Terror161 Interview with Montana Colors – Tales From the Underground
My name is Jason aka Terror161. I was a graffiti writer from 1973 until 1984 in New york city, and did my last train in 1988. I travelled in a lot of different countries, I’m over 50 years and I still love it. I think there might be something wrong with me, since nowadays I have a family.
MTN World: This is not your first time in Barcelona, no?
Terror161: I Came here with my girlfriend 1998, and asked her to be my wife right here on Costa Brava. Now we have 3 children and whatever I did worked cause she still around.
I met this guy, who has this throw-up with a pyramid, And he told me how to get to the shop. I belong to a generation who loves to see their names on the NYC subway trains. A generation which loves adrenaline and illegal graffiti. That generation loved the beef, the results of somebody crossing your name. Those times are gone. Now, since I made my book about graffiti and street art, my opinion about street art has changed a lot!
I Came to the MTN shop cause I knew this guy, Ripo, from my book.. I’ve been in touch with him since, but I never met him yet. He told me to go to the shop, and there I met one of the kids I met in Denmark in 96, Sabe. Funny he recognized me. One thing led to another, we hung out and went to have a couple of drinks. Graffiti makes the world very small, if you are a writer with some kind of fame… You can go any place in the world and somebody is gonna recognize you and give you a place to stay, or a place to paint.
The little things means a lot to me. I don’t want to ask anyone for anything, but when people shares it makes me feel that I’m somebody. Of course, in graffiti everyones thinks that they are somebody, and they truly are.
MTN World: Can you explain to us why you did the book and what it means for this actual moment in graffiti?
Terror161: I wanted to make the book because I’m a hater. I hate most of what is written, or produced in books by people about graffiti whether they are photographers who did the books, or writers who came out in the late 80s or early 90s which want to write about the 70’s, or 80’s. Writers who know that the people reading their stuff are so young that they won’t be able to check the truth behind the fantastic light they put themselves in. So, I just wanted to do a book that in my opinion tells the truth but also gives credit to people who never got any credit in other books. And also I didn’t include people that had too much credit by people who didn’t know what they where talking about. And in the end, I wanted to include some street. At least the book is like an encyclopedia… I called it graffiti for dummies, because even your grandmother will love it.
MTN World: I want you to tell me how you got into graffiti.
Terror161: I grew up around 1969 and went to school in Manhattan. I had to take the bus since I lived in the upper part of the Bronx, which was where all the graffiti was happening. The first name I remember seeing up was Taki183. And then a little later I saw guys like Snake1, Collar188, the writers called 188 guys. Later graffiti appeared on the Broadway line, which was my line. This was the first line to get hit, by guys like Junior and K161, Frank207, They were like the kings on the outsides of the trains. Coco144… I started seeing these names as I was on my was to school.
I was asking myself who they where, this name is uptown, this name is downtown, east side, west side, how do they do it? Who are they? How do they do that? I couldn’t figure it out. So I started doing it on my own, but I didn’t know where to get the fat caps, the markers, nobody was there to teach me anything, I just started to write in my neighborhood, where there was maybe two other people who was doing it, but they came out of the public school from another neighborhood. So I went out by myself and destroyed my neighborhood, but nobody really saw it.
After a year or two doing that I got arrested in January of 1974. My mother started to search through everything I had, she realized what I was into. So I started to hide my markers in my locker at school, I used every trick I could pull out to fool my parents ever since I got arrested, and they thought it all disappeared, and they sure didnt want it to happen again. Then I spent some time with people in my neighborhood, one guy from another school downtown.
And I met a guy who knew everyone, so I discovered the whole game, markers, caps, where to steal…etc. There was a yard in my neighborhood on the Broadway line, but there were only two places to hit this line, one yard was on 43 St, pretty much on the beginning of Washington. And this was a very popular place, you got robbed there in a second…. The other spot was right behind my house, an elevating yard, about 40 trains in there. Very quite, and the kids were mostly white. Black and spanish kids didn’t come since it was a white neighborhood, and they had the same trains in another yard. So me and my friends started to paint there. We formed a little posse and in 1974-75 I created a crew called The Masters of Broadway, the Mob, And we destroyed it from 75 to 77.
That’s also when I began to get into other kinds of problems, drugs… I was out of circulation, from 77 to 80. Wich at this time, I met an old writer partner, most of then get out of college… I started working at the supermarket with this kid I knew and we got pretty drunk one night and started to paint around the old yard. We didn’t get in, but we where 22 years old, and we thought that we were men now, we drove and could hide from the police, they never even suspected that we painted.
So we started get into the yard, we did it like we never quit, and from 80 to 84 we did more on trains than ever before. I was a bit old for it, but graffiti in one sense got more media attention from 82 to 84 because of all this books that come in out. The art world started to pay attention to guys like Zephyr, Dondi, Futura, And then the guys who started the whole street art movement, like Keith Haring and such. They were hanging out together in a club downtown where you had to be so cool that you had to be picked by a man at the door to get into the club, and I never where that cool. I wanted to write on trains and wasn’t interested in art shows or hanging out with famous people. I wanted to be famous, but I didnt want anyone to know my face. For me that was the core, the essence of graffiti.
This is the essence of illegal graff, you are a mystery. I understand that when people makes some cash on doing it its different, and they were very talented, more than me. They started hanging out with people like Blondie, The Clash and signed autographs. Was that why people started to paint graffiti I asked myself, and they did become really famous. But to me graffiti is illegal and should be mysterious. I didn’t try to participate in the art world. I hung out with a lot of people who did it and respected what they did. I know a lot of people, and I respect the hell out of them. But still I just wanted to bomb, destroy all lines. Still I love those guys and respect them.
On the Broadway line in 1973-75 there was this one guy that had his name almost on every train. Nobody was close to him in terms to being the king of the Broadway line. His name was Moses147. He did wholecars, top to bottoms… Everything. He had his name on the 7 line which was a remote line that went all the way down to Queens. So the idea of bombing all around the city was quite new. One guy called Cliff159 was probably the earliest to be king all around the city. Some guys hit several lines, including numbers and letters, they had to stay out all night long, and they didn’t go to school…
So very early on, when I discovered the paint stores and the markers stores that sold the big markers called the uniwide and miniwide it became like every graffiti writers dream. Stayhigh149 and Supercool223 and all the great writers had theese markers and they were my heroes. Everyone wanted to be like them. I was so excited and I went around writing Tarantula245, my street number, which in fact was a kind of a toy street since it was so far from town.
It was like saying you was in a sucker neighborhood. I found out where the store was from my friend, Lee 182, another super toy at the time being, which lived in my building. We always went down to the store together and I had like $20, and bought two uniwides, a miniwide and a couple of pilots. I noticed that the kid who told us about the store was there with a bunch of kids, and they were all acting like they were reading comic books. They saw me there, happy, buying the markers. The uniwide at that time came with a little bottle of ink, included in the little box… Anyways one of the kids followed me out of the store, a black kid, taller than me, with an afro and a leather jacket. He was like… Yo, you write man? And me : yeah I write man, And you?- I was trying to be tough, but this kid was a lot tougher than me.
So, he was laughing at me, and said… I write Moses.
Me: You can’t be Moses, Moses is a king.
He took out a marker, and in these days there were this phone booth there. Inside it there was an old lady talking on the phone. Moses took out the pilot and made his tag right in front of her face. She was yelling, but we couldn’t hear her cause she was inside the booth. This guy wasn’t faking the tag, I knew it when I saw it.
He asked me what I wrote and it was so embarrassing since I knew I was a toy, so I replied: Don’t worry, you never heard about me.
Next question was: Hey man, what do you have in the bag?
And me: Yo, I got a mini, And a.. Such a toy…
Oh word? Let me check it out… I was waiting for his approval and I didn’t know what was going to happen next…
Yo thanks, and began to walk away with the bag. Then he took a couple of markers and gave them back to me. I was so upset. I was so excited to meet my idol, but the guy robbed me. He made such an idiot out of me, and I started to follow him, saying: “eh come on man, give me my shit Back!”
I wanted to cross all the Moses tags I saw, but still he was so good.
This was one of the most valuable lessons I had, because I learned that graffiti is not a fan club. You’re a fool until you prove otherwise. Then I realized, that I had a good thing, a yard in a white neighborhood that nobody comes to. I’ll stay right were I belong. I did a lot of damage in that yard.
This is my big story cause he was a big guy, and guys like Iz the Wiz and Tracy and all them I met in the 80s. But I never knew someone bigger on the broadway line.
MTN World: Which differences do you find between these times and today?
Terror161: Well, I look at my graffiti career as in two separates times. The 70’s And the 80’s. In the 70’s there were no books except “The faith of Graffiti” which is one of my favorites. In the 70’s there were no pieces, only signatures, and with time, because people wants more prominence, it developed to handwriting styles. The trains, were relatively “unhit”, so if you had a nice style in handwriting, your tag would last longer. Like the lines of Stayhigh149, and Jester… seeing their tags with the uniwides was almost better than seeing a full piece.
So there was a lot of attention to the style of writing your name. This kind of ended in the ’80’s when people strted doing pieces and characters.
And also there were a lot more people competing for the space by then. Black tags over black tags with drips. the insides of the trains were such a mess that people was religiously taking care of the outside. You got fame for doing outside pieces on the trains. In the 80s the difference for me was that I had a car. I was able to sneak behind the security much easier since I now was a man, with moustache and all. Everybody was expecting that a graffiti writer would be a 15 year old boy. I should stopped when I was 15, but I didn’t. When I was 15, Stayhigh was 23 so…
I was laughing at him for not quitting when he was 15, and I still am. In the 80’s what happened was crack, angel dust, a whole new drug menu appeared on the streets and people were willing to get more violent. There were a lot more guys in the street, a lot of them violent. People where wilding out. You had to be really careful to not to be caught in the wrong place. I had people wanting to kill me… In the 80s I hooked up with Cap and his crew the MPC, and around 82 I met Seen and T-kid. I describe my career like being around a bunch of great people, I bombed a lot, I did a lot of damage. Going over people. There was a big beef between crews. It was adrenalized and crazy.. If they saw me I had to hide. They came to my house and we went to their houses, you know. It took me a long time to walk safely through Manhattan without wondering if any one will recognize me. I could have been in Style Wars, but I didn’t want anybody to see my face. They saw my trains. thats more important. I didnt want people to know what I looked like.
For a couple of years I wanted to get on this blog.. 12ozProphet. I like the group of bloggers that they have and what attracted me about graffiti and 12ozProphet is that they both have the platform to reach the most people. Like when I was painting trains I wanted to be on the one or two lines, because those where the lines that everybody was watching, with Henry and Martha. I wanted to be there, get the good pictures. I realized that I was old, and most of the people on the other side was young and they where doing things like street art and became graphic designers. They where doing a lot of productive stuff. Graffiti is a movement with a lot of comercial enterprises behind it today. I realized that I have a world of information, a date base from the begining since I remember everything like it was yesterday. I really feel that my role in graffiti is as a historian, because I was there, I have loads of stories. I don’t forget. I’m not saying I’m the only guy that tells the truth, but, you know… I tell you a story about getting robbed, normally people tales about them robbing someone else. Some people had to be robbed!
The toughest guys I knew got robbed at some point too. One guy that was notorious for robbing others and acted violent against other writers once said that he got robbed by T-kid, and was his inspiration. He was admiring T-kid for what he did to him, and he wanted to do it to other people. That was the thing in the 80’s, you went to the Ghost Yard and you got robbed. You got home without sneakers and no spraypaint. I was not that type of guy. We did chase some people, but it was crews that robbed people, that was basically what they did. They were out to rob and terrorize everyone. I wanted to do nice pieces and go over people that started going over me. I tried not to be the one who started the beef, but there are a couple of exceptions I have to admit. One of them are… I am not going to mention his name, but I went over a panel he did, for no reason, just because I thought it was a fun thing to do. I knew the guy. I regret that one even until today. He didn’t deserve that at all.
Now that I’ve quit bombing since almost 30 years, the biggest difference is that you have companies like Montana. We had Red devil, Krylon And Rust-oleum. There is no comparison between the color spectrum we had. The caps we had to work with, and the techniques. Internet… You can bite everything today. Cameras.. Sites like Art Crimes… Theres a million books and thousands of followers. You know when we began, we didnt want nobody to know who we were… I find that the colors and the blending overcome the outline, the techniques, the lights that make the piece look more abstract, but if you look at the letter it’s wack, but still looks amazing. Also, you have walls with permission, events like Art Basel, live spray painting and on and on. In NYC you have a graffiti Hall of Fame, now everybody can get down. What ’s the sense of a Hall of Fame?
I try to recognize people who paint well, Nychos, Os gemeos… They are all in my book. But if you are a biter, you’re out. There are two types of graffiti that coexists, like Cap says: The writer who tries to do more, and the writer who tries to do the best pieces. Both are important. But the guys that try to make the best pieces, honestly they make best pictures.
It’s diffcult to explain what a bomber is. Like JA, he is a maniac. Graffiti writer idealized, but nobody writes about him. Part of reason why he’s in my book. In a certain time there was a lot of books documenting the history, but sometimes forgot some the people behind it, and I wanted to give them some credit. Even in my book I give credits to photographers like Martha and Henry who dedicated their lives to documenting graffiti. Especially Martha, a woman in a violent world. I have to give her a lot of credit. It was an exciting time. I’m proud to be having been there, and I’m still trying to be in. Hopefully illegally, but I am also trying not to be a problem for my family.
Action photos by Rodrigo Mirando.
Originally posted on MTN-World.