As I walk through the valley of the shadow of the dead, there are a million reminders that I have no future. The battered old navy yard sits abandoned. "For Rent" signs compete with "Out of Business" signs for my attention. A black cat flees in front of me and then, a moment later, a rat scurries after it. This is my town, a forgotten wasteland that traps our nation's poor and then keeps us here by making us want a life outside the ghetto––a life we can't afford. It's depressing and sad and lonely and scary. There is no laughter here. No joy. No hope. The palette of my city is gray, black, and gray-black… but wait. What's that? André has a posse? Who's André? And what's that over there? A giant, spiraling, twisting "throw-up" that says everything I just said only with vibrant purples, blinding blues, fiery reds, and explosive oranges. This is graffiti––a magical escape to a world that never was. It hasn't just changed the urban environment, it is the urban environment. From Brooklyn to Belfast and everywhere in between, forgotten old shit-holes have been turned into canvases and life is breathed back into them. You can segregate us and you can ghettoize us. You can even ship us away, but you can't kill our freedom. Art thrives where authority tries to kill it, and the more gray you throw at us the more paint we hurl back. Somehow the hood don't seem so sad no more.
This whole thing started in New York in the mid 1970s. Various crews with names like Wild Style, the Master Blasters, and the Bad Latin Squad would spray-paint names they made up for themselves all over the city. They did it on old buildings, on schools, on your momma's car, and most importantly, on trains. That's right, the fat cats on Wall Street would be coming home from work and BANG they'd see a big ol' throw-up in their face. They couldn't read what it said, but they understood the message. It basically said, "That's right, motherfucker, we're here. You thought the Boogie Down Bronx didn't exist no more, but here's a postcard. Wish you were here. NOT!"
Now, you ask my old man about this stuff and he gets all pissed off and says shit like, "Listen, Chris, you fucking asshole, I grew up in Queens. You want to know what graffiti is? It's for losers. I remember when graffiti came out. It was mostly Puerto Rican kids that didn't have fathers. Those New York Times cocksuckers talk about the strong family values Hispanics have? Shit. They have more babies out of wedlock than anyone. Even more than mulignans. But you try telling that to your uptown socialites. Anyway, you'd have these little Spanish boys watching their mother spend three hours in the mirror working on her hair and then they'd see their sisters gushing over some fucking movie star on the TV. He didn't have a dad to slap him upside the head and tell him that's all bullshit. So, what happens? You get these young men that have the mind of a woman. They are obsessed with fame because that's the only strong male figure in their lives, fuckin' John Travolta. So they make up a fucking nickname and they write it all over town.
‘Hey, you know me? I'm Joey 138. You probably seen my name around town.' Yeah, I saw your name all over town, you ridiculous piece of shit. You wrote it there. It's not like you were in the goddamned paper or something or you got a reputation for being a tough guy because you actually went out there and actually broke some balls. Goddamn these kids. Like movie stars weren't faggy enough. Now we got these kids obsessed with fame that don't even do nothing. Why you gotta jam your logo down my throat everywhere I go? What are you, Kraft? At least Kraft makes cheese. All you do is hang out with your fucking sisters and work on your hair. I'm telling you. I grew up around these Puerto Ricans and some of them would even fuck each other. They wouldn't call it homosexuality. They hated fags just as much as the rest of us. For them it was just fucking around. Jesus Christ. Thank God I got you out of there. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so basically it was just a pathetic attempt by inner-city kids to feel like they meant something to somebody. Fame to them was a way of not feeling like some pathetic loser with no dad. Fuck no, now they were famous movie stars. Who needs a dad when everyone knows your name?
"But it just proved the opposite. It made them look desperate. What the fuck is it anyway? You make up a nickname and you write it in bubble letters all over other people's property? Sometimes they even take the time to color it in. That's what little girls do on their schoolbooks, only instead of ‘TSK 132' they write ‘unicorn' or ‘I love Bobby.' Your sister used to do that. It's for little girls. A bunch of little queers running around the city writing their nicknames everywhere. It's pathetic.
"So then this stupid fad takes off and you got people all over the world doing it. When your mother and I were in Germany we seen that garbage everywhere. Why? They got a dad. These fucking idiots are copying a bunch of lonely fag Puerto Ricans from 30 years ago! What the fuck do they got in common with some kid from the Bronx? It's just a bunch of rich white kids trying to fill their boring, empty lives with some kind of culture. Well, let me tell you this: I was there. I was born from that culture and it was a boring cesspool. Graffiti was just another shit-stain on the street. Like all the junkies and whores and corrupt cops. It was just another reason to get the fuck out of there. And we did. And now you're sitting here asking me about it? Want to hear about how I got stabbed? Is that cool? Want to go take digital photos of that with your fucking camera? Hey, Clarice, Chris is going to go back to Queens and get stabbed and then put it up on his website––what do you think of that?
"Use your head, goddamnit."
But then I'd just roll my eyes and say, "Whatever, Dad." Parents just don't understand. Graffiti is the art gallery of the street. It has pulled the slums out of their collective depression and given the youth a voice. Writers have lost their lives bombing trains but the other soldiers just keep pushing forward. Getting their nickname in the ultimate spot, the highest building, and the bendiest road. Until, one day, all the gray is covered up and we do indeed have a future.
For more info, Google "graffiti."