Not too many people have heard of political writer and agitator Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912), so I was surprised and delighted when a performer at a "secret garden" party I attended here in San Francisco earlier this month announced that she was going to perform a song written by the 19th century individualist anarchist.
Left-anarchist singer-songwriter Erica, who goes by Unwoman after the banished women in Canadian sci-fi writer Margaret Atwood's dystopian "A Handmaid's Tale", proceeded to give a beautiful musical rendition of VdC's haunting poem "Written In Red" on the electric cello, a performance somewhat similar to which you can view here:
Along with the song by DeCleyre, Unwoman also performed a piece she wrote herself which poignantly addresses the libertarian themes of the temptations of power and the regrets that go with selling one's soul to the system. As historian A.J.P. Tyler said, “There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment – and nothing more corrupting.” Titled "Killing The King", her song struck me as a possible metaphor for many things, from impeaching a president to opposing unjust power itself. The ethical courtesan's dilemma is summed up in this couplet: "To use my only power to destroy, or to be Power's toy". You can watch the video for the acoustic version of that song here:
We had a good chat afterward, and I told her I'd love to see her perform these pieces at a libertarian convention. It turns out she has performed with Abney Park, the steampunk and libertarian-leaning group that played at the Roads to Freedom libertarian "unconvention" in Omaha Nebraska in May (see R2FF.org), and identifies with the steampunk genre herself. She has some reservations about the libertarian movement however – perhaps mainly around doubting that the free market will meet the needs of those in need of assistance. But unlike some non-libertarians, she was quite open to hearing about ideas including the Non-Aggression Principle, how people with different views and agendas can come together on the common ground of agreeing not to aggress against each other, and how some of the things that self-identified anarchists on the left (aka anarcho-syndicalists) usually want
to do such as abolish all money, abolish all hierarchy, etc., cannot be done without using government-type force, and I felt she was really listening and considering these ideas.
Of course not all Unwoman's songs are as politically-themed as these two, but she is clearly an artist who is both talented and very aware of the words she is singing and the ideas entwined with them. As I sometimes say when discussing one of the myriad interesting cultural, tech, spiritual, and other phenomena that have bubbled up in the SF Bay Area, "Another great San Francisco export!" In fact she has a song with a video filmed in various SF locations. But I'll let you seek that out for yourself if you so desire, and leave you with her cover version of a song by one of my (and a good number of other people's) favorite bands, The Smiths: