Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Pete Seeger, William Blake, and Tom Paine.

Pete Seeger has just died. Fair enough, we was well into his nineties.

Appropriately or ironically — both men were, in their different ways, fighters for freedom and justice — today is also the (anniversary of the) day Tom Paine was born.

In December of 1792, William Blake and Tom Paine happened to meet in St Paul’s Churchyard, so William was able to warn Thomas not to go home, where the police were waiting for him. Paine went instead to Dover and took the ferry to France, and later went to America. Counterfactual history is of course a lot of nonsense, but it is disturbing to imagine what might have happened or not happened had that meeting not taken place. A recent book — ‘Blake’s Agitation’ by Steven Goldsmith — casts doubt on Blake’s personal engagement in political action, (though his later influence on libertarian politics could hardly be denied). That day in the churchyard however, wittingly or not, Blake did something of great political significance.

Even Voice of America, which slavishly follows the views of the American Government, devoted several minutes of its morning news today to the life and work of Pete Seeger, with phrases like ‘Instrumental in the revival of American Folk Music’. Seeger having been a friend of Woody Guthrie it was not so much a revival as a continuation. VoA played snatches of several of his songs, and even mentioned his persecution during the McCarthy era. One song they didn’t play was his simple funny one mocking the Murcan Way of Life ‘Little Boxes’.

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