In the run up to Christmas, because I’d been exceptionally good last year and worked very hard at graphic design, when I came across a copy of ‘Did You Kiss the Foot that Kicked You?‘ – a project by Ruth Ewan – I bought it for myself. The publication consists of a book designed by Will Holder (who is quite simply a very very good designer and artist), and a 10″ red vinyl of 8 interpretations of the ‘Ballad of Accounting‘ – a song, popularised by Ewan MacColl (who wrote it) and Peggy Seeger with a great title that is at first glance an unusual and odd coupling, and at second glance forces you to re-think the word ‘accounting’ in its broadest context.
As a Christmas present, I also received a copy of 33 Revolutions per Minute, a fantastically well researched and well written book by Dorian Lynskey, charting the history of the protest song. In the book there are many mentions of Peggy and Peggy’s brother Pete Seeger, who along with Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie (1) could be said to constitute a central part of American folk music (and by association many of the political and social issues) of the 20th century. (There are also several references to Greil Marcus in the book, who coincidentally is also quoted on the reverse of Hal Fosters ‘Design and Crime‘ which is a key reference text in one of this terms forthcoming projects. Fascinating).
You can read about all aspects of Ruth Ewan’s project here, but in common with the Ballad of Accounting itself, I particularly like the reflective questioning nature of the title. The song itself is structured around a barage of questions (of which ‘Did you kiss the Foot …’ is one), seemingly directed by the singers at themselves as much as anything, and as such, might be considered to be a bit ‘meta’. It also reminded me, for some reason that’s now unclear to me, of the inquiry-led learning advocated by Neil Postman (and Charles Weingartner) in Teaching as a Subversive Activity – which, while fairly bombastic in style, and a product of its time (the early 1970’s), contains some highly pertinent observations and thoughts on learning and teaching.
At the outset of this post I had a sense that this would all come a full circle, and join up with where we started. But it hasn’t.
1. Full-time GSA staff Doppelgänger and part-time singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, in a collaboration with Wilco, recorded a number of Guthrie’s unfinished songs in the Mermaid Avenue series of recordings. One of Bragg’s earliest songs, A New England, was recorded and released by Kirsty MacColl, daughter of the aforementioned Ewan. Compelling!