” being “no good” could refer to either U.S. or Confederate currency, depending upon who was in control of the area at the time. The Confederacy and Union issued their own bank notes—as did individual States—leading to a proliferation of currency (notes and coinage) that might not be acceptable in a particular region. [insert song]

What is truth? The question of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate has a more urgent ring in this age- not of information as some would have it- but an age of ChatGPT, deep fakes, troll farms, advertising and political spin. The next song I have put together from various fragments of oral and family history as well as what I have been able to glean from a variety of written sources. The song may also be enhanced- or marred depending on your point of view- with a sprinkling of poetic licence.

But I’ll start with an extract from an article by Henryk K Flostermann in The Explicator of April 1980. Records show that The Dancing House was established on the banks of the Mississippi in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1816 by an Irish associate of the pirate Jean Lafitte. His name is lost in the mists of time but one source of dubious provenance names him as Ian Chell, an adventurer who fled Ireland after the failed rising of 1798. The same source indicates that he fought in the Battle of New Orleans and, as a reward for services rendered, was given a goodly sum of money with which he established a New World version of the old Irish ‘shebeen”. The structure overlooked the river, and its original name was written in green paint and in Gaelic. It had a notorious reputation and was shut down on several occasions. It passed through several hands in the century that it was in existence. Its use has been variously described as a brothel, a dance venue, a haunt for smugglers and bootleggers, a safe house for the underground railway during the slave years, and a social club for immigrants from various parts of Europe.

A fuller version of this article is found in Letters From Quotidia Episode 80. Family tradition has it that Ian Chell died at the ripe old age of 87 as a result of wounds suffered in a duel over the affections of a woman outside Richmond, Virginia and  that he had lived, variously, in New Orleans, Shreveport, Baltimore and Washington DC. So, The Ballad of Ian Chell is a test piece, in a way. My encounter with COVID-19, earlier this year, left me with a psychically draining brain fog that has taken some time to disperse (although my wife tells me that my self-medicating with 12-year-old Scotch may have had something to do with its prolongation.) For better or worse, the creative spark has flared again. [insert song]

That’s all for now, folks, but there will be yet more March madness because I’ll come haring back on 19th March with another podcast DV. CU then.

                          I Won’t Cry (Music and words by Quentin Bega)

I rise from the infinity pool- we drive north for three hours to be here with you

I sigh- realise- twenty years since we last spoke

And all I know before I turn to go

I won’t cry anymore

This town- this dusty town -bakes in the sun burning above

We’ve come such a long way- stand almost mute tortured by love

And all I know before I turn to go

I won’t cry anymore

Born to eternal life forevermore

I couldn’t bear the thought that it is nevermore


South- cane fields so vast- black Burdekin snow a thing of the past

Ash of memory lasts- nothing’s erased yet everything’s lost

And now I know when it’s my time to go

I won’t cry anymore

No, I won’t cry

      The Lakes of Ponchartrain (Traditional folk song)

It was one fine March morning I bid New Orleans Adieu
And I took the road to Jackson Town, my fortune to renew
I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain
Which filled my heart with a longing for the Lakes of Ponchartrain

I stepped on board of a railroad car beneath the morning sun
I rode the rods till evening, and I laid me down again
All strangers there no friends to me ’til a dark girl towards me came
And I fell in love with the Creole Girl, by the Lakes of Ponchartrain

I said “Me pretty Creole Girl, me money here’s no good,
If it weren’t for the alligators, I’d sleep out there in the wood”
“You’re welcome here kind stranger, from such sad thoughts refrain”
“For me Mammy welcomes strangers, by the Lakes of Ponchartrain”

She took me into her mammy’s house and treated me right well
The hair upon her shoulders in jet black ringlets fell
To try and paint here beauty, I’m sure ‘twould be in vain
So handsome was my Creole girl by the Lakes of Ponchartrain

I asked her if she’d marry me, she said that ne’er could be
For she had got a lover and he was far at sea
She said that she would wait for him and true she would remain
Till he’d return to his Creole girl, on the Lakes of Ponchartrain

It’s fare thee well, me Creole girl, I’ll never see you more
I’ll never forget your kindness in the cottage by the shore
And at each social gathering, a flowing bowl I’ll drain
And I’ll drink a health to my Creole girl, by the Lakes of Ponchartrain

       The Ballad of Ian Chell (Music and words by Quentin Bega)

Oh me name is Ian Chell from the Antrim Glens I hail

I joined the United Irishmen my blood was on the boil

At fifteen I found my name had been proclaimed

An outlaw I was on the run across the foamy main

I teamed up with Jean Lafitte aboard his pirate ship

She was a sleek and gallant craft and travelled at a clip

I left her at the southern port they call New Orleans

In time to fight with Andy Jackson and see the redcoats flee

Listen to me I’ve got to be free I still have a lot to give

And if you please between you and me I have a lot more life to live

In the French Quarter near Big Muddy I bought a fine shebeen

The liquor and the women there the finest ever seen

The music and the crack ensured that it would never fail

So I used it as a station of the underground rail

I’ve always hated slavery but my scheme it was betrayed

By a man who loved money over honour I was played

So off I went to make a life among the northern states

I tried my hand at every trade that offered me good rates

Listen to me I’ve got to be free I still have a lot to give

And if you please between you and me I have a lot more life to live

Oh me name is Ian Chell from the Antrim Glens I hail

I’ve seen a lot and been a lot in four score years I say

The Civil War has come and gone and Lincoln too I fear

The people I have loved and lost in memory I keep near

At 80 years of age I have finally settled down

With a good and spirited woman who agrees to keep me round

But every year brings bitterness more than cheer I say

I know that I will not be long to sing this fine refrain!

Listen to me I’ve got to be free I still have a lot to give

And if you please between you and me I have a lot more life to live

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 2023 combo for music composition.


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