Gareth Branwyn: "I wander thro' each charter'd street... in William Gibson sneakers!"

Gibsonchucks Main
Boing Boing former guestblogger and bOING bOING editor Gareth Branwyn is on a magickal, mystery tour through London to attend an occult conference, conduct research for his novel, and find the ghost of William Blake. Gar writes:
Blake London People here must think I'm a crazy man, as it's hard for me not to walk around London mumbling William Blake poetry; it just sorta burbles out of me as I walk by, for instance, the Gothic church only blocks away from where he used to live on South Molton Street. I'm actually staying across from that dingy church, at another poet's house, a B&B in what used to be the home of Edward Lear. Blake likely would have walked past this church, maybe even sketched it.

But I can guarantee you that he never walked these streets in William Gibson's shoes! But I am! I'm sporting a baby-shit brown pair of William Gibson sneakers, with chocolate-brown leather accents and rubber sidewalls. I wanted the black pair, something Bill, the latter, would certainly appreciate, but they were out. I was lucky to get any pair. I only found out about them days before I left for my trip. I couldn't believe it. Gibson designing sneakers? And shoulder bags? And bomber jackets? It seemed too good to be true – trucking into some weirdo occult music and arts festival, being held on the very alchemical-sounding Red Lion Square, wearing a pair of Gibsonian sneakers? I had to have me some of that pregnant symbo!

I had a devil of a time tracking down a pair. The only place that had 'em in the US was Self Edge in San Francisco. And they had precious-few pairs left, and only in brown. Not sure if they'll get more. I think it was a limited edition sorta deal. Self Edge does carry some other Buzz Rickson William Gibson merch, such as the shoulder bags.

The sneakers are great looking, sorta tweaked-up Chucks. Several people commented on them at the Festival and it was a howl to say: “Guess what brand they are?” “These are Gibsonian sneakers, dude!” Nobody believes you (the only Bill branding is under the tongue). The style of the shoe is great, the packaging is worthy, but the quality of the material and the work seems a tad chincy for the $170. Not sure how long they'll last, but I'm still glad I got them.

My Gibsonian sneakers have taken me far and wide as I've tried to map Blakean space here in London. Trying to find overt evidence of dear William, the former, is sadly difficult. Besides the building on Molton Street, now in a posh shopping area, there's little else. As the Blake Society website puts it: “His birthplace, on the corner of Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) & Marshall Street, was demolished in 1965. The hideous block of flats built on the site is named William Blake House.” If you go to Wren’s St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, you can see the font in which he was baptized. The only other building he lived in that still stands is the cottage on the Sussex coast where he and his wife lived for three years at the beginning of the 19th century (that I did NOT see).

But the amazing thing to me, a huge revelation even, is how much his art was an expression of this city (among other things). I certainly thought I knew how much London meant to him, and how much of an important role it played in his mytho-poetic cosmology, but I never realized the extent to which that poetry was a psycho-geographic mapping of London until I walked its streets, in William Gibson's shoes, Blake's verse unwinding all around me like it's encoded in the odorous steam that swirls up from the underground.

I wander thro' each charter'd street, Near where the charter'd Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man, In every Infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.


  1. “it’s hard for me not to walk around London mumbling William Blake poetry”

    Are you kidding me? Jesus.

  2. Those are some sweet-looking shoes.

    “How long they’ll last”?

    If they’re anything like regular Chucks, I’d give ’em 6-8 weeks before the rubber sidewalls start cracking in the bendy places.

    Anyone know how to stop it from happening?

  3. There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot, Takuan.

    $170 for some cheap CT rip-offs? I’ve got a vial of Enoch Root-approved herbal infusion that you can show off at the next con. Going cheap at $100.

  4. Oh, they still have 1 pair left in my size. Should I order? $168 for a pair of chucks. It’s a tough call. But no.

  5. shoulda seen what happened when the guest editor was trying to push an overpriced William Gibson messenger bag on Cool Tools a couple weeks ago. It was epic.

  6. This might surprise you, but sometimes people pay more for something that’s pretty and/or has a well loved person’s name attached to it.

    Are you ready to submit every purchase to public ridicule?

  7. The true question… do they have kevlar soles?

    and as for the rubber, well you can kinda recondition leather with vaseline. it might work.

    and as for people who spend significant amounts of time belittling other people in order to make themselves feel better, well…
    ‘wee sleekit cowrin’ timrous beastie… what a panics in thy breastie…’ which is Burns, but seems appropriate. Have fun at your thingy, Gareth.

  8. Yeah, pleasure and enthusiasm (yes, even for fun product absurdities like Gibsonian speakers) — it’s a bitch.

    I’ve interacted with William Blake’s work, in some fashion, nearly every single day for the past 25 years. It’s something of an obsession. So yes, for me, London brings out Blake for me (and I specifically went there to explore “Blake’s London.” YMMV.

  9. You pays your money and you chooses your favorite mystical poet’s path to tread…

    The Atoms of Democritus
    And the Newton’s Particles of Light
    Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
    Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

    But I would choose to walk the grounds of nearby Highgate with my bright boy, Gerry…

    […] Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And bears man’s smudge, and shares man’s smell; the soil
    Is bare now, nor can foot feel being shod.
    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights from the black west went,
    Oh, morning at the brown brink eastwards springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast, and with, ah, bright wings.

    London is a poetaster’s feast.

  10. Because I’m sometimes a dumbass:

    Are we talking about Cyberpunk author William Gibson? Or someone else?

    Please advise.

  11. Ah, good ones, @buddy66:

    And every sand becomes a Gem,
    Reflected in the beam divine;
    Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
    But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

    Yes, THAT William Gibson, the man who infuses his work with near-fetishized descriptions of products and frequent references to product names, both real and imagined.

  12. I dunno, I’m kinda disappointed by them. It’s a bit like Jonny Rotten advertising butter to me. That’s not the angle I ever got from Gibson’s riffing on brands & Otaku-style obsessiveness, that one day he would have his own brand. But hey, I’m not Gibson, and they’re not my shoes.

  13. I took a walking tour of Blakean locations a couple summers ago. Long walk but terrifically interesting.

    Blake’s cottage in Felpham is beautiful, as well. Probably the most authentically Blakean spot left.

  14. I would rather read Isaac Newton’s poetry than study William Blake’s Physicks.

    HEY! I spelled it “Physicks”! Like how Crowley mis-spelled Magic and gave us all a bunch of pseudo intellectual ‘tude! Do I get any BB points for that?

    Yeesh. And Get Off My Lawn!.

    Just Look at how much opportunity has been opened up for the middle and lower classes by engineering and the sciences, and how much has been closed off for everybody by the upper class and their use of the tropes of magic as social engineering to discredit science workers by blaming them for the obscenities committed by the military. “Didn’t, like, the Nazis kill people scientifically?” The wet dream of the rich, and their thugs the police and the military, made real.

    Hell No, this ain’t anonymous.

  15. I LOVE that scene!

    “Are you William Blake?”
    “Yes I am. Do you know my poetry?

  16. You just missed genius author Iain Sinclair in Hackney, erm, dude. Good man to ask about Blake. And quite possibly footwear too.

  17. “it’s hard for me not to walk around London mumbling William Blake poetry”

    Oh. Come ON.

  18. It has come full circle.

    Massachusetts stole the Industrial Revolution from England and now England has stolen the Chuck Taylor from Massachusetts.

  19. Funny. I have a pair of brown suede Chucks that look almost exactly like these (except they have a brown leather CT logo, of course). Not sure what they originally went for, but I got them on sale for twenty five dollars…

  20. “I walk through every chartered street, near where the chartered Thames doth flow, and mark in every face I meet, marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every man, in every infant’s cry of fear, in every voice, in every man, the mind forged manacles I hear.”

    I’ve lived in London for about twenty years. That pops up in my head almost every time I cross a bridge.

  21. You can get Chucks in many different styles, including black, and in leather, at Converse’s website…used to be relatively cheap, too…

  22. Does anybody remember those Chinese worker-sneakers, from awhile back? Did anybody ever find a place that sells those (Not the featured ones, with the logo, but the generic shoes, that are presumably manufactured by the billions, for Chinese workers)?

  23. Chucks with Gibson branding?
    the Adidas GSG9 boot Gibson Edition, now that would be something.

  24. As the pround father of a 6-week-old, I can assure you that baby shit is actually a bit yellower than that, at least most of the time.

    (I just had an image of my son googling himself in 15 years and finding this comment, so i guess I will leave his name out.)

  25. hey gareth.

    you sound like a perfect person to join the BlakeWalkers at (or follow @L_O_S on Twitter).

    We’re trying to develop a whole BlakeWalking kit – booklets, audiofiles, maps, phone apps, geo-located media etc – and encourage as many people as possible to start firing their blakean imaginations and create amazing works as they walk.

    all the best

    Tim Wright

  26. They’re slightly yellower in person than in that picture, so I think baby-shit brown is apt.

  27. Tak: Babies have. Leave ’em to their own devices long enough, they’ll decorate something of yours in the full range for you.

  28. Those shoes aren’t just some cheap knock off Chucks. Everything carried at Self Edge is manufactured with the same otaku-style obsessiveness, from the denim, to the shirts, to the shoes. These shoes were manufactured by Toyo, the same company that makes SugarCane, Buzz Rickson, and Mister Freedom. All of their products are of the highest quality. Do a bit of research and you’ll see the shoes are worth the price.

  29. Blake probably spins in his poorly-marked (“Hereby”) Dissenters grave at the thought of his words for Milton being used by the Church of England as a hymn. Ironically, he didn’t even use that page in some editions of the book.

    (And, ah… Takuan, I HAVE listened to that, pretty much cranked to 11. As I said, something of an obsession… You haven’t lived until you’ve heard my fiery recitation of “Letter to Thomas Butts, November 22, 1802.” No, seriously.)

  30. See that Gareth,Takuan being flip,Philistine he?
    You will, of course, remember Blakes observation
    “He must ere believe the lie ,that sees with,not
    through the eye”Is not that statement relevant in
    to-days society.Twixt Billy and John Donne you have the most effective metaphyiscs.Did you not visit the site of his incaceration? Pity,

  31. Heh. I actually shelled out for the original black Buzz Rickson MA-1 that started all this silliness.

    The black jacket never actually existed in real life–Gibson made it up out of whole cloth–but after Pattern Recognition came out, so many people called Buzz Rickson’s agent in the US trying to order one that they finally went ahead and made it.

    Cost me $420, which I would normally consider ridiculous, but I obsessed over it for a year and finally had to have it. Because I love the book just that much.

    However, I have not gone for any more from the “William Gibson Collection”. While I love the thought of a science fiction writer with his own clothing line, it’s getting just a little ridiculous.


Comments are closed.