Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I know it when I see it

Since attending the MAPS Meet, I’ve been on the lookout for instances of folk culture in my own backyard. In the vulgar suburbs, folk culture doesn’t jump out at you the way all of the basket-making and recipes of “real” folk culture do. It can be very difficult to define, but like Potter Stewart said, “I know it when I see it”.
There I was, riding home on the tube, when I saw it- a piece that has been around almost as long as I can remember, hiding in the light. Amidst all of the other graffiti, ranging from hip-hop pop art to drunken-imbecile-with-a-can-of-paint, was a tag that reached back decades. Like so many before (and I hope so many to come) it read
- Cool “Disco” Dan -
This tag hearkens back to my earliest memories of the train. I don’t recall how old I was, certainly not more than 10, the first time I saw it. Then another, and another. Soon it became one of those childhood rituals, like the punch-buggy game, spotting instances of Disco Dan’s work.
In high school came the last realization that this was not the work of an individual. Some were excellent renditions, perhaps by the master himself, others were poor reflections, clear knock-offs. Teenagers suggested an elaborate Dread Pirate Roberts lineage: “I am not the real Cool ‘Disco’ Dan. The man who gave me the name wasn’t either. The real Disco Dan is retired and living like a king in Cleveland Park…”
Throughout college, I don’t recall having seen a single new application of the tag. Old ones weathered, sometimes becoming so faded that I couldn’t have read them if I didn’t already know where they were and what they said.
As I reminisce over the tag, I realize that this instance is along a stretch of track that I travel every day. Moreover, it is a vibrant plum color that does not bear the mark of age. This is new and wrought in the style of the original ones.
Here, on the Red Line, I see continued a tradition of folk art. Some would call it destructive, and I suppose on some level it is. It must be. It would just be a marketing gimmick if you could buy readymade Disco Dan from Target.
I adjust my sunglasses and puzzle over the people and places that Dan connects.


nobody+knows. said...

i was so surprised that you knew about the hooker statue (i didn't) that i went and researched a little on joseph hooker. jebus, if your occupation didn't say "government" i probably would've assumed you were a professor somewhere... you're like gandalf from lord of the rings! and reading this post of yours makes me realize how inferior my writing is compared to yours xD you have that way of stating detail so perfectly and.. uh.. completely. love it =)

this entry in particular makes me nostalgic, like i want to rediscover something too. i swear i'm going to scavenge around the neighborhood today with the camera after this. oh, and thanks for the compliments of the photos. i get especially happy when you comment since you seem more likely to be blunt, haha.

just a curious question: you're democratic, right? it seems so from the posts i've read... but don't be offended if you're not...?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Thank you, but please don’t think of anything you create as inferior. I just write what’s on my mind, like anyone who maintains a blog.
As for the question of politics, I’m not offended. I don’t take offense at much. Although I vote in every election, I can’t say that I vote consistently for any one political party. I tend to think that there are far too many people trying to ride their party’s coattails into office, rather than creating solutions or really espousing any logical philosophy. For whatever it might be worth, the word “Green” appears on my voter registration.
I hope your hunt was successful.