Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 136 – 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.
The Clancy Brothers Song Book first published in 1962 and still in print was the book I used to learn the guitar. I bought it in 1967 and started working my way through it. Wikipedia tells us that The Parting Glass is a traditional song, often sung at the end of a gathering of friends. It has long been sung in Ireland, enjoying considerable popularity to this day. The earliest known printed version was as a Scottish broadside in the 1770s. However, it was known at least as early as 1605 as a poem- Armstrong’s Goodnight, by one of the Border Reivers executed that year for the murder in 1600 of Sir John Carmichael, Warden of the Scottish West March. The Reivers were raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century.
In 1757 Oliver Goldsmith wrote in a letter : “If I go for the opera where Signora Columba [Mattei] pours out all mazes of melody, I sit and sigh for Johnny Armstrong’s Last Good Night. In 1759 in his essay Happiness in a Great Measure Dependent on Constitution he remarked that the “music of Mattei is dissonance to what I felt when our old dairy-maid sung me into tears with Johnny Armstrong’s Last Good Night, P. W. Joyce, in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909), gives the tune with a different text under the name Sweet Cootehill Town, noting, “The air seems to have been used indeed as a general farewell tune.” Irish folk song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn has taken note of this identity of melodies between The Parting Glass and Sweet Cootehill Town.
Of course, there are those souls who delight in arguing the toss over whether the song and/or tune originate in Scotland or Ireland. As someone born in the Glens of Antrim, within sight of the Scottish coast, and with Scottish forebears as well as Irish, I can easily imagine, over the centuries, that the tune and words would have travelled back and forth to be sung in both islands by those who care not a whit about true origins, et cetera. The tune appeared, with religious lyrics, in 19th century American tune books and is still widely sung by Sacred Harp singers under the title Clamanda.
The Parting Glass was re-introduced to mid-20th century audiences by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Their rendition featured a solo by Liam Clancy and first appeared on their 1959 Tradition Records LP Come Fill Your Glass with Us. The rendition by the Clancys and Makem has been described as “by all accounts… the most influential” of the many recorded versions. As I have indicated elsewhere in my Letters, I am a slow study. I didn’t recognise the quality of the song when I was learning the guitar back in the late 1960s. Too slow for me and I didn’t worry one bit, as a 17-year-old, if I were I to part from friends and acquaintances-with pastures new and far horizons beckoning. Of course, with the passage of time and as I learned more about the song’s background, my appreciation of it deepened.
The overlay of mortal sadness, of one facing execution, has seeped into the melody and I am reminded of that amazing poem by the 24-year-old Chidiock Tichbourne who was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered for his role in the Catholic Babington plot to assassinate Elizabeth I in 1586. He sent this moving examination of life and death to his wife on the night before his execution: My prime of youth is but a froste of cares,/My feaste of joy, is but a dishe of payne,/My cropp of corne, is but a field of tares:/And all my good is but vaine hope of gaine:/The daye is gone, and yet I sawe no sonn:/And nowe I live, and nowe my life is donn.//The springe is past, and yet it hath not sprong/The frute is deade, and yet the leaves are greene/My youth is gone, and yet I am but Yonge/I sawe the woorld, and yet I was not seene/My threed is cutt, and yet it was not sponn/And nowe I lyve, and nowe my life is donn.//I saught my death, and founde it in my wombe/I lookte for life, and sawe it was a shade./I trode the earth and knewe it was my Tombe/And nowe I die, and nowe I am but made/The glasse is full, and nowe the glass is run/And nowe I live, and nowe my life is donn. This is the first time I have ever sung the song but almost two years of the COVID pandemic with its attendant lockdowns here in Sydney and having lost several people close to me has brought a finer understanding of this song, so, now, I present my version of The Parting Glass: [insert song]
Back in 1979, I wrote a song about Major Claude Eatherly, one of the pilots of the Hiroshima bombing raid of August 6, 1945. He piloted the Straight Flush, a weather reconnaissance plane and radioed the Enola Gay, the plane which carried the atomic bomb, Little Boy, that the weather was perfect for the strike on the unsuspecting city. My first reading about his life left me with the opinion that he was a hero. Later, I read material that painted him as a derelict husband and father, a crook and opportunist willing, for example, to bomb Havana, Cuba, for $100,000. To this day I remain torn between these readings. So, what to do? The song has been long-written and was unearthed when I fossicked in the front of my garage in September just passed.
I’ll quote a couple of views from the mainstream media. J. Y. Smith, in The Washington Post, just one week after Eatherly’s death from cancer at age 57 in the Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Texas on July 1st 1978 wrote: His role in ushering in nuclear warfare remained the central episode of his existence until he died… Claude Eatherly was a major in the Army Air Force and a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II… “Every night for 15 years, I have dreamed about it,” Maj. Eatherly told Parade Magazine in the early 1960s. “I see great fires, boiling fires, crimson fires, closing in on me. Buildings fall, children run – living torches with their clothes aflame. ‘Why did you do it?’ they scream. I wake up paralysed with fear, screaming, sweating because I have no answer.”… Eatherly was hospitalised several times for mental disorders and was arrested several times on charges ranging from armed robbery to forging checks. Police officials said he seemed to want to be caught for his crimes.
More recently, Anne I Harrington, in The New York Times magazine of August 6 2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, wrote: Passing judgment on whether he was a hero for speaking out about his suffering, or a malingerer out to capitalise on his wartime experiences became a way to stake a claim within the debate about nuclear weapons. Do we believe what we want to believe, then, regardless of facts? Does it really depend on which side of the nuclear debate we are on? Me? In a world where I’m lied to constantly by a burgeoning variety of clever and manipulative government and non-government actors, all I know is that I’m on the side of music, poetry, compassion and humanity. So, I’ll play you the song and leave you to decide whether Major Claude Eatherly is worthy of this attention: its title is, 237 Dollars, the amount of his monthly government pension. [insert song]
Next week I will present another song from the front of my garage; one written in the mid-seventies. I barely recognise the twenty-something person who wrote this song with the ponderous title: Take What You Want to Take or Take What You Need. It is a testosterone-fuelled swagger which is off-set, I am pleased to report, by the wonderful song, My Cavan Girl, popular among folksingers in Ireland and far beyond. It was written by a talented American with the sort of C.V you generally come across in spy novels. But I’ll tell you more about this when next you drop into Quotidia for a listen. So, until then, to quote from The Parting Glass-good night and joy be to you all…
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
Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021