Did social media kill graffiti?

Jane Marshall, Joe Browning, Larry MullenI’m not talking about spray painted tags on the sides of rail cars, rather those pithy little observations on the walls of restroom stalls.

This was a big thing (at least in my circle) during the late 60s and 70s. My first recollection of this art form was in the hall bathroom outside Dr. Peck’s TV room. This was hangout #1 for our tribe (we didn’t call it that back then). Someone (Richard or Charlie?) had tacked a piece of poster board to the bathroom door with a Bic pen hanging on a piece of string. Someone would scribble something clever and others would comment in endless strings of puns and nonsense.

I don’t recall these ever being discussed face-to-face, the conversation was limited to the poster board. When it was so filled there was no room for one more witticism, the poster was replaced and the old one archived somewhere.

In the photo below you see what I believe is a piece of sheetrock leaning against a wall in the living room of the house where AJ and I lived (Church Street, Kennett, MO). There was a party nearly every night and it didn’t take long to completely cover a piece of poster board.

If there was a zeitgeist for this golden age of my youth, it was scrawled on these graffiti boards. Today these bon mots are tweeted or IM’d Instagrammed but surely something is lost.

Mook Life Graffiti Report 2010

“The smell of rawness weighing down on you in the Bronx tunnels. The whistle of a rusto fat cap in the midst of a silent Montreal night. The heat of a scorching sun crisping your neck while walking the train tracks. All these feelings make our blood boil and bring warmth to a writer’s heart. We bring you today some visuals of the past months in graffiti from a few mooks in our entourage. From the Rosemont train track landscapes to the Plateau’s hectic streets, a quick recap of piecing, throwups and general crunkness à la Mook Life. Signed, sealed and delivered… the streets is watching.”

What can I tell you? I love this stuff.

zero history

zero history is the final novel in William Gibson’s trilogy that started with Pattern Recognition. Hollis Henry is back from book two, Spook Country. I wouldn’t presume to review the work of Mr. Gibson. Here are a few of his words that got some highlighter:

“It was like being on the bottom of a Coney Island grab-it game, one in which the eclectically ungrabbed had been accumulating for decades. He looked up, imagining a giant three-pronged claw, agent of stark removal.” – pg 9

“His attempted smile felt like something froced from a flexible squeeze-toy.” – pg 10

“An overly wealthy, dangerously curious fiddler with the world’s hidden architectures.” – pg 18

“We do brand vision transmission, trend forecasting, vendor management, youth market recon, strategic planning in general.” – pg 21

“Addictions (start) out like magical pets, pocket monsters.” – pg 53

Continue reading

Visiting Facebook

“My mother made me a homosexual.”
“If I buy the wool, will she make me one, too?

During my college days (late ’60s), graffiti became something of a fad within our little group (along with trivia). I’m talking about the kind of graffiti you found on the walls of bathroom stalls.

It was common practice to tack a large piece of poster board to the back of your bathroom door with a Bic pin dangling from a string. These “conversations” could go on for weeks or months, becoming ever more baroque and obscure. We took great pride in our wit and when the poster was filled with scribbles, it was put on a wall someplace, like the pop art it was (or pretended to be).

I was reminded of this long-lost art by my first two weeks (back) on Facebook. What I’m seeing is mostly chit-chat. Short shout-outs and “Like’s” …maybe a photo here and there. And I do not mean to disparage these brief communications. I can see how Facebook has become a replacement for some/most email. A quick an easy way to ping your friends.

I think I get this kind of digital chatter. My friend David and I can string out an IM session composed of nothing but witless repartee. It’s fun. But I’m not getting this on Facebook, which probably says something about me and my expectations for the platform. As I try to understand the Facebook phenomenon, the first question that occurs to me is:

“What do I have in common with the people I have Friend’d and who have Friend’ed me?”

If the answer is: We went to highschool together 40 years ago or we work together… is that enough for anything but the most superficial relationship?

Every time I log onto Facebook, I get the same feeling I get at one of those management retreats when the “facilitator” tells everyone to “divide up into groups of four” or “turn to the person next to you and…” My buddy David would explain this by saying, “You just don’t like people.” I hope that’s not true but perhaps I wouldn’t be able to tell.

And on the subject of superficiality, I’ve been on Twitter since early days (6,000+ Tweets). But it’s a very different platform. More about “broadcasting” a thought or idea or link. If others find what you share interesting or amusing, they can “follow” along. If you happen to read their stuff and find it worth your time and attention, you can do the same. But you don’t have to be Friends.

I don’t know that I will ever acquire a taste for the Facebook Kool-Aid but that’s okay. There are lots of places to engage online, in a variety of ways. I’m growing ever more fond of Posterous (but won’t bore you with details). I’m a big Google fan and look forward to their next effort at social networking (Buzz didn’t click for me). And in a few weeks we’ll get a look at Diaspora, an open-source project by four young college students.

At work a few of us have been experimenting with a service called Yammer. It’s pretty much “Twitter” for a business or company. Only people who work for our company (and have a company email address) can use the service. This makes a lot of sense to me. There is sure to be a lighter, personal side to the “yams,” but it’s mainly to improve communication and productivity. I’m very interested in seeing if it gets traction.

As I reread the above it occurs to me that this might be the sort of stuff I’d like to see from my “Friends.” What are they thinking about?

But most folks aren’t comfortable with sharing too much about their lives. And Facebook isn’t the place if they did. So it’s beginning to make more sense to me. Facebook is place. And a good, comfortable place for a lot of people. I can pop in for a quick visit from time to time, but I won’t live here. Hope you’ll come visit.

Faux Graffiti

On the way to dinner on our final evening in Seattle, we discovered a team of artists finishing up what I would describe as a graffiti piece. They’d been spraying away all day and looked a little pooped. We chatted with what appeared to be the boss artist and learned he was a graphic artist and this was a paid gig.

We also learned they don’t use any old paint from the hardware store. It’s special spray paint created for this kind of art. Costs about nine bucks a can and comes from Germany. There were a lot of cans strewn about but the company apparently gives it to them for promotional purposes.

I mean no disrespect in using the word faux to describe their work. I’ve always liked the raw, bold look of graffiti art but suspect the owners of the building would like for passers-by to assume some talented street urchins and done this in the wee hours with back-packs full of Krylon.

UPDATE: Received email from one of the artists, asking me to pull the images from flickr. At least the ones that showed the artists faces. While this piece was commissioned by the owner of the building, sometimes these guys get creative without being asked. I was happy to yank the images. It never occurred to me that a tagger (?) might do a legit job by day while still answering the call of the wild. The artist offered to send me a photo of the finished wall. I’ll post it if and when.

UPDATE: Here are some more photos by one of the artists who did the wall we saw in Seattle. Sneke, Myth, Hews and Kel 1st who is one of the original NYC subway writers from the late 70’s – mid 80’s.

Zodiac: Where’ve we seen that guy?

David Fincher’s new film, Zodiac, runs 2 hours and 40 minutes and doesn’t have a chase scene or an explosion and only a couple of moments of violence and held my attention from start to finish.

Other films by Fincher: Panic Room (good); Fight Club (I was confused); The Game (very good); Se7en (very good); Alien3 (no so good).

Throughout Zodiac, I kept whispering to Barb, “Where have we seen him/her?”

Brian Cox –the original/best Hannibal Lector played Melvin Beli; John Carroll Lynch is the Zodiac and saw him on the HBO series Carnivale. Same for Clea Duvall (if you didn’t watch Carnivale, it doesn’t matter); If you’re old enough to remember Candy Clark from American Graffiti (’73), you might have spotter her brief appearance; John Mahoney –Frasier’s dad– had a small part; and Phillip Baker Hall plays a document expert. I remember him as Lt. Bookman, the library cop on Seinfeld.

Good movie.

Altman films “A Prairie Home Companion”

“It is an imagined last show and so it’s in the context of being taken over by a radio conglomerate, which is happening to a lot of radio shows at home.” Written by Garrison Keillor and starring Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline and Lily Tomlin. [Reuters story]

I always liked the Wolfman Jack scenes from American Graffiti. Something about being on the air, alone in a radio station at night. Something we’ll never experience with podcasting. That real-time connection with listeners in the middle of the night. Sigh.

Iowa graffiti

Subway cars. Or those plywood walls they throw up around big city building sites. These are the proper canvases for graffiti (I think it’s called tagging these days). But if you live on a farm or in a small town in southeast Iowa, it’s a long way to the closest subway. On Highway 92 just East of Columbus Junction, Iowa, there’s a farm building that looks like it might house vehicles of some kind. There are no windows and the building was originally painted white so it makes a near-perfect service for local artists/vandals. I first saw the building ten or twelve years ago and each time I drove past I vowed to bring a camera next time. Next time was October of 1998.

This is my kind of art. A performance piece with an unknown number of artists who might or might not know each other. Maybe it’s that the “piece” is never complete. There’s a farm house just a couple of hundred feed up the road. Does this building belong to the people that live there? If so, they must see the artists in action. Or do they only come at night? If so, do they paint by head light? Or do they work in the dark? I find that notion kind of interesting. Do the young people of the area have a name for this building? Has this been going on for years (I didn’t look for dates)? How do you paint so near the roof line? With a ladder? Do you bring one with you?

And do the property owners ever start over with a fresh coat of paint or do they tell themselves four, fresh, gleaming white walls will merely start the cycle again? Does Mrs. Brown ever greet Mr. Brown with, “The kids wrote ‘fuck you’ on the barn again. How do you want your eggs?”

Update: Sorry, but the images referenced above got lost in the move. If I can find them, I’ll update this post.