December 2023

The Mantle

Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

One day, the gods Apollo and his half-brother Dionysus sat together over goblets of a timeless vintage discussing the virtues of music. (Dionysus had decanted an amphora of his Olympian Cuvée and as the two sipped the well-aerated elixir, Apollo nodded in approval at his younger brother's handiwork.)

Apollo had much to say on the subject—he is the god of music after all, famed for entertaining the inhabitants atop Olympus with his lyre-playing. Apollo's layered melodies unfold like mathematical proofs with symmetries of design and a kind of inevitable progression which would be echoed in the fugues, concertos, and variations of J.S. Bach.

Dionysus said that when it came to instrumental music, he favored more passionate compositions, preferring the crescendo, the staccato, moody ambiguity, the exultant climax, and even a little dissonance from time to time. The wine-god cited John Coltrane's A Love Supreme as something worthy of his brother's ear.

Apollo leaned toward Mozart, Dionysus Beethoven, but the two agreed that they found the songs sung by humans to be irresistible, suffused as they are with mortality, for the gods can never taste death but can only experience it vicariously. The brevity of human life and its peculiar end intrigues them; death brings the gods to tears with its exquisite incomprehensibility.

And so Apollo and Dionysus wondered what it would sound like if a
human, driven by all the impatience and passion only mortality can inspire, could sing with the voice of an eternal god. They surveyed the surface of the earth, considering candidates on whom to bestow The Mantle, a temporary immortality which would find supreme expression in the vocal prowess of one man.

Through the mists over England they spied an unusual concentration of likely singers: Rod Stewart, The Who's Roger Daltrey, and Steve Marriott of The Small Faces and Humble Pie all possessed uncanny chops along with swagger worthy of a deity. Stewart's raspy vigor conveys the deeply humane concerns of "Maggie May," "Every Picture Tells a Story," his Dylan-cover "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," and, of course, "Hot Legs."

Roger Daltrey's rendition of "Love, Reign O'er Me" moistened the eyes of Dionysus, while the melodic intricacies of "Who Are You?" inside of which Daltrey weaves another stunner greatly impressed his elder brother. Bright Apollo suggested harnessing Daltrey's voice to provide electricity to Athens or Rome.

Both gods grooved to Humble Pie's "Black Coffee" and the overflowing brio with which Steve Marriott delivers the lyrics, especially in a live-in-the-studio rendition on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

With their sweeping vision, well-tuned ears, and powers of clairvoyance, Apollo and Dionysus quickly determined that The Mantle should go to a titan greater still: even before it was touched by the gods, Robert Plant's voice emanated like an other-worldly beacon.

From the murky moanings of "How Many More Times" to the soul-splitting wails of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Since I've Been Loving You;" from the clarities of "All My Love" (including its classically-intoned keyboard solo) to the magnificent questing of "Kashmir," his is The Voice. Apollonian and Dionysian sensibilities find resolution in the live, seamless sequence of "The Song Remains the Same" and "The Rain Song." And of course, the gods are total suckers for—height of heights—"Achilles Last Stand," which, owing to a car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes, Plant sings sitting down!

So the gods bestowed The Mantle on Robert Anthony Plant. Dionysus refilled Apollo's goblet and the two kicked back for a listen of Houses of the Holy on immaculately clean vinyl spun atop Apollo's SOTA Cosmos turntable.


Robert Plant with a message from the gods.


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Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh is a writer and poet. After college, he served four years on active duty as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division. He also holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Anglo-Irish literature from Ireland's University of Dublin, Trinity College. His poems and freelance articles have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.


©2023 Patrick Walsh
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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