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Graffiti Interviews

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by EVAK_GBCKrew, Oct 18, 2004.

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  1. .A.K.4.7.

    .A.K.4.7. Elite Member

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    THE FIRST TIME I meet JA, he skates up to me wearing Rollerblades, his cap played backward, on a
    street corner in Manhattan at around midnight. He's white, 24 years old, with a short, muscular build and
    a blond crew cut. He has been writing graffiti off and on in New York for almost 10 years and is the
    founder of a loosely affiliated crew called XTC. His hands, arms, legs and scalp show a variety of scars
    from nightsticks, razor wire, fists and sharp, jagged things he has climbed up, on or over.
    He has been beaten by the police -- a "wood shampoo," he calls it -- has been shot at, has fallen off a
    highway sign into moving traffic, has run naked through train yards tagging, has been chased down
    highways by rival writers wielding golf clubs and has risked his life innumerable times writing graffiti --
    bombing, getting up.
    JA lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. There's graffiti on a wall-length mirror, a weight bench, a
    Lava lamp to bug out on, cans of paint stacked in the corner, a large Metropolitan Transportation
    Authority (MTA) sticker on the side of the refrigerator. The buzzer to his apartment lists a false name; his
    phone number is unlisted to avoid law-enforcement representatives as well as conflicts with other writers.
    While JA and one of his writing partners, JD, and I are discussing their apprehension about this story,
    JD, offering up a maxim from the graffiti life, tells me matter-of-factly, "You wouldn't fuck us over, we
    know where you live."
    At JA's apartment we look through photos. There are hundreds of pictures of writers inside
    out-of-service subway cars that they've just covered completely with their tags, pictures of writers
    wearing orange safety vests -- to impersonate transit workers -- and walking subway tracks, pictures of
    detectives and transit workers inspecting graffiti that JA and crew put up the previous night, pictures of
    stylized JA 'throw-ups' large, bubble-lettered logos written 15 feet up and 50 times across a highway
    retaining wall. Picture after picture of JA's on trains, JA's on trucks, on store gates, bridges, rooftops,
    billboards -- all labeled, claimed and recorded on film.
    JA comes from a well-to-do family; his parents are divorced; his father holds a high-profile position in the
    entertainment industry. JA is aware that in some people's minds this last fact calls into question his street
    legitimacy, and he has put a great deal of effort into resisting the correlation between privileged and soft.
    He estimates he has been arrested 15 times for various crimes. He doesn't have a job, and it's unclear
    how he supports himself. Every time we've been together, he's been high or going to get high. Once he
    called me from Rikers Island prison, where he was serving a couple of months for disorderly conduct
    and a probation violation. He said some of the inmates saw him tagging in a notebook and asked him to
    do tattoos for them.
    It sounds right. Wherever he is, JA dominates his surroundings. With his crew, he picks the spots to hit,
    the stores to rack from; he controls the mission. He gives directions in the car, plans the activities, sets
    the mood. And he takes everything a step further than the people he's with. He climbs higher, stays
    awake longer, sucks deepest on the blunt, writes the most graffiti. And though he's respected by other
    writers for testing the limits -- he has been described to me by other writers as a king and, by way of
    compliment, as "the sickest guy I ever met" -- that same recklessness sometimes alienates him from the
    majority who don't have such a huge appetite for chaos, adrenaline, self-destruction.
    When I ask a city detective who specializes in combating graffiti if there are any particularly well-known
    writers, he immediately mentions JA and adds with a bit of pride in his voice, "We know each other." He
    calls JA the "biggest graffiti writer of all time" (though the detective would prefer that I didn't mention that,
    because it'll only encourage JA). "He's probably got the most throw-ups in the city, in the country, in the
    world," the detective says. "If the average big-time graffiti vandal has 10,000 tags, JA's got 100,000.
    He's probably done -- in New York City alone -- at least $5 million worth of damage."
    AT ABOUT 3 A.M., JA AND TWO OTHER WRITERS go out to hit a billboard off the West Side
    Highway in Harlem. Tonight there are SET, a 21-year-old white writer from Queens, N.Y., and JD, a
    black Latino writer the same age, also from Queens. They load their backpacks with racked cans of
    Rustoleum, fat cap nozzles, heavy 2-foot industrial bolt cutters and surgical gloves. We pile into a car and
    start driving, Schooly D blasting on the radio. First a stop at a deli where JA and SET go in and steal
    beer. Then we drive around Harlem trying a number of different dope spots, keeping an eye out for
    "berries" -- police cars. JA tosses a finished 40-ounce out the window in a high arc, and it smashes on
    the street.
    At different points, JA gets out of the car and casually walks the streets and into buildings, looking for
    dealers. A good part of the graffiti life involves walking anywhere in the city, at any time, and not being
    afraid -- or being afraid and doing it anyway.
    We arrive at a spot where JA has tagged the dealer's name on a wall in his territory. The three writers
    buy a vial of crack and a vial of angel dust and combine them ("spacebase") in a hollowed-out Phillies
    blunt. JD tells me that "certain drugs will enhance your bombing," citing dust for courage and strength
    ("bionics"). They've also bombed on mescaline, Valium, marijuana, crack and malt liquor. SET tells a
    story of climbing highway poles with a spray can at 6 a.m., "all Xanaxed out."
    While JD is preparing the blunt, JA walks across the street with a spray can and throws up all three of
    their tags in 4-foot-high bubbled, connected letters. In the corner, he writes my name.
    We then drive to a waterfront area at the edge of the city -- a deserted site with warehouses, railroad
    tracks and patches of urban wilderness dotted with high-rise billboards. All three writers are now high,
    and we sit on a curb outside the car smoking cigarettes. From a distance we can see a group of men
    milling around a parked car near a loading dock that we have to pass. This provokes 30 minutes of
    obsessive speculation, a stoned stakeout with play by play:
    "Dude, they're writers," says SET. "Let's go down and check them out," says JD. "Wait, let's see what
    they write," says JA. "Yo -- they're going into the trunk," says SET. "Cans, dude, they're going for their
    cans. Dude, they're writers. "There could be beef, possible beef," says JA. "Can we confirm cans, do we
    see cans?" SET wants to know. Yes, they do have cans," SET answers for himself. "There are cans.
    They are writers." It turns out that the men are thieves, part of a group robbing a nearby truck. In a few
    moments guards appear with flashlights and at least one drawn gun. The thieves scatter as guard dogs fan
    out around the area, barking crazily.
    We wait this out a bit until JA announces, "It's on." Hood pulled up on his head, he leads us creeping
    through the woods (which for JA has become the cinematic jungles of Nam). It's stop and go, JA
    crawling on his stomach, unnecessarily close to one of the guards who's searching nearby. We pass
    through graffiti-covered tunnels (with the requisite cinematic drip drip), over crumbling stairs overgrown
    with weeds and brush, along dark, heavily littered trails used by crackheads.
    We get near the billboard, and JA uses the bolt cutters to cut holes in two chain-link fences. We crawl
    through and walk along the railroad tracks until we get to the base of the sign. JA, with his backpack on,
    climbs about 40 feet on a thin piece of metal pipe attached to the main pillar. JD, after a few failed
    attempts, follows with the bolt cutters shoved down his pants and passes them to JA. Hanging in midair,
    his legs wrapped around a small piece of ladder, JA cuts the padlock and opens up the hatch to the
    catwalk. He then lowers his arm to JD, who is wrapped around the pole just below him, struggling. "J,
    give me your hand, "I'll pull you up," JA tells him. JD hesitates. He is reluctant to let go and continues
    treadmilling on the pole, trying to make it up. JD, give me your hand." JD doesn't want to refuse, but he's
    uncomfortable entrusting his life to JA. He won't let go of the pole. JA says it again, firmly, calmly, utterly
    confident: "J give me your hand." JD's arm reaches up, and JA pulls JD up onto the catwalk. Next, SET,
    the frailest of the three, follows unsteadily. They've called down and offered to put up his tag, but he
    insists on going up. "Dude, fuck that, I'm down," he says. I look away while he makes his way up, sure
    that he's going to fall (he almost does twice). The three have developed a set pattern for dividing the
    labor when they're "blowing up," one writer outlining, another working behind him, filling in. For 40
    minutes I watch them working furiously, throwing shadows as they cover ads for Parliament and Amtrak
    with large multicolored throw-ups SET and JD bickering about space, JA scolding them, tossing down
    empty cans.
    They risk their lives again climbing down. Parts of their faces are covered in paint, and their eyes beam as
    all three stare at the billboard, asking, "Isn't it beautiful?' And there is something intoxicating about seeing
    such an inaccessible, clean object gotten to and made gaudy. We get in the car and drive the West Side
    Highway northbound and then southbound so they can critique their work. "Damn, I should've used the
    white," JD says.
    The next day both billboards are newly re-covered, all the graffiti gone. JA tells me the three went back
    earlier to get pictures and made small talk with the workers who were cleaning it off.
    GRAFFITI HAS BEEN THROUGH A NUMBER OF incarnations since it surfaced in New York in
    the early 70s with a Greek teen-ager named Taki 183. It developed from the straightforward writing of a
    name to highly stylized, seemingly illegible tags (a kind of penmanship slang) to wild-style throw-ups and
    elaborate (master) "pieces" and character art. There has been racist graffiti political writing, drug
    advertising, gang graffiti. There is an art-graf scene from which Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiac,
    LEE, Futura 2000, Lady Pink and others emerged; aerosol advertising; techno graffiti written into
    computer programs; anti-billboard graffiti; stickers; and stencil writing. There are art students doing street
    work in San Francisco ("nonpermissional public art"); mural work in underground tunnels in New York;
    gallery shows from Colorado to New Jersey; all-day Graffiti-a-Thons; and there are graffiti artists
    lecturing art classes at universities. Graffiti has become part of urban culture, hip-hop culture and
    commercial culture, has spread to the suburbs and can be found in the backwoods of California's
    national forests. There are graffiti magazines, graffiti stores, commissioned walls, walls of fame and a
    video series available (Out to bomb) documenting writers going out on graffiti missions, complete with
    soundtrack. Graffiti was celebrated as a metaphor in the 70s (Norman Mailer's "The Faith of Graffiti"); it
    went Hollywood in the '80s (Beat Street, Turk 182!, Wild Style); and in the '90s it has been increasingly
    used to memorialize the inner-city dead.
    But as much as graffiti has found acceptance, it has been vilified a hundred times more. Writers are now
    being charged with felonies and given lengthy jail terms -- a 15-year-old in California was recently
    sentenced to eight years in a juvenile detention center. Writers have been given up to 1000 hours of
    community service and forced to undergo years of psychological counseling; their parents have been hit
    with civil suits. In California a graffiti writer's driver's license can be revoked for a year; high-school
    diplomas and transcripts can also be withheld until parents make restitution. In some cities property
    owners who fail to remove graffiti from their property are subject to fines and possible jail time. Last
    spring in St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Antonio and Sacramento, Calif., politicians proposed legislation to
    cane graffiti writers (four to 10 hits with a wooden paddle, administered by parents or by a bailiff in a
    public courtroom). Across the nation, legislation has been passed making it illegal to sell spray paint and
    wide-tipped markers to anyone under 18, and often the materials must be kept locked up in the stores.
    Several cities have tried to ban the sales altogether, license sellers of spray paint and require customers to
    give their name and address when purchasing paint. In New York some hardware-store owners will give
    a surveillance photo of anyone buying a large quantity of spray cans to the police. In Chicago people
    have been charged with possession of paint. In San Jose, Calif., undercover police officers ran a sting
    operation -- posing as filmmakers working on a graffiti documentary -- and arrested 31 writers.
    Hidden cameras, motion detectors, laser removal, specially developed chemical coatings, night goggles,
    razor wire, guard dogs, a National Graffiti Information Network, graffiti hot lines, bounties paid to
    informers -- one estimate is that it costs $4 billion a year nationally to clean graffiti -- all in an effort to
    stop those who "visually laugh in the face of communities," as a Wall Street Journal editorial raged.
    The popular perception is that since the late 1980s when New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority
    adopted a zero tolerance toward subway graffiti (the MTA either cleaned or destroyed more than 6,000
    graffiti-covered subway cars, immediately pulling a train out of service if any graffiti appeared on it),
    graffiti culture had died in the place of its birth. According to many graffiti writers, however, the MTA, in
    its attempt to kill graffiti, only succeeded in bringing it out of the tunnels and train yards and making it
    angry. Or as Jeff Ferrell, a criminologist who has chronicled the Denver graffiti scene, theorizes, the
    authorities' crackdown moved graffiti writing from subculture to counterculture. The work on the trains
    no longer ran, so writers started hitting the streets. Out in the open they had to work faster and more
    often. The artistry started to matter less and less. Throw-ups, small cryptic tags done in marker and even
    the straightforward writing of a name became the dominant imagery. What mattered was quantity
    ("making noise"), whether the writer had heart, was true to the game, was "real." And the graffiti world
    started to attract more and more people who weren't looking for an alternative art canvas but simply
    wanted to be connected to an outlaw community, to a venerable street tradition that allowed the
    opportunity to advertise their defiance. "It's that I'm doing it that I get my rush, not by everyone seeing it,"
    says JA. "Yeah, that's nice, but if that's all that's gonna motivate you to do it, you're gonna stop writing.
    That's what happened to a lot of writers." JD tells me: "We're just putting it in their faces; it's like 'Yo,
    you gotta put up with it.'"
    Newspapers have now settled on the term "graffiti vandal" rather than "artist" or "writer." Graffiti writers
    casually refer to their work as doing destruction." In recent years graffiti has become more and more
    about beefs and wars, about "fucking up the MTA," "fucking up the city."
    Writers started taking a jock attitude toward getting up frequently and tagging in hard-to-reach places,
    adopting a machismo toward going over other writers' work and defending their own ("If you can write,
    you can fight"). Whereas graffiti writing was once considered an alternative to the street, now it imports
    drugs, violence, weapons and theft from that world -- the romance of the criminal deviant rather than the
    artistic deviant. In New York today, one police source estimates there are approximately 100,000
    people involved in a variety of types of graffiti writing. The police have caught writers as young as 8 and
    as old as 42. And there's a small group of hard-core writers who are getting older who either wrote
    when graffiti was in its prime or long for the days when it was, those who write out of compulsion, for
    each other and for the authorities who try to combat graffiti, writers who haven't found anything in their
    lives substantial or hype enough to replace graffiti writing.
    The writers in their 20s come mostly from working-class families and have limited prospects and
    ambitions for the future. SET works in a drugstore and has taken lithium and Prozac for occasional
    depression; JD dropped out of high school and is unemployed, last working as a messenger, where he
    met JA. They spend their nights driving 80 miles an hour down city highways, balancing 40-ounce bottles
    of Old English 800 between their legs, smoking blunts and crack-laced cigarettes called coolies, always
    playing with the radio. They reminisce endlessly about the past, when graf was real, when graf ran on the
    trains, and they swap stories about who's doing what on the scene. The talk is a combo platter of Spicoli,
    homeboy, New Age jock and eighth grade: The dude is a fuckin' total turd. . . . I definitely would've
    gotten waxed. . . . It's like some bogus job. . . . I'm amped, I'm Audi, you buggin . . . You gotta be there
    fully, go all out, focus. . . . Dudes have bitten off SET, he's got toys jockin' him. . . .
    They carry beepers, sometimes guns, go upstate or to Long Island to "prey on the hicks" and to rack
    cans of spray paint. They talk about upcoming court cases and probation, about quitting, getting their
    lives together, even as they plan new spots to hit, practice their style by writing on the walls of their
    apartments, on boxes of food, on any stray piece of paper (younger writers practice on school
    notebooks that teachers have been known to confiscate and turn over to the police). They call graffiti a
    "social tool" and "some kind of ill form of communication," refer to every writer no matter his age as
    "kid." Talk in the graffiti life vacillates between banality and mythology, much like the activity itself: hours
    of drudgery, hanging out, waiting, interrupted by brief episodes of exhilaration. JD, echoing a common
    refrain, says, "Graffiti writers are like bitches: a lot of lying, a lot of talking, a lot of gossip." They don't
    like tagging with girls ("cuties," or if they use drugs, "zooties") around because all they say is (in a whiny
    voice), You're crazy. . . . Write my name."
    WHEN JA TALKS ABOUT GRAFFITI, HE'S reluctant to offer up any of the media-ready cliches
    about the culture (and he knows most of them). He's more inclined to say, "Fuck the graffiti world," and
    scoff at graf shops, videos, conventions and 'zines. But he can be sentimental about how he began --
    riding the No. 1, 2 and 3 trains when he was young, bugging out on the graffiti-covered cars, asking
    himself, "How did they do that? Who are they?" And he'll respectfully invoke the names of long-gone
    writers he admired when he was just starting out: SKEME, ZEPHYR, REVOLT, MIN.
    JA, typical of the new school, primarily bombs, covering wide areas with throw-ups. He treats graffiti
    less as an art form than as an athletic competition, concentrating on getting his tag in difficult-to-reach
    places, focusing on quantity and working in defiance of an aesthetic that demands that public property be
    kept clean. (Writers almost exclusively hit public or commercial property.)
    And when JA is not being cynical, he can talk for hours about the technique, the plotting, the logistics of
    the game like "motion bombing" by clockwork a carefully scoped subway train that he knows has to stop
    for a set time, at a set place, when it gets a certain signal in the tunnels. He says, "To me, the challenge
    that graffiti poses, there's something very invigorating and freeing about it, something almost spiritual.
    There's a kind of euphoria, more than any kind of drug or sex can give you, give me . . . for real."
    JA says he wants to quit, and he talks about doing it as if he were in a 12-step program. "How a person
    in recovery takes it one day a time, that's how I gotta take it," he says. You get burnt out. There's pretty
    much nothing more the city can throw at me; it's all been done." But then he'll hear about a yard full of
    clean sanitation trucks, the upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parade (a reason to bomb Fifth Avenue) or a
    billboard in an isolated area; or it'll be 3 a.m., he'll be stoned, driving around or sitting in the living room,
    playing NBA Jam, and someone will say it: "Yo, I got a couple of cans in the trunk. . . ." REAS, an
    old-school writer of 12 years who, after a struggle and a number of relapses, eventually quit the life, says,
    "Graffiti can become like a hole you're stuck in; it can just keep on going and going, there's always
    another spot to write on."
    SAST is in his late 20s and calls himself semiretired after 13 years in the graf scene. He still carries
    around a marker with him wherever he goes and cops little STONE tags (when he's high, he writes,
    STONED). He's driving JA and me around the city one night, showing me different objects they've
    tagged, returning again and again to drug spots to buy dust and crack, smoking, with the radio blasting;
    he's telling war stories about JA jumping onto moving trains, JA hanging off the outside of a speeding
    four-wheel drive. SAST is driving at top speed, cutting in between cars, tailgating, swerving. A number
    of times as we're racing down the highway, I ask him if he could slow down. He smiles, asks if I'm
    scared, tells me not to worry, that he's a more cautious driver when he's dusted. At one point on the
    FDR, a car cuts in front of us. JA decides to have some fun.
    "Yo, he burnt you, SAST," JA says. We start to pick up speed. Yo, SAST, he dissed you, he cold
    dissed you, SAST." SAST is buying it, the look on his face becoming more determined as we go 70, 80,
    90 miles an hour, hugging the divider, flying between cars. I turn to JA, who's in the back seat, and I try
    to get him to stop. JA ignores me, sitting back perfectly relaxed, smiling, urging SAST to go faster and
    faster, getting off, my fear adding to his rush.
    At around 4 a.m., SAST drops us off on the middle of the Manhattan Bridge and leaves. JA wants to
    show me a throw-up he did the week before. We climb over the divider from the roadway to the
    subway tracks. JA explains that we have to cross the north and the southbound tracks to get to the outer
    part of the bridge. In between there are a number of large gaps and two electrified third rails, and we're
    135 feet above the East River. As we're standing on the tracks, we hear the sound of an oncoming train.
    JA tells me to hide, to crouch down in the V where two diagonal braces meet just beside the tracks.
    I climb into position, holding on to the metal beams, head down, looking at the water as the train slams
    by the side of my body. This happens twice more. Eventually, I cross over to the outer edge of the
    bridge, which is under construction, and JA points out his tag about 40 feet above on what looks like a
    crow's-nest on a support pillar. After a few moments of admiring the view, stepping carefully around the
    many opportunities to fall, JA hands me his cigarettes and keys. He starts crawling up one of the braces
    on the side of the bridge, disappears within the structure for a moment, emerges and makes his way to an
    electrical box on a pillar. Then he snakes his way up the piping and grabs on to a curved support. Using
    only his hands he starts to shimmy up; at one point he's hanging almost completely upside down. If he
    falls now, he'll land backward onto one of the tiers and drop into the river below. He continues to pull
    himself up, the old paint breaking off in his hands, and finally he flips his body over a railing to get to the
    spot where he tagged. He doesn't have a can or a marker with him, and at this point graffiti seems
    incidental. He comes down and tells me that when he did the original tag he was with two writers; one he
    half carried up, the other stopped at a certain point and later told JA that watching him do that tag made
    him appreciate life, being alive.
    We walk for 10 minutes along a narrow, grooved catwalk on the side of the tracks; a thin wire cable
    prevents a fall into the river. A few times, looking down through the grooves, I have to stop, force myself
    to take the next step straight ahead, shake off the vertigo. JA is practically jogging ahead of me. We exit
    the bridge into Chinatown as the sun comes up and go to eat breakfast. JA tells me he's a vegetarian.
    IF YOU TALK TO SERIOUS GRAFFITI writers, most of them will echo the same themes; they decry
    the commercialization of graf, condemn the toys and poseurs and alternately hate and feel attached to the
    authorities who try to stop them. They say with equal parts bravado and self-deprecation that a graffiti
    writer is a bum, a criminal, a vandal, slick, sick, obsessed, sneaky, street-smart, living on edges figurative
    and literal. They show and catalog cuts and scars on their bodies from razor wire, pieces of metal,
    knives, box cutters. I once casually asked a writer named GHOST if he knew another writer whose
    work I had seen in a graf'zine. "Yeah, I know him, he stabbed me," GHOST replies matter-of-factly.
    "We've still got beef." SET tells me he was caught by two DTs (detectives) who assaulted him, took his
    cans of paint and sprayed his body and face. JA tells similar stories of police beatings for his making
    officers run after him, of cops making him empty his spray cans on his sneakers or on the back of a
    fellow writer's jacket. JD has had 48 stitches in his back and 18 in his head over "graffiti-related beef."
    JA's best friend and writing partner, SANE SMITH, a legendary all-city writer who was sued by the city
    and the MTA for graffiti, was found dead, floating in Jamaica Bay. There's endless speculation in the
    grafworld as to whether he was pushed, fell or jumped off a bridge. SANE is so respected, there are
    some writers today who spend time in public libraries reading and rereading the newspaper microfilm
    about his death, his arrests, his career. According to JA, after SANE's death, his brother, SMiTH, also a
    respected graffiti artist, found a piece of paper on which SANE had written his and JA's tag and off to
    the side, FLYING HIGH THE XTC WAY. It now hangs on JA's apartment wall.
    One morning, JA and I jump off the end of a subway platform and head into the tunnels. He shows me
    hidden rooms, emergency hatches that open to the sidewalk, where to stand when the trains come by.
    He tells me about the time SANE lay face down in a shallow drainage ditch on the tracks as an express
    train ran inches above him. JA says anytime he was being chased by the police he would run into a
    nearby subway station, jump off the platform and run into the tunnels. The police would never follow.
    KET, a veteran graffiti writer, tells me how in the tunnels he would accidentally step on homeless people
    sleeping. They'd see him tagging and would occasionally ask that he "throw them up," write their names
    on the wall. He usually would. Walking in the darkness between the electrified rails as trains race by, JA
    tells me the story of two writers he had beef with who came into the tunnels to cross out his tags. Where
    the cross-outs stop is where they were killed by an approaching train.
    The last time I go out with JA, SET and JD, they pick me up at around 2 am. We drive down to the
    Lower East Side to hit a yard where about 60 trucks and vans are parked next to one another. Every
    vehicle is already covered with throw-ups and tags, but the three start to write anyway, JA in a near
    frenzy. They're running in between the rows, crawling under trucks, jumping from roof to roof, wedged
    down in between the trailers, engulfed in nauseating clouds of paint fumes (the writers sometimes blow
    multicolored mucous out of their noses), going over some writers' tags, respecting others, JA throwing up
    SANE's name, searching for any little piece of clean space to write on. JA, who had once again been
    talking about retirement, is now hungry to write and wants to hit another spot. But JD doesn't have any
    paint, SET needs gas money for his car, and they have to drive upstate the next morning to appear in
    court for a paint-theft charge.
    During the ride back uptown the car is mostly quiet, the mood depressed. And even when the three were
    in the truck yard, even when JA was at his most intense, it seemed closer to work, routine, habit. There
    are moments like this when they seem genuinely worn out by the constant stress, the danger, the legal
    problems, the drugging, the fighting, the obligation to always hit another spot. And it's usually when the
    day is starting.
    About a week later I get a call from another writer whom JA had told I was writing an article on graffiti.
    He tells me he has never been king, never gone all city, but now he is making a comeback, coming out of
    retirement with a new tag. He says he could do it easily today because there is no real competition. He
    says he was thinking about trying to make some money off of graffiti -- galleries. canvases, whatever . . .
    to get paid.
    "I gotta do something," the writer says. "I can't rap, I can't dance, I got this silly little job." We talk more,
    and he tells me he appreciates that I'm writing about writers, trying to get inside the head of a vandal,
    telling the real deal. He also tells me that graffiti is dying, that the city is buffing it, that new writers are all
    toys and are letting it die, but it's still worth it to write.
    I ask why, and then comes the inevitable justification that every writer has to believe and take pleasure in,
    the idea that order will always have to play catch-up with them. "It takes me seconds to do a quick
    throw-up; it takes them like 10 minutes to clean it," he says. "Who's coming out on top?"

    KEVIN HELDMAN lives in New York. This is his first piece for "Rolling Stone." (ROLLING STONE,FEB 9,1995)
     
  2. Iamyourrealfatherbitchnigga

    Iamyourrealfatherbitchnigga Senior Member

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    Thanks alot man, I read that nearly every time before i go on a bombing mission, and someone deleted it on my comp.
     
  3. .A.K.4.7.

    .A.K.4.7. Elite Member

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    Its a long but dope read about the realest of graffiti bombers
     
  4. Ravek

    Ravek Elite Member

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    i stepped on the 3rd rail once, i lost my virginity, jeloe is deop but i didnt feel like reading it jeloe aka geso
     
  5. YANKNY-718

    YANKNY-718 Elite Member

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    THANKS FOR ALL THAT MAN
     
  6. VAbomber

    VAbomber Banned

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  7. any

    any Senior Member

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    fuckin crazy, loved that article haha
     
  8. screw_loose

    screw_loose Elite Member

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    nucking futs!
     
  9. _spetznaz

    _spetznaz Senior Member

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    Good stuff. very enlightening to a noob like me :)
     
  10. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    GESO



    1. L-L: What crew(s) do you paint for and what are the underlying meanings of the acronym(s)?
    GESO: PVC=PRO VANDALS CREW IBD=INFECTED BY DEVILS.

    2. L-L: Who influenced you the most coming up?
    GESO: GREY,AMAZE,SENTO,PHABLE,MQUE,VEEFER...OTHER OLDER WRITERS.

    3. L-L: How long have you been active?
    GESO: 93 SO 10 YEARS.

    4. L-L: Did you write any other names previously?
    GESO: YEAH BUT WE ALL GO THROUGH THAT PHASE.

    5. L-L: Any meaning behind the name?
    GESO: NO.

    6. L-L: Rack or Buy?
    GESO: THATS A GIVEN...

    7. L-L: What is your preferred brand of paint?
    GESO: RUSTO AMERICAN ACCENTS, PLASTI-COAT.

    8. L-L: What is your favorite surface to paint?
    GESO: ANYTHING, I DONT CARE WHAT THE FUCK IT IS!

    9. L-L: Do you prefer painting solo or with others?
    GESO: I LIKE ME , AND ANOTHER.

    10. L-L: Do you wear a mask?
    GESO: YES, I WEAR AN E.T. MASK.

    11. L-L: Do you track your freights?
    GESO: NO,ONLY FR8 NERD FUCKS DO THAT, IM NOT GONNA WASTE MY TIME DOING THAT STUPID SHIT!

    12. L-L: About how many freights have you painted?
    GESO: NO FUCKING CLUE..

    13. L-L: What's your favorite part of the country to paint in?
    GESO: WHERE THE BEER FLOWS LIKE WINE.

    14. L-L: Do you see a difference in East and West coast styles/attitude?
    GESO: YES I DO.EADT COAST SEEMS MORE DOWN FOR BOMBING AND WEST SEEMS MORE INTO DOING PEICES AND BOMBING AND THERES ALOT FUCKING PUSSIES OUT HERE EXCEPT FOR A FEW PEOPLE THAT ARE DOWN.

    15. L-L: Have you ever been bagged for graffiti?
    GESO: YES.

    16. L-L: What do you think about the documentation of graffiti on the web?
    GESO: WHAT EVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT, ITS COOL TO SEE YOUR SHIT ON THERE BUT I DONT HAVE THE PANTIENTS FOR ALL OF THAT

    17. L-L: What is your current occupation?
    GESO: PRO THIEF

    18. L-L: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
    GESO: RICH AS FUCK OR IN PRISION.

    19. L-L: Any graff goals for 2004?
    GESO: START DOING DOPER PEICES AND START BEATING UP WACK WRITERS.

    20. L-L: If there was one spot you could hit without getting bagged, where would it be and why?
    GESO: YOUR MOMS HOUSE!
     
  11. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    JA



    THE FIRST TIME I meet JA, he skates up to me wearing Rollerblades, his cap played backward, on a street corner in Manhattan at around midnight. He's white, 24 years old, with a short, muscular build and a blond crew cut. He has been writing graffiti off and on in New York for almost 10 years and is the founder of a loosely affiliated crew called XTC. His hands, arms, legs and scalp show a variety of scars from nightsticks, razor wire, fists and sharp, jagged things he has climbed up, on or over. He has been beaten by the police -- a "wood shampoo," he calls it -- has been shot at, has fallen off a highway sign into moving traffic, has run naked through train yards tagging, has been chased down highways by rival writers wielding golf clubs and has risked his life innumerable times writing graffiti -- bombing, getting up.

    JA lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. There's graffiti on a wall-length mirror, a weight bench, a Lava lamp to bug out on, cans of paint stacked in the corner, a large Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) sticker on the side of the refrigerator. The buzzer to his apartment lists a false name; his phone number is unlisted to avoid law-enforcement representatives as well as conflicts with other writers. While JA and one of his writing partners, JD, and I are discussing their apprehension about this story, JD, offering up a maxim from the graffiti life, tells me matter-of-factly, "You wouldn't fuck us over, we know where you live."

    At JA's apartment we look through photos. There are hundreds of pictures of writers inside out-of-service subway cars that they've just covered completely with their tags, pictures of writers wearing orange safety vests -- to impersonate transit workers -- and walking subway tracks, pictures of detectives and transit workers inspecting graffiti that JA and crew put up the previous night, pictures of stylized JA 'throw-ups' large, bubble-lettered logos written 15 feet up and 50 times across a highway retaining wall. Picture after picture of JA's on trains, JA's on trucks, on store gates, bridges, rooftops, billboards -- all labeled, claimed and recorded on film.

    JA comes from a well-to-do family; his parents are divorced; his father holds a high-profile position in the entertainment industry. JA is aware that in some people's minds this last fact calls into question his street legitimacy, and he has put a great deal of effort into resisting the correlation between privileged and soft. He estimates he has been arrested 15 times for various crimes. He doesn't have a job, and it's unclear how he supports himself. Every time we've been together, he's been high or going to get high. Once he called me from Rikers Island prison, where he was serving a couple of months for disorderly conduct and a probation violation. He said some of the inmates saw him tagging in a notebook and asked him to do tattoos for them.

    It sounds right. Wherever he is, JA dominates his surroundings. With his crew, he picks the spots to hit, the stores to rack from; he controls the mission. He gives directions in the car, plans the activities, sets the mood. And he takes everything a step further than the people he's with. He climbs higher, stays awake longer, sucks deepest on the blunt, writes the most graffiti. And though he's respected by other writers for testing the limits -- he has been described to me by other writers as a king and, by way of compliment, as "the sickest guy I ever met" -- that same recklessness sometimes alienates him from the majority who don't have such a huge appetite for chaos, adrenaline, self-destruction.

    When I ask a city detective who specializes in combating graffiti if there are any particularly well-known writers, he immediately mentions JA and adds with a bit of pride in his voice, "We know each other." He calls JA the "biggest graffiti writer of all time" (though the detective would prefer that I didn't mention that, because it'll only encourage JA). "He's probably got the most throw-ups in the city, in the country, in the world," the detective says. "If the average big-time graffiti vandal has 10,000 tags, JA's got 100,000. He's probably done -- in New York City alone -- at least $5 million worth of damage."

    AT ABOUT 3 A.M., JA AND TWO OTHER WRITERS go out to hit a billboard off the West Side Highway in Harlem. Tonight there are SET, a 21-year-old white writer from Queens, N.Y., and JD, a black Latino writer the same age, also from Queens. They load their backpacks with racked cans of Rustoleum, fat cap nozzles, heavy 2-foot industrial bolt cutters and surgical gloves. We pile into a car and start driving, Schooly D blasting on the radio. First a stop at a deli where JA and SET go in and steal beer. Then we drive around Harlem trying a number of different dope spots, keeping an eye out for "berries" -- police cars. JA tosses a finished 40-ounce out the window in a high arc, and it smashes on the street.

    At different points, JA gets out of the car and casually walks the streets and into buildings, looking for dealers. A good part of the graffiti life involves walking anywhere in the city, at any time, and not being afraid -- or being afraid and doing it anyway.

    We arrive at a spot where JA has tagged the dealer's name on a wall in his territory. The three writers buy a vial of crack and a vial of angel dust and combine them ("spacebase") in a hollowed-out Phillies blunt. JD tells me that "certain drugs will enhance your bombing," citing dust for courage and strength ("bionics"). They've also bombed on mescaline, Valium, marijuana, crack and malt liquor. SET tells a story of climbing highway poles with a spray can at 6 a.m., "all Xanaxed out."

    While JD is preparing the blunt, JA walks across the street with a spray can and throws up all three of their tags in 4-foot-high bubbled, connected letters. In the corner, he writes my name.

    We then drive to a waterfront area at the edge of the city -- a deserted site with warehouses, railroad tracks and patches of urban wilderness dotted with high-rise billboards. All three writers are now high, and we sit on a curb outside the car smoking cigarettes. From a distance we can see a group of men milling around a parked car near a loading dock that we have to pass. This provokes 30 minutes of obsessive speculation, a stoned stakeout with play by play:

    "Dude, they're writers," says SET. "Let's go down and check them out," says JD. "Wait, let's see what they write," says JA. "Yo -- they're going into the trunk," says SET. "Cans, dude, they're going for their cans. Dude, they're writers. "There could be beef, possible beef," says JA. "Can we confirm cans, do we see cans?" SET wants to know. Yes, they do have cans," SET answers for himself. "There are cans. They are writers." It turns out that the men are thieves, part of a group robbing a nearby truck. In a few moments guards appear with flashlights and at least one drawn gun. The thieves scatter as guard dogs fan out around the area, barking crazily.

    We wait this out a bit until JA announces, "It's on." Hood pulled up on his head, he leads us creeping through the woods (which for JA has become the cinematic jungles of Nam). It's stop and go, JA crawling on his stomach, unnecessarily close to one of the guards who's searching nearby. We pass through graffiti-covered tunnels (with the requisite cinematic drip drip), over crumbling stairs overgrown with weeds and brush, along dark, heavily littered trails used by crackheads.

    We get near the billboard, and JA uses the bolt cutters to cut holes in two chain-link fences. We crawl through and walk along the railroad tracks until we get to the base of the sign. JA, with his backpack on, climbs about 40 feet on a thin piece of metal pipe attached to the main pillar. JD, after a few failed attempts, follows with the bolt cutters shoved down his pants and passes them to JA. Hanging in midair, his legs wrapped around a small piece of ladder, JA cuts the padlock and opens up the hatch to the catwalk. He then lowers his arm to JD, who is wrapped around the pole just below him, struggling. "J, give me your hand, "I'll pull you up," JA tells him. JD hesitates. He is reluctant to let go and continues treadmilling on the pole, trying to make it up. JD, give me your hand." JD doesn't want to refuse, but he's uncomfortable entrusting his life to JA. He won't let go of the pole. JA says it again, firmly, calmly, utterly confident: "J give me your hand." JD's arm reaches up, and JA pulls JD up onto the catwalk. Next, SET, the frailest of the three, follows unsteadily. They've called down and offered to put up his tag, but he insists on going up. "Dude, fuck that, I'm down," he says. I look away while he makes his way up, sure that he's going to fall (he almost does twice). The three have developed a set pattern for dividing the labor when they're "blowing up," one writer outlining, another working behind him, filling in. For 40 minutes I watch them working furiously, throwing shadows as they cover ads for Parliament and Amtrak with large multicolored throw-ups SET and JD bickering about space, JA scolding them, tossing down empty cans.

    They risk their lives again climbing down. Parts of their faces are covered in paint, and their eyes beam as all three stare at the billboard, asking, "Isn't it beautiful?' And there is something intoxicating about seeing such an inaccessible, clean object gotten to and made gaudy. We get in the car and drive the West Side Highway northbound and then southbound so they can critique their work. "Damn, I should've used the white," JD says.

    The next day both billboards are newly re-covered, all the graffiti gone. JA tells me the three went back earlier to get pictures and made small talk with the workers who were cleaning it off.

    GRAFFITI HAS BEEN THROUGH A NUMBER OF incarnations since it surfaced in New York in the early 70s with a Greek teen-ager named Taki 183. It developed from the straightforward writing of a name to highly stylized, seemingly illegible tags (a kind of penmanship slang) to wild-style throw-ups and elaborate (master) "pieces" and character art. There has been racist graffiti political writing, drug advertising, gang graffiti. There is an art-graf scene from which Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiac, LEE, Futura 2000, Lady Pink and others emerged; aerosol advertising; techno graffiti written into computer programs; anti-billboard graffiti; stickers; and stencil writing. There are art students doing street work in San Francisco ("nonpermissional public art"); mural work in underground tunnels in New York; gallery shows from Colorado to New Jersey; all-day Graffiti-a-Thons; and there are graffiti artists lecturing art classes at universities. Graffiti has become part of urban culture, hip-hop culture and commercial culture, has spread to the suburbs and can be found in the backwoods of California's national forests. There are graffiti magazines, graffiti stores, commissioned walls, walls of fame and a video series available (Out to bomb) documenting writers going out on graffiti missions, complete with soundtrack. Graffiti was celebrated as a metaphor in the 70s (Norman Mailer's "The Faith of Graffiti"); it went Hollywood in the '80s (Beat Street, Turk 182!, Wild Style); and in the '90s it has been increasingly used to memorialize the inner-city dead.

    But as much as graffiti has found acceptance, it has been vilified a hundred times more. Writers are now being charged with felonies and given lengthy jail terms -- a 15-year-old in California was recently sentenced to eight years in a juvenile detention center. Writers have been given up to 1000 hours of community service and forced to undergo years of psychological counseling; their parents have been hit with civil suits. In California a graffiti writer's driver's license can be revoked for a year; high-school diplomas and transcripts can also be withheld until parents make restitution. In some cities property owners who fail to remove graffiti from their property are subject to fines and possible jail time. Last spring in St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Antonio and Sacramento, Calif., politicians proposed legislation to cane graffiti writers (four to 10 hits with a wooden paddle, administered by parents or by a bailiff in a public courtroom). Across the nation, legislation has been passed making it illegal to sell spray paint and wide-tipped markers to anyone under 18, and often the materials must be kept locked up in the stores. Several cities have tried to ban the sales altogether, license sellers of spray paint and require customers to give their name and address when purchasing paint. In New York some hardware-store owners will give a surveillance photo of anyone buying a large quantity of spray cans to the police. In Chicago people have been charged with possession of paint. In San Jose, Calif., undercover police officers ran a sting operation -- posing as filmmakers working on a graffiti documentary -- and arrested 31 writers.

    Hidden cameras, motion detectors, laser removal, specially developed chemical coatings, night goggles, razor wire, guard dogs, a National Graffiti Information Network, graffiti hot lines, bounties paid to informers -- one estimate is that it costs $4 billion a year nationally to clean graffiti -- all in an effort to stop those who "visually laugh in the face of communities," as a Wall Street Journal editorial raged.

    The popular perception is that since the late 1980s when New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority adopted a zero tolerance toward subway graffiti (the MTA either cleaned or destroyed more than 6,000 graffiti-covered subway cars, immediately pulling a train out of service if any graffiti appeared on it), graffiti culture had died in the place of its birth. According to many graffiti writers, however, the MTA, in its attempt to kill graffiti, only succeeded in bringing it out of the tunnels and train yards and making it angry. Or as Jeff Ferrell, a criminologist who has chronicled the Denver graffiti scene, theorizes, the authorities' crackdown moved graffiti writing from subculture to counterculture. The work on the trains no longer ran, so writers started hitting the streets. Out in the open they had to work faster and more often. The artistry started to matter less and less. Throw-ups, small cryptic tags done in marker and even the straightforward writing of a name became the dominant imagery. What mattered was quantity ("making noise"), whether the writer had heart, was true to the game, was "real." And the graffiti world started to attract more and more people who weren't looking for an alternative art canvas but simply wanted to be connected to an outlaw community, to a venerable street tradition that allowed the opportunity to advertise their defiance. "It's that I'm doing it that I get my rush, not by everyone seeing it," says JA. "Yeah, that's nice, but if that's all that's gonna motivate you to do it, you're gonna stop writing. That's what happened to a lot of writers." JD tells me: "We're just putting it in their faces; it's like 'Yo, you gotta put up with it.'"

    Newspapers have now settled on the term "graffiti vandal" rather than "artist" or "writer." Graffiti writers casually refer to their work as doing destruction." In recent years graffiti has become more and more about beefs and wars, about "fucking up the MTA," "fucking up the city."

    Writers started taking a jock attitude toward getting up frequently and tagging in hard-to-reach places, adopting a machismo toward going over other writers' work and defending their own ("If you can write, you can fight"). Whereas graffiti writing was once considered an alternative to the street, now it imports drugs, violence, weapons and theft from that world -- the romance of the criminal deviant rather than the artistic deviant. In New York today, one police source estimates there are approximately 100,000 people involved in a variety of types of graffiti writing. The police have caught writers as young as 8 and as old as 42. And there's a small group of hard-core writers who are getting older who either wrote when graffiti was in its prime or long for the days when it was, those who write out of compulsion, for each other and for the authorities who try to combat graffiti, writers who haven't found anything in their lives substantial or hype enough to replace graffiti writing.

    The writers in their 20s come mostly from working-class families and have limited prospects and ambitions for the future. SET works in a drugstore and has taken lithium and Prozac for occasional depression; JD dropped out of high school and is unemployed, last working as a messenger, where he met JA. They spend their nights driving 80 miles an hour down city highways, balancing 40-ounce bottles of Old English 800 between their legs, smoking blunts and crack-laced cigarettes called coolies, always playing with the radio. They reminisce endlessly about the past, when graf was real, when graf ran on the trains, and they swap stories about who's doing what on the scene. The talk is a combo platter of Spicoli, homeboy, New Age jock and eighth grade: The dude is a fuckin' total turd. . . . I definitely would've gotten waxed. . . . It's like some bogus job. . . . I'm amped, I'm Audi, you buggin . . . You gotta be there fully, go all out, focus. . . . Dudes have bitten off SET, he's got toys jockin' him. . . .

    They carry beepers, sometimes guns, go upstate or to Long Island to "prey on the hicks" and to rack cans of spray paint. They talk about upcoming court cases and probation, about quitting, getting their lives together, even as they plan new spots to hit, practice their style by writing on the walls of their apartments, on boxes of food, on any stray piece of paper (younger writers practice on school notebooks that teachers have been known to confiscate and turn over to the police). They call graffiti a "social tool" and "some kind of ill form of communication," refer to every writer no matter his age as "kid." Talk in the graffiti life vacillates between banality and mythology, much like the activity itself: hours of drudgery, hanging out, waiting, interrupted by brief episodes of exhilaration. JD, echoing a common refrain, says, "Graffiti writers are like bitches: a lot of lying, a lot of talking, a lot of gossip." They don't like tagging with girls ("cuties," or if they use drugs, "zooties") around because all they say is (in a whiny voice), You're crazy. . . . Write my name."

    WHEN JA TALKS ABOUT GRAFFITI, HE'S reluctant to offer up any of the media-ready cliches about the culture (and he knows most of them). He's more inclined to say, "Fuck the graffiti world," and scoff at graf shops, videos, conventions and 'zines. But he can be sentimental about how he began -- riding the No. 1, 2 and 3 trains when he was young, bugging out on the graffiti-covered cars, asking himself, "How did they do that? Who are they?" And he'll respectfully invoke the names of long-gone writers he admired when he was just starting out: SKEME, ZEPHYR, REVOLT, MIN.

    JA, typical of the new school, primarily bombs, covering wide areas with throw-ups. He treats graffiti less as an art form than as an athletic competition, concentrating on getting his tag in difficult-to-reach places, focusing on quantity and working in defiance of an aesthetic that demands that public property be kept clean. (Writers almost exclusively hit public or commercial property.)

    And when JA is not being cynical, he can talk for hours about the technique, the plotting, the logistics of the game like "motion bombing" by clockwork a carefully scoped subway train that he knows has to stop for a set time, at a set place, when it gets a certain signal in the tunnels. He says, "To me, the challenge that graffiti poses, there's something very invigorating and freeing about it, something almost spiritual. There's a kind of euphoria, more than any kind of drug or sex can give you, give me . . . for real."

    JA says he wants to quit, and he talks about doing it as if he were in a 12-step program. "How a person in recovery takes it one day a time, that's how I gotta take it," he says. You get burnt out. There's pretty much nothing more the city can throw at me; it's all been done." But then he'll hear about a yard full of clean sanitation trucks, the upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parade (a reason to bomb Fifth Avenue) or a billboard in an isolated area; or it'll be 3 a.m., he'll be stoned, driving around or sitting in the living room, playing NBA Jam, and someone will say it: "Yo, I got a couple of cans in the trunk. . . ." REAS, an old-school writer of 12 years who, after a struggle and a number of relapses, eventually quit the life, says, "Graffiti can become like a hole you're stuck in; it can just keep on going and going, there's always another spot to write on."

    SAST is in his late 20s and calls himself semiretired after 13 years in the graf scene. He still carries around a marker with him wherever he goes and cops little STONE tags (when he's high, he writes, STONED). He's driving JA and me around the city one night, showing me different objects they've tagged, returning again and again to drug spots to buy dust and crack, smoking, with the radio blasting; he's telling war stories about JA jumping onto moving trains, JA hanging off the outside of a speeding four-wheel drive. SAST is driving at top speed, cutting in between cars, tailgating, swerving. A number of times as we're racing down the highway, I ask him if he could slow down. He smiles, asks if I'm scared, tells me not to worry, that he's a more cautious driver when he's dusted. At one point on the FDR, a car cuts in front of us. JA decides to have some fun.

    "Yo, he burnt you, SAST," JA says. We start to pick up speed. Yo, SAST, he dissed you, he cold dissed you, SAST." SAST is buying it, the look on his face becoming more determined as we go 70, 80, 90 miles an hour, hugging the divider, flying between cars. I turn to JA, who's in the back seat, and I try to get him to stop. JA ignores me, sitting back perfectly relaxed, smiling, urging SAST to go faster and faster, getting off, my fear adding to his rush.

    At around 4 a.m., SAST drops us off on the middle of the Manhattan Bridge and leaves. JA wants to show me a throw-up he did the week before. We climb over the divider from the roadway to the subway tracks. JA explains that we have to cross the north and the southbound tracks to get to the outer part of the bridge. In between there are a number of large gaps and two electrified third rails, and we're 135 feet above the East River. As we're standing on the tracks, we hear the sound of an oncoming train. JA tells me to hide, to crouch down in the V where two diagonal braces meet just beside the tracks.

    I climb into position, holding on to the metal beams, head down, looking at the water as the train slams by the side of my body. This happens twice more. Eventually, I cross over to the outer edge of the bridge, which is under construction, and JA points out his tag about 40 feet above on what looks like a crow's-nest on a support pillar. After a few moments of admiring the view, stepping carefully around the many opportunities to fall, JA hands me his cigarettes and keys. He starts crawling up one of the braces on the side of the bridge, disappears within the structure for a moment, emerges and makes his way to an electrical box on a pillar. Then he snakes his way up the piping and grabs on to a curved support. Using only his hands he starts to shimmy up; at one point he's hanging almost completely upside down. If he falls now, he'll land backward onto one of the tiers and drop into the river below. He continues to pull himself up, the old paint breaking off in his hands, and finally he flips his body over a railing to get to the spot where he tagged. He doesn't have a can or a marker with him, and at this point graffiti seems incidental. He comes down and tells me that when he did the original tag he was with two writers; one he half carried up, the other stopped at a certain point and later told JA that watching him do that tag made him appreciate life, being alive.

    We walk for 10 minutes along a narrow, grooved catwalk on the side of the tracks; a thin wire cable prevents a fall into the river. A few times, looking down through the grooves, I have to stop, force myself to take the next step straight ahead, shake off the vertigo. JA is practically jogging ahead of me. We exit the bridge into Chinatown as the sun comes up and go to eat breakfast. JA tells me he's a vegetarian.

    IF YOU TALK TO SERIOUS GRAFFITI writers, most of them will echo the same themes; they decry the commercialization of graf, condemn the toys and poseurs and alternately hate and feel attached to the authorities who try to stop them. They say with equal parts bravado and self-deprecation that a graffiti writer is a bum, a criminal, a vandal, slick, sick, obsessed, sneaky, street-smart, living on edges figurative and literal. They show and catalog cuts and scars on their bodies from razor wire, pieces of metal, knives, box cutters. I once casually asked a writer named GHOST if he knew another writer whose work I had seen in a graf'zine. "Yeah, I know him, he stabbed me," GHOST replies matter-of-factly. "We've still got beef." SET tells me he was caught by two DTs (detectives) who assaulted him, took his cans of paint and sprayed his body and face. JA tells similar stories of police beatings for his making officers run after him, of cops making him empty his spray cans on his sneakers or on the back of a fellow writer's jacket. JD has had 48 stitches in his back and 18 in his head over "graffiti-related beef." JA's best friend and writing partner, SANE SMITH, a legendary all-city writer who was sued by the city and the MTA for graffiti, was found dead, floating in Jamaica Bay. There's endless speculation in the grafworld as to whether he was pushed, fell or jumped off a bridge. SANE is so respected, there are some writers today who spend time in public libraries reading and rereading the newspaper microfilm about his death, his arrests, his career. According to JA, after SANE's death, his brother, SMiTH, also a respected graffiti artist, found a piece of paper on which SANE had written his and JA's tag and off to the side, FLYING HIGH THE XTC WAY. It now hangs on JA's apartment wall.

    One morning, JA and I jump off the end of a subway platform and head into the tunnels. He shows me hidden rooms, emergency hatches that open to the sidewalk, where to stand when the trains come by. He tells me about the time SANE lay face down in a shallow drainage ditch on the tracks as an express train ran inches above him. JA says anytime he was being chased by the police he would run into a nearby subway station, jump off the platform and run into the tunnels. The police would never follow. KET, a veteran graffiti writer, tells me how in the tunnels he would accidentally step on homeless people sleeping. They'd see him tagging and would occasionally ask that he "throw them up," write their names on the wall. He usually would. Walking in the darkness between the electrified rails as trains race by, JA tells me the story of two writers he had beef with who came into the tunnels to cross out his tags. Where the cross-outs stop is where they were killed by an approaching train.

    The last time I go out with JA, SET and JD, they pick me up at around 2 am. We drive down to the Lower East Side to hit a yard where about 60 trucks and vans are parked next to one another. Every vehicle is already covered with throw-ups and tags, but the three start to write anyway, JA in a near frenzy. They're running in between the rows, crawling under trucks, jumping from roof to roof, wedged down in between the trailers, engulfed in nauseating clouds of paint fumes (the writers sometimes blow multicolored mucous out of their noses), going over some writers' tags, respecting others, JA throwing up SANE's name, searching for any little piece of clean space to write on. JA, who had once again been talking about retirement, is now hungry to write and wants to hit another spot. But JD doesn't have any paint, SET needs gas money for his car, and they have to drive upstate the next morning to appear in court for a paint-theft charge.

    During the ride back uptown the car is mostly quiet, the mood depressed. And even when the three were in the truck yard, even when JA was at his most intense, it seemed closer to work, routine, habit. There are moments like this when they seem genuinely worn out by the constant stress, the danger, the legal problems, the drugging, the fighting, the obligation to always hit another spot. And it's usually when the day is starting.

    About a week later I get a call from another writer whom JA had told I was writing an article on graffiti. He tells me he has never been king, never gone all city, but now he is making a comeback, coming out of retirement with a new tag. He says he could do it easily today because there is no real competition. He says he was thinking about trying to make some money off of graffiti -- galleries. canvases, whatever . . . to get paid.

    "I gotta do something," the writer says. "I can't rap, I can't dance, I got this silly little job." We talk more, and he tells me he appreciates that I'm writing about writers, trying to get inside the head of a vandal, telling the real deal. He also tells me that graffiti is dying, that the city is buffing it, that new writers are all toys and are letting it die, but it's still worth it to write.

    I ask why, and then comes the inevitable justification that every writer has to believe and take pleasure in, the idea that order will always have to play catch-up with them. "It takes me seconds to do a quick throw-up; it takes them like 10 minutes to clean it," he says. "Who's coming out on top?"
     
  12. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    BAAL





    Its august 1999 my 5th interview leads me to a graffiti writter who goes by the name "BAAL"
    we agree to meet at at blimpies restaurant in manhattan, 15 minutes pass the time we agreed
    to meet when a white male with a slim muscular build looking in his early to mid 20`s approaches me with 4 other individuals."hi im baal" he says, he is clearly intoxicated this detured me from conducting the interview but after being reashured several times that he was ok and ready i decided to proceed.



    JOHNpublication: how are you doing.
    BAAL: im good.
    JOHNpublication: so when did you first start writting graffiti.
    BAAL: 1991 but back then i wrote KOD it stood for king of destruction it was more a nickname
    than a tag really i only wrote that around 20 times on various things, it wasint till 1993
    that i started writting baal.
    JOHNpublication: and what does baal stand for?
    BAAL: nothing.
    JOHNpublication: your obviously an adult why do you keep doing something that you did as a child
    BAAL: a few reasons, its addictive i never go out without something to hit up with, also thats
    the only thing in my life i was ever good at i have bombed with alot of people and verry few
    are still in the game, some people are afraid to do certain things or go in certain areas,
    my love for graffiti overcomes my sence of fear. im proud of what i do i take a s*** load of
    risks doing it ive been beat up, locked up, broke bones, chased by cops but im still here,
    i know what i do is viewed as immature by some people and i can even understand that but i dont
    care this is what i do weather im 14 or 40 and ill never stop its just in me, you have some writters saying they will never quit but verry few really mean it, you know how i know ill give you a reason, after spending 3 months in rikers for graff and put on 1 year probation the verry next night after i was released i bombed the d line mad hard now thats f****** dedication my man.
    JOHNpublication: you have been beat up over tagging? why would you want to live like that?
    BAAL: yeah several times, graff is verry aggressive its like the nba its nuttin but
    egos and it dont take much to cause some drama sometimes it dosint even take anything.
    JOHNpublication: how do you support yourself?
    BAAL: i have a job.
    JOHNpublication: you said you where incarcerated is that something your proud of, do you think
    in the end it was worth it?
    BAAL: ive been locked up several times for different s*** but no im not proud of it i didint like
    it but getting locked up is one of the many risks you face in the game like i said my love for
    graff overcomes all the risks.
    JOHNpublication: what exactly is it that you write your tag on do you have favorite places.
    BAAL: i like trains i gravitate twords anything related to them especially train tunnels, we used
    to just hang out in them in the emergency exits when i was younger we had parties in them i even
    f***** in them, ill just be at home and out of no where grab a chrome rusto and go hit up a tunnel by myself.
    JOHNpublication: so many people have died going in train tunnels and that dosint detur you at all
    not to mention the homeless people who live in them.
    BAAL: s*** i love it down there i swear to god i feel like im at home, yeah thers been a couple
    close calls but all when i was much younger now i know all the ins and outs of them, the different sounds the rails make, the signals etc. and as for the bums there cool if your cool,
    give em a newport and there your best friend, i remember i was by myself bombin a tunnel in the bronx and a bum came up to me with a bat but after he realized i wasint intrested in stealing his
    stuff he was mad cool we talked for bout an hour he said he has seen my tag in other tunnels and
    it was funny hearing that from a bum, he also talked about other writters he has met.
    JOHNpublication: growing up where your parents aware of your tagging habbits?
    BAAL: yeah they where, i was just a punk kid always in trouble so it wasint a suprise to them,
    JOHNpublication: spray paint can be expensive dont you think your money could be put to better use.
    BAAL: i verry rarely buy the paint, unless its the fancy s*** from europe but i dont f*** with
    that as much as i do krylon and rusto, here all the stores have cages on the paint but when you
    go to nj or pa thers no cages just bring a duffel bag load the shit up and bounce.
    JOHNpublication: one last question if you dont mind me asking did you finish high school?
    BAAL: no, i was expelled in the 9th grade and never went back
    JOHNpublication: well i guess that will wrap it up thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
    BAAL: no problem.
     
  13. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    DIZO





    1. L-L: What crew(s) do you paint for and what are the underlying meanings of the acronym(s)?
    DIZO: I donÃt paint for crew but I rep HOD - Hand of Doom.

    2. L-L: Where are you from and/or where did you start?
    DIZO: Atlanta. I did my first piece on the back of this Food Giant on Cambellton Rd. What you know about Food Giant?

    3. L-L: Who influenced you the most coming up?
    DIZO: United Kings. I used to ride the 166 to Lakewood station then out Lennox. They had the nicest wildstyle joints on that line. I mean some serious shit that could hang with it today. There was this one burner done in Miami Circle in Ã84 that said ñGeorgia on my mindî and had a character of Ray Charles to the side of it. I saw that and it changed everything for me.

    4. L-L: WhatÃs your outlook on the current Atlanta scene?
    DIZO: I got problems of my own so I really donÃt think I have one.

    5. L-L: How long have you been active?
    DIZO: I got into this in mid 80Ãs when the first wave of hip-hop came around. Then it kind of went away and all my friends at the time got out of it and the closest person to me that was painting was killed in car accident. RIP: Todd Gulley. Soon after that, I got kicked out of school and my focus was gone but I started back inÃ96 and will never leave again.

    6. L-L: Have you ever had any run ins with law enforcement while out?
    DIZO: Yeah- but IÃve been real lucky.

    7. L-L: What is your favorite brand of paint?
    DIZO: I like whatever gets the effect or the job done.

    8. L-L: Rack or buy?
    DIZO: I buy cause IÃm too old to get pinched for a $2 can of paint. Plus, my girl would kill me.

    9. L-L: Do you sport a mask while painting?
    DIZO: No, but I should cause IÃm think somethingÃs gonna start growing on me one day.

    10. L-L: What is your favorite surface to paint and why?
    DIZO: ItÃs definitively trains but I like everything. When your train rolls out and goes wherever itÃs headed and one day you get word that it was seen in Washington State or somewhere so far gone from you did it, itÃs like, thatÃs whatÃs up!

    11. L-L: What area of the game is your strongest?
    DIZO: I really donÃt know man. IÃm just trying to put together a good body of work and see where the style goes.

    12. L-L: What do you think about the documentation of graffiti on the web?
    DIZO: I really like it because now we realize that this culture is everywhere. ItÃs larger than anyone would have ever imagined but to have it at a touch of a click can become dangerous depending on whose checking it. A little paranoia is good for everyone.

    13. L-L: Do you usually paint solo or with a partner(s)?
    DIZO: Solo. I just dig getting lost in the work and donÃt want to hear no lip. As for going out with others, it depends on the situation. For trains, itÃs Soner:TVC even though heÃs usually finished before I get my outline up. I just have the best time painting with that fool. For going balls out on some shit, itÃs Vicious: HOD. That guy is seriously demented and wonÃt hold anything back but IÃm down to get up whomever if youÃre good people.

    14. L-L: Did you write anything else prior to ñDizoî? If so, what?
    DIZO: Back when I started I used to write Smash but my intermission came and that was done with. I was glad too see that the name got picked up by someone whose done real justice to it.

    15. L-L: Do you think using brushes/markers/rollers/wheat paste takes away from the original concept?
    DIZO: Writers are always talking that shit. Whatever works for you is whatÃs important. People get locked into thinking that graffiti is supposed to be a certain way. We influence all other forms of advertising and propaganda anyway so fuck it. You canÃt limit creativity cause itÃs different for everyone. Go for what you know.

    16. L-L: Hobby or lifestyle?
    DIZO: Lifestyle.

    17. L-L: What is your current occupation?
    DIZO: Screen Printer / Designer / Bud Light Consumption Expert.

    18. L-L: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
    DIZO: Hopefully doing the same as of right now but on a different playing field.

    19. L-L: If there was one spot anywhere in the country you could hit without getting bagged, where would it be and why?
    DIZO: IÃm gonna stay in Atlanta and say the top of City Hall East. Why not put my name on one most corrupt centers in the city.

    20. L-L: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Shakira?
    DIZO: They can all get it because fake hoes need love to.
     
  14. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    SB





    1. WW: What crew(s) do you paint for and what are the underlying meanings of the acronym(s)?
    SB1: Network (no acronym) FS (freight Slayers) UCA (Under Cover Agents) CRE (Catch Reck Everywhere) AMF (Action Makes Fame).

    2. WW: Where are you from and/or where did you start?
    SB1: Originally I'm from Brooklyn NY, I moved here in 89 and definitely consider myself an Atlanta writer because I've done most of my shit since I've been here.

    3. WW: Who influenced you the most coming up?
    SB1: Mainly writers from the NY subways in the years between 1983 and 1989. Its hard to say exactly who, but my favorite writer is Sent from NY. He is without question a style master general.

    4. WW: How long have you been active?
    SB1: Well since the freights are the only thing that really counts I'll say 12 years. I started hitting freights in 1988, but didn't really take it seriously until 1992 and I've been more or less active since then.

    5. WW: What is your favorite surface to paint and why?
    SB1: Steel, Over all else. That's all I've really painted. Walls are cool to socialize, I do them on occasion, but steel is where its at for me. That's the only thing I'll risk my freedom for. I could go on for days about why but I'll just say train pieces last longer and they travel further.

    6. WW: Do you rock with stocks or custom tips?
    SB1: Stock and fats, that's what I learned with and that's all I know how to use. I'm kind of stuck in my ways.

    7. WW: Any insight on the new school attitude/style?
    SB1: Well I consider myself part of the new school. A lot of kids who have been writing 5 years call themselves old school. Old school to me is writers from the 1960's and 70's. I like the current generation. I think kids don't stick with it very long these days though. Most kids don't write for more than 3 years, and that's sad. I wish kids stayed in the game longer. As far as style if its original it's fresh to me. Like there can't be a hundred Totems, only one ya know. A lot of newer writers jump right into the complex stuff, the colors the characters and never really develop the fundamentals. The hand style, the thro-up, the bombing. I don't mean to sound judgmental though, its just an observation.

    8. WW: What’s your outlook on the current ATL scene?
    SB1: I've always liked the Atlanta scene. Like I said I consider myself an Atlanta writer. I think people expect it to be some kind of Utopia, but what city has a perfect scene. I really dig the fact that a lot of kids are hitting metal now. Yeah the politics and the drama sucks, but I'm glad with what we have.

    9. WW: In your opinion, who’s the hottest writer in Atlanta today?
    SB1: Oh man thats a tuff one. Outside of my own crew(s): Dizo, I like his shit a lot. He's killed shit and he has a very original style, TNA crew, they are the kings of coal cars, Hense, Humble, Hear, Totem, UAA crew, really anyone who's name I see on trains often is Hot to me.

    10. WW: Any particular person or people you love painting with?
    SB1: Honestly I'm kind of an asshole in this sense but I really only like to paint with my crewmates because we understand each other. Daks is my partner to the heart. Lern, Save, Leon, Brayne, I really used to enjoy painting with Chase. I'll paint with anyone who is as methodical about the mission as I am. People who know how to scope shit out right, people who know how to react in a raid before its too late, people who know how not to make a lot of noise and not tag all over the lay-up (that's a pet peav of mine).

    11. WW: Have you ever traveled outside the US to paint?
    SB1: Nah, not to paint. But Id like to go to Amsterdam for the Cannabis cup though, and maybe rock some freights over there.

    12. WW: Have you had any run-ins with the law for graffiti?
    SB1: Of course, but knock on wood I've never been bagged. I've been in 4 raids, two of which were pretty intense. I've always managed to slip away, even when other kids I was with got caught. It is the result of being extra anal about missions. I'm not saying I'm invincible , I just take it a lil more serious than the average writer, and that has paid off for me.

    13. WW: What do you think about the documentation of graffiti on the web?
    SB1: I think its great. Even though I get bored with it sometimes. I like the freight message board most of all. What I think is of utmost importance is the fact that writers are responsible for the abundance of web documented graffiti. Whereas in the past graffiti media was always controlled by people who didn't write, and it has given newer generations a somewhat distorted view of the way things were. Writers will always tell a more accurate story because we are living it. In a thousand years all these websites will be in some database for future generations to research, so that's a good thing.

    14. WW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
    SB1: Still painting, still benching, still streaking just like I was 10 years ago.

    15. WW: What is your current occupation?
    SB1: I'm a jack of all trades.

    16. WW: Do you consider graff a part of your lifestyle or just a hobby?
    SB1: This is definitely life. Maybe for the first couple of years it was a hobby, but since like 85 when I started taking/collecting fliks its been, my culture, my religion, and my life. I mean my family is always first but train graffiti is always second.

    17. WW: What area of graff is your strongest?
    SB1: Speed. My aim was obviously never to be the freshest, just to be able to get in and get out of a spot quickly and undetected. Like a Stealth Bomber*.

    18. WW: If there was one spot anywhere in the country you could hit without getting bagged, where would it be and why?
    SB1: Marta Trains, just because its never been done. I'll never do it though. When I risk my freedom its gotta be for something that's gonna last.

    19. WW: Do you think using brushes/markers/rollers/wheat paste takes away from the original concept?
    SB1: Yeah I think it does to a degree. But putting my personal opinion aside it is progression and adds variety to the game. Me personally I use aerosol exclusively I'm kind of thick in the head about that. But I like seeing different shit in the street.

    20. WW: President in 2000?
    SB1: I think its high time for a female president, a fine one. Id like to see Toni Braxton or Jennifer Lopez address the nation in a bikini.
     
  15. MAGNUM WARLOCK

    MAGNUM WARLOCK Member

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    JA PART 2





    I feel," announces SONI, "like getting up." "Yo," says SLICK. "Yo, man, let's get up, but we got to take care of JA, man." "Check it out," says SONI. "We dry." The Bushwick night is howling to Danny Gomez and Rubin Fernandez. SONI and SLICK. Very nearly the last of the great Brooklyn graffiti writers. Tonight, they face a critical problem: no respect and no way to regain it. They have no paint. They can't get up. You need paint to get up-to shoot your name across the blackstars, the subway. A few days ago, JA had seriously dissed SLICK. He came by car to 320 Empire Boulevard and tagged up the walls of Slick's house.
    JAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJA All over the walls. Come down and fight, ]A had screamed into the hallway. Fair fight, JA had hollered. Come on, SLICK, you afraid of a fair fight? Bullshit, man. SLICK wasn't afraid of no fair fight. He told his friends later that he stayed upstairs. There were, like, ten guys with JA, SLICK had said. In a car they came. From Manhattan. Fuckin' JA, man, think he rules the city. Man. Ten white boys he brings. Maybe it wasn't ten, but that was the minimum Slick could be outnumbered by and still keep his respect. SLICK and SONI are members of the Bushwick graffiti posse, U5, which had been formed in the winter of 1986, a marshaling of the dwindling graffiti-writing resources of the largely Hispanic neighbor- hood. JA, the hated ruling king of graffiti in the city, a white guy from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His father is a big Hollywood movie guy-director of Joe and the original Rocky, he also produced The Karate Kid and Lean on Me, and even got JA a part in one of the Karate Kid sequels. Worse, JA has almost unlimited access to spray paint and is killing everyone's shit. Buffing over their work. In plain language, he was scrawling on top of their scrawls, their tags, the nearly unreadable scribbles that wallpapered every public space in New York. Now he had come to SLICK'S house and tagged it up. The other fellows in U5 agreed that JA would have to be dealt with. But nobody was down for that tonight. People had school, people had work. Yo, maybe the weekend. For SONI and SLICK, that is too long to wait. Tomorrow, after they went to the Door, their high school in Manhattan, they'd take care of JA. They'd go to one of his tunnels on the West Side. "Yo, my cousin, OS, he's got some paint," says SON!. "We'll catch os tomorrow. We'll hang out at the Door, then we'll go by my cousin's house." "Bet," says Slick. "We gotta kill JA's shit."
    The day before JA and REAS blew out of Los Angeles, they'd driven to the U-Haul place and rented a container for the car roof.
    As he packed up, getting ready to leave town, JA figured he had racked 700 cans of spray paint. Actually, he had 700 left, having gone through 3,000 cans during his eight-month stay in Los Angeles. "I was getting a hundred and fifty cans a day, " JA told REAS. "The paint is beautiful out here. The racks are incredibly easy." Which meant it was no trouble for him to swipe cans, a dozen at a time, from the shelves and racks. In New York, they were locked away by ordinance. Not so in L.A., which in its innocence, had never been invaded by the likes of JA on "racking" binges. Some kids called it "inventing" their paint. The penal code calls it theft. By whatever means, JA and REAS would be returning home with an arsenal of unprecedented proportions by New York graffiti standards, all of it packed in the U-Haul roof container. JA had left his mark behind on the West Coast. Of course, there were no subways out there-it was, after all, L.A., the expressway capital of the world. So JA bombed highway walls. Buses. All through Venice. He warred with KSN-Kings Stop at Nothing-a major graffiti crew on the West Coast. "Within a week or two, I just wiped them out, everything they had, for no real reason," JA said. JA had been in Los Angeles to try an acting career. As the movie director who' d filmed Joe, Rocky , and The Karate Kid, his father, ** **, had found JA a part in Karate Kid III as a henchman of the evil guy terrorizing Ralph Macchio. When that wrapped up, the young Avildsen found little work acting, and spent his time picking tag fights with the local graffiti writers. "They were making millions of public threats that I was going to be shot, " said JA, "that they had the Bloods and the Crips looking for me. Which they swore to be true." REAS had arrived in town a week before, to keep him company on the trip back to New York. JA and REAS were part of a small crew of upper-middle-class white boys in Manhattan who had taken to graffiti writing. Most of the kids in graffiti were poor Hispanics and African-Americans. But there were folks like JA, the son of a major movie director; REAS, a gifted artist from Manhattan's SoHo; and the Smith brothers, known as SANE and SMITH, whose father was a professor at New York University. The Smiths' most famous tag was executed on the Brooklyn
    Bridge, the haunting, romantic nineteenth-century engineering poem that straddles lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. One night, they struck near the top of the giant stone parapets of the bridge. The next morning, a few hundred thousand people riding trains on the Manhattan Bridge, just to the north, could see the SANE SMITH tag. " A million writers will tell you that they thought of doing it," said JA admiringly, "but only the Smiths went and did it." The audacity of these boys-and their status as privileged children-made them choice targets of the police and government authorities. Law cases involving white graffiti writers made the papers. And the white boys were prolific. The Smiths and JA were sued by the city-with their parents also named because the vandalism had occurred while they were minors. Then there was the handwriting analysis case brought against REAS by the Manhattan district attorney, who tried to prove that the REAS tag discovered on a row of trains one night was his. Of course it was; the prosecutors just couldn't establish it as a matter of law. For all these kids, seeing their name on the news was just another way of getting up-writing their tags, their graffiti names. So was getting arrested. One week, Smith was busted. In a rare twin success, the cops nabbed JA the following weekend. He was taken to the transit police vandal squad office in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where he was booked. "I went into the bathroom to wash the fingerprint paint off my hands," JA recalled, "and I looked in the mirror and saw something on the wall behind me. Nah. Couldn't be. I turned around, and sure enough, there was SMITH, in that squiggled hand- writing, above the urinal. He'd tagged the vandal squad's own bath- room. In their own fingerprint paint." As they drove cross the country on the interstates, JA and REAS got up in the California desert, in Oklahoma, in Texas. No hassle. The stakes were bigger, though, because a slow-moving court in the Southwest had the time and appetite to sink its judicial teeth into a juicy graffiti case-unlike the judges in New York, who could barely find time and space to try violent psychopaths, much less a kid with a spray can. Also, REAS'S mom was getting married and he had to get back for the ceremony. So on their road trip, they threw up a few tags here and there, but didn't stop for any major attacks. "That's for the next time," said JA. Back in New York, JA was generous with the L.A. paint, among his friends, anyway. But he kept racking, whenever someone left a shelf unlocked. His goal, he said, was "trying to have seven hundred or so at anyone time-so I could go out and use twenty in a night, if I felt the need."

    11:45 A.M., Bushwick, Brooklyn:
    SONI You could have a car, maybe, if you lived in Bushwick and you had enough money. SONI'S father had a car .He got up at five in the morning to drive to the bodega he ran, and he stayed there until midnight. This wasn't a nice suburban town where there were arguments about borrowing the car .The old man had the car eighteen, nineteen hours a day, that was it. But New York kids don't need a car to get around. Even when their arms are too short to straphang, long before they can apply for a driver's license, Bushwick kids have the L train-the Canarsie. The L train could take you anywhere. You could ride it all the way into Manhattan, but even on shorter journeys, a new world rose above every local stop: Myrtle, DeKalb, Jefferson, Morgan, Montrose, Grand, Graham, Lorimer, Bedford. Or you could, as SONI did, ride it to the G train, which would take you back and forth to Queens. Around the same time ]A went to work in Hollywood, SONI started a job at Pergament, a discount hardware chain in the Middle Village area of Queens. It was a long commute, but he had to get some money. He was thinking about college. Today, though, SONI was off from work, and with SLICK and AUDIE was heading into the city on the only car they'd ever known, the L. They were going to take care of ]A once and for all. This was it. A few cans of gray spray paint had been procured, and there was more with SONI'S cousin downtown. The truth was, they were all getting a little tired of graffiti, but ]A wouldn't let it lie. The pride of U5-their graffiti posse-was at stake. The beef with him had started a year before, when they had done some big pieces out in the train lay-up at 121st Street in Queens. A very sweet lay-up it was, too, because the trains would be parked on some elevated tracks between rush hours, from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. You could go there and take off your shirt, catch some sun, and work in the leisure of daylight, rather than in the shadows of the tunnels. The boys from US had hit the yard with green house paint. Using rollers, they had tinctured three cars, from top to bottom, windows included. That was the base; then they launched the colors. They'd started several pieces-masterpieces, or "burners"-when the police arrived. After the members of the Bushwick crowd had either escaped or gotten handcuffed and led away, JA arrived with SMITH, and they proceeded to write all over the cars that the U5 crew had begun. "You use white, yellow, baby blue, pastel aqua, a hot pink, plum, and you blend with the colors to make a vibrant piece against your background," explained JA. "They didn't get halfway through that stage when they were raided. I didn't know what it said, or even who wrote it. If it was done by someone I knew, I would have tried to finish it for them." Instead, he launched a rocket attack of his own tags. This was the start of the hostilities, the Fort Surnter of the late graffiti period. U5, with SONI leading the retaliation, began to write over JA'S tags. He buffed back. And so on, for weeks on end, and no one was running any productive pieces on the train. One day, there was a call to JA from SONI. "We want to squash beef with you," said SONI. Call off the quarrel. "Fuck that. You dissed me, man. That's that. Time for war." "Let's meet up." "Nab." "Yo, why don't you want to squash beef?" "Yo, you set if off, you know. Face the music." "Yo man, c'rnon, let's meet at 121lay-up," said SONI, picking the same train yard where it had all started. JA considered for a moment. "Yeah, I'll meet you there at twelve tonight. Dress warmly. " "Bet." That night, the U5 crew waited for JA. They had brought a bucket of yellow house paint, and began to tag the cars with handprints. SONI and AUDI did burners. As the hours stretched on, no JA. Someone kicked in a few windows on the cars, frustrated by his arrogance. Around 2:30, the last of U5 had left the yard, through the hole in the fence, next to the Long Island Rail Road tracks. A few minutes later, JA and two pals strolled in through the same hole. They pulled out spray cans and slashed the U5 burners with paint, and laid their own tags on top. Then the coup de grace: VICTORY IS MINE-AGAIN! EAT SHIT! Gratified by his labors, JA drove back to Manhattan. The next morning, his phone rang early. "Yo," said SONI. "YOU didn't show up." JA laughed. He could roll out of bed, still half asleep, and spit a rival square in the eye. "I just waited till you guys left so I could stamp all your shit, " said JA. SONI realized then what JA had done, that the train would parade his humiliation across the city. He scrambled for a retaliatory tactic: "Yeah, well, one can is going to dog all that shit you did," said SONI. "Too late," cackled JA. "It already pulled out." . SON! knew the time, knew that JA was right: the train already was in service. "just something to make them feel stupid when they saw the train go by, " JA later explained. This was the last attempt at a truce between 05 and JA, although for a while, the war went into an extended cease-fire-when JA moved to L.A. for his work in Karate Kid /1I. After a couple of months, the guys in 05 were getting restless. Their lives were going on. Married. Kids. Jobs. Graffiti writing was getting old. The trains were beat. The trains were clean. A train with a big piece on it, something you'd worked on all night, wasn't going out of the yard. Hell, a train with a tag wasn't going out. It was getting to be a waste of paint. AUDI called a meeting and made an announcement: "This is the deal. We're going to close down 05 for 'ninety. Before then, we're going to king the city. The streets. Write everywhere we can. After we reach our goals, like a writer wants to, we're going to break up 05, because we don't want 05 to fade away, like a crew that was tough, and the new writers come up and they go over us. We don't want to go out like that. We want !@#$?s to know that when U5 was strong, nobody would take us down. "Even if they buff us after we stop writing, they know that if we was together, they couldn't handle us. That's the point." Later, AUDI explained, "It went beyond trains. Streets, mainly. What we hit now is trucks, the streets, things that still move. Like the train used to be. Garbage trucks." AUDI could talk tough. He could talk about kinging the city. But his boys were growing out of it. Then one day, JA returned, and he seemed to have more paint than God.


    Not JA. He curled his lips at the mention of the preppy bar scene. It was definitely out, especially after high school. He and his Pals headed downtown, to the hot club-whichever one it was that Season, for hot clubs had the half-lives of butane lighters.
    A week ago, when it all came to a head between JA and the boys from U5, JA had spent a good part of the night at MK's-one of these firefly establishments. The $20 cover charge applied only to saps without a pass or a connection with the bouncer-a fee intended to keep out the "bridge and tunnel crowd," the people who had to come from somewhere else to the island of Manhattan, and who were congenitally unhip by club standards.

    JA was drinking heavily. At the bar, he bumped into COCER, who ran around on the periphery of U5.
    "You're JA?" said COCER. "Whoa, man. I know these dudes, SLICK and SONI. They been after your ass for the longest time. They say you been ducking them."
    "Hey," said JA. "I'll take SONI on. Anytime." "I don't know SONI so well," said COCER. "I hang with SLICK. He says you a pussy, a sucker."
    "I'll fight either one of those guys-but where? I can't make them appear."
    "SLICK says he's gonna fuck you up."
    "Yo, let him name the time." "Yo, let's go to his house, I'll show you where he lives."
    Just before dawn, JA and COCER, along with REAS and VEN, two of JA'S pals, drove through the dark streets of Bushwick. JA wondered about this move. But he didn't want COCER to think he was dodging a chance to go face to face with SLICK.
    In the vestibule of the apartment building, COCER leaned into the buzzer for several minutes until a groggy voice answered.
    "Yeah," said the voice.
    JA pushed COCER aside and spoke into the mouthpiece.
    "Yo, it's JA."
    "Yeah."
    "Come downstairs if you want to fight me."
    "You got the wrong buzzer."
    COCER shook his head. "Yo, SLICK, come on down, man, and fight."
    "You got the wrong place." JA turned to COCER.
    "What's up with this kid?"
    "It's the right buzzer-I been to his house before," said COCER.
    JA buzzed again and spoke into the microphone. "Yo, SLICK, you're fronting, talking all this jazz about how you gonna kick my ass and not backing it up. Well, come downstairs and back it up."
    "Fuck that," said COCER. "Now he's going to call his boys."
    In a bag, JA had a few spare cans of spray paint. He copped a few tags on the outside of the building. REAS and YEN watched. This was JA'S beef, not theirs, and tagging someone's house was heavy. Very heavy.
    Fuck SLICK, thought JA. Now it was brightening outside, and a man stuck his head out a third-floor window and hollered something at the kids in front of the building. They decided it was time to leave. Where am I, JA wondered? He looked at a street sign, and saw Empire Boulevard and Rogers Street. SMITH'S name was Roger. The name stayed with him as he slumped into the seat and rode back to Manhattan. Otherwise, he had no idea where he was.
    SLICK discovered the infamy scrawled on his house when he came downstairs that morning. Word moved quickly through Bushwick of JA'S attack because COCER had seen the whole thing. "Ten guys, they came in cars from Manhattan," SLICK explained to his friends.

    10:19 P.M., Canal Street, Manhattan: SONI and SLICK
    They pay your way home from The Door at night after the train pass is no good. They have to. You run a school that doesn't open until two in the afternoon, nobody goes home until eight or nine o'clock, the subway pass has been dead for two hours already.
    A man from The Door had escorted them to the subway station. He handed them tokens and watched them pass through the tumstiles. "JA'S got this tunnel on the Number One line between Columbus Circle and 66th Street," says SLICK. "He hangs out there. We go fuck him up." "How we gonna know if he's even there?" asks SONI. "He's got a whole wall of tags there in the tunnel," says SLICK. "The whole thing, man, every piece of it is his. We could buff him good."
    "Yo, we don't know that area too good," says AUDI. "I'm not down for that."
    "Nah, man," says SLICK. "We got to."
    "Yo, he tagged up SLICK'S house, we gotta come back at him," says SONI, who, though dubious, is sensitive to his friend's slight. After all, SLICK has gotten into this thing because of SONI. This has been SONI'S beef with JA, and SLICK sort of got dragged into it. Now he has been dissed, seriously. That's the lowest thing you can do to another writer, paint on his house.
    AUDI should know this, man. SONI couldn't say it in front of SLICK. It's bad enough for SLICK.
    "See? All right, man, be that way," says SLICK. "Yo, man, I gotta go," says AUDI. He leaves them as they wait for a train uptown, to JA'S turf. "Later," says SONI. "Later," says SLICK. "Let's find JA."

    10:30 P.M., Upper West Side, Manhattan: JA
    A retarded move, JA tells himself. At least from what he had' been told. Personally, he doesn't remember anything before he woke up on the road, cars screeching to a stop near his head. But SMITH had been there, watched the whole thing. And SMITH said when he saw JA take the leap, he thought about having to call JA'S mother and tell her that he had died. Ridiculous fucking thing to have done. JA had been drunk. Spifflicated drunk. All he knows is that he had been with SMITH, on the ramps approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, scoping out places to tag. There was a very sweet-looking highway sign, directly above the six lanes of traffic leading to the tunnel. To get there, he'd had to jump about four or five feet from a street that overlooked it, then land on the frame of the sign. "You almost made it," SMITH had said. The moment he hit the pavement 15 feet below, trucks careening and cars screeching, marked the end of a forty-eight-hour frenzy of graffiti tagging all over the city. It had started on that predawn morning he'd tagged SLICK'S house. "When you get the momentum going, it's like a fuel-you go on like a crack binge-with graffiti, not crack," JA later explained. That was six days ago. So tonight, he is staying home in the splendid apartment on 86th Street, where a decorator's hand shows in every room. Except his lair .He keeps the mattress on the floor. In his oak roll top desk are spray cans of paint. The oak cabinets built into the wall hold giant cans of spray paint, collector's quality: very hard to purchase, heavy-duty industrial-size cans that you could never find in the store. JA is king.
    With a flick of the remote, MTV barrels into the room, through the stereo speakers of the television. He turns the page on a magazine, and wriggles his toes. They're sticking out of the plaster cast they'd put on to keep his knee in one place. Pain in the ass.

    11:45 P.M., Broadway, Manhattan: SONI and SLICK
    The musicians from Lincoln Center are saying good night. Tonight, the opera was Don Giovanni. At the Vivian Beaumont, Anything Goes was selling out at $50 a ticket. The Mostly Mozart series had begun. Even with all this, it was a quiet time of year for the high-culture scene, in a way, since the ballet company was closed. Once, the choreographer Twyla Tharp put on a ballet with graffiti writers, on-stage, painting the set, while the dancers went through their steps. It was a smashing success nearly twenty years ago, with Manhattan people paying good money to watch these ghetto kids from the Bronx and Harlem. The centerpiece fountain had been turned back on only a week or so earlier; the city had ordered all ornamental water displays shut off because of a drought scare. Even though its water was recycled, the dry fountain was a powerful symbol. A burbling fountain would be a soothing presence in the wicked heat of the city. The pit musicians, the orchestra players, were walking into the warm night, the men in black tie and jacket, the women in long dresses. Even without the instruments, you could tell they were working people, despite the formal gear, because they walked across the plaza of the arts center and down to the Broadway subway station.

    There, you could stare into the tunnel and see all the way to the lights of the station at Columbus Circle, 59th Street. When a train approaches, its headlights come together like a rising line drive off the bat of a mighty hitter. It is just seven blocks from the Lincoln Center stop to Columbus Circle, a distance that two quick, strong young men can cover in a few minutes. The way the light falls, the boys in the tunnel are swallowed in shadows. And they have business to do. There are probably fifteen tags on the tunnel wall between the two stations. It is hard to see them all, but they get most of them. Buff them. Stomp on his shit. That was one wall. Three spray cans of gray paint already are beat. Only one left. Now they have to do the other side. Have to. The musicians peer into the darkness. Ah, there's the No.1. Good 0l' No.1. They're lucky to get out of work before midnight. The trains start slowing down after 12:00. This one, the 11:59 'out of South Ferry, was going up to the Bronx and into the 240th Street yard. Yardmaster Darrell Williams is waiting there to get it to the car wash. Now, from the 66th Street platform, the musicians see the train leave the Columbus Circle station, starting up the rise to Lincoln Center.
    Later, when he was able to talk about it without weeping, the motorman would say that before the train brakes went into emergency mode, he thought he saw a bundle of clothes on the roadbed. That wouldn't be enough to trigger the automatic brake under the car. Needed something more solid. He climbed down on the roadbed and started looking. He had to go back eight cars before he found the…obstructions.
    At Lincoln Center, the waiting riders stare out into the darkness and see the headlights have stopped their approach; they wonder why the train isn't moving.
    The police told the newspapers that the writing on the walls was just scribble, that there was nothing to it at all. When JA was off the crutches, he went and saw with a glance. Those tags. SONI and SLICK. Their last ones.

    SOME DAYS LATER:
    Daniel Gomez, SONI, was waked in an open coffin, wearing a Panama hat and dark glasses to cover the trauma of his death. His father closed the bodega to take the body to Santo Domingo for burial. The remains of Rubin Fernandez, SLICK, also were returned to the Dominican Republic. JA, sporadically wrote graffiti in the subway until he returned to Los Angeles to resume his film career. U5, the Bushwick graffiti crew, no longer is active.
     
  16. beltonmoltow

    beltonmoltow Senior Member

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    JA's is the only 1 worth reading
     
  17. settybomb

    settybomb Elite Member

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    I read that and drank brandy. Christian brother brandy to be percise. JA seems like a bad charecter, in the best way possible.
     
  18. rancid

    rancid Member

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    Damn thats alot to type, ^^yeah the JA story was dope.
     
  19. beltonmoltow

    beltonmoltow Senior Member

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    JA is king of nyc hands down props XTC, YKK, WKS
     
  20. MODGrafix

    MODGrafix Senior Member

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    ya JAs was def the best, none of em were worth reading cept his.