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:
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.