Welcome Bombers. This time around we have the world infamous, Zephyr.
Good to speak with you again! I interviewed you before for a Lower East Side, NYC chronicle called Bowery Boogie. Thank you for meeting with me again. I recall that you painted your first train in 1977. Tell us the story of how that came about?
Originally when BIL-ROCK created the RTW (Rolling Thunder Writers) around 1976 we were doing tags and pieces on stationary walls and surfaces (mainly Manhattan locations) and our subway tags were not being done inside the train yards. We were focusing on the #1 Broadway local line, and we did have secret techniques for getting tags onto the trains, but we were not exploiting the system “properly” yet. The #1 Yard was the territory of a crew named THE MOB (The Masters Of Broadway) so we didn’t really want to infringe on their turf. Likewise, we considered the #1 Tunnel (under City College at 137th Street) “haunted” because our friend ALI (President of The Soul Artists) had been involved in a near-fatal accident there in October 1973.
ALI aka Marc Andre Edmonds aka J. Walter Negro…
Ali was involved in a near fatal accident when a spark ignited the loud of spray paint around him. He got very burned up.
There’s a bit about it on Wikipedia actually:
Late one night in the early 1970s, while ALI and Futura 2000 were “bombing” IRT traincars in the lay-up tunnel between the 137th and 145th Street stations under Broadway, a number ofspray-paint cans, lined up along what was mistaken to be a “dead” third rail, suddenly exploded, enveloping ALI in flames. Futura got him out and to a local hospital, where he was laid up with severe burns for months. The fire left scars on his neck and jaw-line, but ALI’s wrists and hands took the worst damage. Doctors advised that his hands would have to be amputated, but his Native American mother told them that he was an artist, and he would live or die with his hands attached. So shocking were his burns that a number of early writers were said to have “laid up their cans” after visiting him in the hospital; but ALI recovered completely, though he carried scars from that night for the rest of his life.
He survived the accident but died later from a [crack cocaine] drug issue.
That’s awful. I am so sorry.
One day BIL-ROCK simply got the guts to go into the tunnel and reported back to us that it was a good place to do pieces. We (Bil aka Sage, Revolt, Mackie, Sag, Rasta, Sauron, etc.) had already begun doing pieces in Central Park and Riverside Park and other places so we knew how to paint pieces. The missing part of the puzzle up until that point had been finding a proper subway-painting location. The #1 Tunnel became our home away from home for the next two years. Every Saturday morning we were there, and we’d stay there all day and paint on the subways. My main partner in those days was Revolt for piecing and Rasta and Sag 3 for tagging.
You guys went every Saturday morning- weren’t you concerned that someone would catch on? That is was a Saturday standing event, for lack of a better word.
I’m a #1 Broadway Local guy forever. I was king of that line for a long time and I’m sentimental about that train line. Getting into the yards and lay-ups wasn’t as difficult back in the days before cameras, motion detectors and razor wire. But I did get grabbed a couple times when I was about to enter the yard because it was being staked out by undercover cops and I didn’t know it. But getting grabbed when you’re about to enter the yard is much better than getting grabbed mid-painting, because the crime is “trespassing”, which isn’t as severe as painting a train. Of course if you have train keys, you get a burglary charge, too. The size of my pieces was never a problem time wise. But I’m pretty short, so that’s an issue….lol.
Who dubs a person King? You say King of the 1 line…
A general consensus among the graffiti writers writing at the time would suffice.
For example, “BAN TWO” was the King of the #4 IRT for a long time during the early 80’S.
“SEEN” is the all the time King of the #6 IRT LINE
“COMET” & “BLADE” were the Kings #2 & #5 LINES for a long time during the early 80’S
I was the King of the #1 Broadway local line during 1981 & 1982
If you study the history of NYC subway graffiti you’ll discover that I was actually late to the game, and not a “founding father” at all, but thanks for the sentiment. The NYC street/subway graffiti movement really began in earnest around 1971. I painted my first subway in 1977. While six years may not seem like a long time, in the life of the NYC subway graffiti movement (approximately 1971-1989) it’s a massive chunk of time (a third of the entire “life span” of the movement). Graffiti careers were generally very short back then—often 2 or 3 years maximum. Writers like Cliff 159 or IN (and hundreds of others) produced massive amounts of subway (and street) graffiti in a very limited period of time. This was achieved by their incredible focus and determination—graffiti was, for them, a 100% full time preoccupation.I began doing street graffiti in 1974. At the time, the city was completely covered, and although I had only met one or two other graffiti writers, I knew intuitively that it was a secret coded language being spoken and expressed exclusively by kids. It felt completely natural to steal magic markers from the art room at school and begin writing on corner mailboxes and buses.
While you were growing up, NY was a very different place. More culture, more character, but more crime. Do you consider bombing trains to be a crime regardless of the law?
I don’t use ever the term “bombing.” I painted my graffiti name, Zephyr, on over a thousand NYC subway trains between the years 1977 and 1986. I do not personally acknowledge it as a crime, although I am obviously aware that it is “against the law.” Also, I do not agree that there was more crime in NY in the 70’s and 80’s. Corporate corruption is replete with criminal practices that go unidentified and unpunished, and I would argue that there is more of that today in NY than in any previous time in history.
Touché. Never thought about it like that and you are absolutely right. Faceless criminal shrouded by corporate veils. Do you miss the ’70s and the ’80s?
Miss the 70s and 80s? Of course I do. NYC is unrecognizable. It was once a fun playground. Now it’s a sterile bastion for billionaires.
Yes. The culture is shit. The streets are barely recognizable. But just when you get ready to leave…it reels you back in. We will come full circle. Let’s talk trains…When the Golden Age trains were tossed into the ocean to create a coral reef – that was hard to watch … how did you feel seeing graff history plunged into water?
The trains they dumped were mainly painted red, so it wasn’t really a case of watching talented and respected writers’ pieces getting thrown into the water. But if you paint graffiti, you likely understand the ephemeral nature of the work. You come to accept that it will probably have a short and tenuous existence. If you think your graffiti is permanent and precious you’re in for a rude awakening
You certainly don’t mince words. How about our favorite inquiry – how did you come up with your name?
That’s the easiest question you’ve asked me so far. “Zephyr” was the name of a skateboard team (and a brand of skateboards) from Southern California, early 1970s. Google it. The “Z-Boys,” as they were known, inspired two cool movies, and invented vertical skating. Literally. They were far cooler cats than I’ll ever be (i.e. Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams).
Not the West Wind, after all. Can you tell us a bit about your experience growing up here?
Growing up in NYC (Manhattan) and coming of age in the 1970s was great. The city was so less populated and safer for kids. I was given a bus pass at school, and I rode the buses and subways alone probably starting at around age nine. If you see a nine-year-old on the subway alone today, you should probably call child services…
My older sister used to take me down the Greenwich Village to go to used record stores back in the 1960s. That’s when I got a sense of the overall counter-culture and the East Coast psychedelic sensibilities that were far more attractive to me than the uptight family environment that was inflicted on me uptown on East 90th Street, where I grew up.
Safer for kids? I’m not sure about that one though we are talking a full decade between us. When was the first time you held a can in your hand?
Actually, I was doing marker tags for years, and found spray paint rather challenging. When I did my first piece on a wall (Carl Schurz Park) I was scared shitless, and it was not much to look at, to say the least.
What do you think of graffiti today?
Is there graffiti today? I thought the walls today are being done by so-called “street artist” art school students painting outdoors while the vie for gallery shows and corporate commissions. (OUCH!)
Ooh, I felt that.
How the culture has changed?
We jumped turnstiles. They drive Toyotas.
That’s all I can say about that.
How quickly did it become second nature to you to paint Zephyr? Were those particular letters easy?
No. Not at all. It took a long time to get my pieces and tags to look anything but clunky and awkward, but perseverance can sometimes pay off.
I think it usually pays off. Zephyr, as always it has been pleasure. Thank you.
’til next time.