Sometimes ideas can take on lives of their own, becoming transmittable memes, replicating themselves in a bewildering array of permutations.
So, when I was in high school, as a young tagger, my buddies and I all wondered “Who is Cool Disco Dan?”
Cool Disco Dan, whose name could be seen stretched along buildings, warehouses, signs, all along the Red Line. A name without a face. Cool Disco Dan’s tag could be seen stretching throughout the east coast, in 1996 I even saw a Cool Disco Dan tag in England, yes in London. Now it’s highly likely other people had caught the Disco Dan craze, and were effacing their own individuality by becoming propagators of another identity.
Perhaps there is something liberating in this, after all whoever Cool disco Dan originally was, the individual himself was a cipher, subsumed in a meta-identity that could and did exist beyond the flesh and blood. In this sense Cool Disco Dan could be a collective identity, a shirt worn by many, not just nationwide, but worldwide (I mean, if I saw Cool Disco Dan tags in London of all places then who knows what other places bore his tag)
I just discovered that there is now, actually a Cool Disco Dan website – quite obviously enough at cooldiscodan.net
There is also a documentary in the works.
Somehow this takes the mystery out of it, but it does place it into history. One of the byways of history, of course, but in history all the same. At the same time it removes the collective aspect of the Cool Disco Dan identity. One of the things about Cool Disco Dan was that while it was an identity, of a man, named Dan, who likes to tag buildings however he can, there was a diffuse nature. Any imposter could slip into the tag of Dan. But would it be an imposter? Is it possible that Cool Disco Dan was larger than the man, Dan, who was Cool Disco Dan?
The old Killroy Was Here meme after World War II was similar, except far more profound in its social impact. It has evolved, as a creature in the wild, spawning children and grandchildren who somehow resemble the original killroy, but with their own unique traits, as every good child should. In some cases you see an echo of the original inspiration, taken up by, owned by, people with no memory or knowledge of the original Killroy.
I like this one, done by a local beauty, hidden in an out of the way spot in Cincinnati.
Obviously a daughter of Killroy, she has her daddy’s head, and his sense of wonder.
Sometimes it’s the little things that serve to nudge you out of your daily waking hallucination, that make you pause for a moment, and return to right here, right now, with all of its nuances. The peeling paint on the bricks, the smell of dirt and leaves on the air, the way the sun shadow casts a web of darkness across the building, flowing into the mortar joints, rippling across the textured surface. It’s possible to be quite pretentious about Graffiti art, a stilted thing, the fact that theorists actually write about something that’s such a natural outburst of human creativity. A manifestation of a human desire to leave our mark on something, something that may be noticed years, or even centuries after our passing.
Graffiti is one of the most ancient forms of human expression, from tens of thousands of years old cave paintings and scratchings, to thousands of years old desert carvings in ancient now lost dialects of Arabic, to political cartoons scratched by bemused Romans in Pompeii 2000 years ago. The Romans, it seems, were rather prolific in their graffiti, if entombed city of Pompeii reflects things. Some amusing Graffiti from Pompeii includes service descriptions and the address of a very much in demand prostitute, and a rather angry ode to love along the lines of “..Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus’s ribs.. If she can break my tender heart, why can’t I hit her over the head?”
Indeed, it seems that the human heart has always been what it is, how many of us sometimes wish we could smash love itself in the face, now and then? I guess broken hearts are nothing new.
Someday scholars 1000 years from now will come across the rock scribblings of backpackers in the woods of Kentucky, they will examine sharpie marker inscriptions and with serious, drawn faces, pontificate on the social significance of lovers now long dead, their bodies dust, and nothing physical left on the earth to reflect their passage except a few words drawn in a sharpie marker, on a rock outcropping wall. Perhaps then men will wonder about us, how we thought and felt, what we experienced. Perhaps the will come to the conclusions that we were vastly similar to them, and also vastly different.
Much like those we look at, who now are dust, but whose scribblings are studied with much serious concentration, by our learned doctors and scholars.