TERROR 161 MTN INTERVIEW : A trip to Barcelona with a detour down Memory Lane
My name is Jayson aka Terror 161 aka Tarantula 235. I was a graffiti writer from 1973 until 1984 in New york City and painted my last cars during a final comeback during the clean train era in 1988. I’ve travelled to many different countries. I’m over 50 years old, yet 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 the Costa Brava. Now we have 3 children and whatever I did worked cause she stuck around.
I met this guy, who rocks a throw-up with a pyramid character and he told me how to get to the shop. I belong to a generation who loved to see their names running on NYC subway trains, a generation which loved adrenaline and illegal graffiti.My generation loved the beef, the results of somebody crossing out your name and you going on search and destroy missions for payback. Those times are gone. Since writing a book about graffiti and street art GRAFFITI 365 ,( Abrams 2011), my opinion about street art has changed . I no longer think of it as some wack bunch of art fags doing stencils with assistants by their sides craving gallery attention. Like graffiti , there is good and bad in street art , biters and innovators. To dismiss street art out of pocket is to wear blinders.
I came to the MTN shop because I knew this guy, Ripo,who helped me out with some photos for my book. I’d been in touch with him via the internet, but I had never met him. He told me to go to the shop, and there I met one of the writers I met in Denmark in 1996, Sabe. Funny we recognized each other after all those years.
One thing led to another, we hung out and went to have a couple of drinks. Graffiti makes the world very small, especially if you are a writer with any degree of fame. You can travel to any place in the world and somebody will acknowledge you and give you a place to stay or a place to paint.
Those little things means a lot to me. I don’t want to ask anyone for anything, but when people share it makes me feel important– like I’m somebody. Of course, in graffiti everyone thinks that they are somebody and some 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 , writers who came out in the late 80s or early 90s who want to write about the 70’s, or 80’s or out of towners documenting the NYC subway movement without having been there.
Especially annoying are the growing crop of revisionist historians that participated in the subway movement, old school writers who know that the people reading their stuff are so young that they won’t be able to fact 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, while giving props to people who never got any credit in other books. I didn’t include people that had been given too much credit by “experts” who didn’t know what they were talking about. I wanted to include street art because I’d been living in the past forever and needed to have a now and then aspect to complete the timeline of the two cultures. The book is encyclopedic in scope. I call it “Graffiti for Dummies”, because even your grandmother could appreciate it. (Not sayin’ grandma is stoopid ,yo!)
GRAFFITI 365 (ABRAMS 2011) OVER 15,000 sold and COUNTING
MTN World: I want you to tell me how you got into graffiti.
Terror161: I began attending school in Manhattan in 1969 . I had to take a bus since I lived in the upper part of the Bronx, in the remote Riverdale section where graffiti did not exist.. My bus route took me through the South Bronx and Harlem where graffiti was beginning to explode. The first name I remember seeing up was Taki183 and then a little later I saw names like Stitch 1, Snake1,Cola188 and the other Writer’s Corner 188 guys. Later graffiti appeared on the Broadway subway line, which was right in my back yard. This was the first subway line to get hit, by guys like Junior and Cay 161, Frank207,Turok 161 and Ace 137 They were some of the earliest kings on the outsides of the trains. I can still see in my mind’s eye names like Coco144, Tan 144, Rick 2 ,Soda 1 and so many others on Broadway in ’72.
I wondered who they where. I’d see the same names uptown, downtown, east side, west side. How did they do it? Who were they? I never saw anyone writing , yet I saw graffiti everywhere. I couldn’t figure it out, so I started doing it on my own, not knowing where to get the fat caps or the markers needed to rock with the big boys. I had no mentors, I began writing in my neighborhood, where only two other people did it and they were bused in from other neighborhoods to the local public school . It was a lonely job and I became king of a neighborhood nobody saw or cared about. After a year or two doing that I got arrested in January of 1974,bombing the door of P.S. 24,the local elementary school. My mother started to search through everything I had on a daily basis. I started to hide my markers in my locker at school, I used every trick in the book to fool my parents after getting arrested. This included stashing steel wool in my building to scrub the paint and ink off of my hands before my mom would inspect them. They thought my brush with the law straightened me out and that graffiti was just a passing phase.
Eventually,I began writing with a kid that lived in my building who wrote LEE 182 . He went to school in Manhattan as well and as luck would
have it he befriended a kid in his class named Larry, who proved to be an invaluable link to graffiti stardom.Larry wrote LTD aka Laz and had a big presence on the Broadway line. He lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and painted with the king of the line, MOSES 147, as well as B.ONE and Taki 149-Broadway royalty! Larry laid the whole graff manual out for us -where to purchase the uni-wide, mini wide and pilot markers, what products had fatcaps and where to rack paint. There was a train yard in my neighborhood at 242nd street and Broadway, last stop on the Northern end of the # 1 line ,opposite Van Cortlandt Park and across the street from Manhattan college. It was an outdoor elevated yard with 14 tracks and very close to my house. The other hot spot to hit 1 trains was the one tunnel. Situated underground between 137th and 145th streets and Broadway the one tunnel was a very popular place, but dangerous; you could get robbed there in a second. I was a sheltered kid and had strict parents, so going on night missions to Harlem was never an option for me. All the big time writers hit the 1 line in the tunnel. The 242nd street yard attracted very few writers by comparison. Located in an all white, very quiet part of Riverdale, black and Spanish kids didn’t often venture uptown since they stood out and neighbors were quick to call the police. The 1 tunnel suited them fine since it was closer to home and housed more trains to bomb.. So, my friends and I claimed the 1 yard as home base. We formed a little posse and in 1974-75 I created a crew called The Masters of Broadway aka The Mob, From 1975 to 1977 we owned that fuckin’ yard.
TERROR 161 #39 BROADWAY 1975 with UNI THE MOB
By the middle of 1976 I began to get into other kinds of problems, namely drugs. Other “commitments” took me out of the graffiti loop until the beginning of 1980. I never imagined making a comeback , but I unexpectedly reconnected with AMMO, an old writing partner from my glory days. Most of my writing partners had gone to college or gotten jobs. AMMO began working at the supermarket where I ran the deli counter. We began hanging out again. We got pretty drunk one night and started to paint around the 1 yard for old time’s sake. We didn’t go in, but we were now in our early twenties and looked like men . Soon we started to take writing more seriously. Time had definitely changed things. We drove cars and other writers often mistook us for cops.Racking paint had never been easier since we no longer aroused storeowners’ suspicions.
Soon we ventured into the yard and it felt as if we’d never left. From 1980 to 1984 I bombed more trains than I ever had in the 70’s. I was a bit old for it, but from a fame perspective my timing couldn’t have been better. In the early 80’s graffiti entered a different kind of golden age. The media blew the roof off the house of fame and the sky became the limit. Suddenly the media and the art world fell in love with graffiti and Street Art. Mainstream fame lured many subway stars to the bright lights above ground. The media attention from ’82 to ’84 put certain writers in the spotlight . The art world started to pay attention to guys like Zephyr, Dondi, Lee Quinones and Futura 2000. New York also became the birthplace for what would become Street Art as guys like Keith Haring , Richard Hambleton, Kenny Scharf and Crime Stopper used images to make a “name” for themselves.. The ubercool N.Y.C. night clubs became like an above ground yard .Subway painters, street artists,graffiti posers and celebrities hung out in the chicest clubs such as Danceteria, The Mudd Club and Area. You had to be cool enough to be picked by doormen with attitudes to get into the club, and quite frankly, I never was 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 didnt want anyone to know my face. For me, that was the core, the essence of graffiti.
BROADWAY COMEBACK 1981 AMMO and J.SON
A major breakthrough occurred when LTD gave us the location of Bombay, the stationery store on 100th street and Broadway that sold professional grade graffiti markers. Stay High 149 ,Super Kool 223 and all the great writers used these markers.. Everyone emulated them and now my time had come. My tag at that time , late 1973, was Tarantula 235, I used my real street number, which was kind of embarrassing since it was so far uptown that nobody who mattered even knew where it was. I also incorporated a spider icon next to my street number, an attempt to bite that concept from Stay High 149, who brilliantly burned his infamous joint smoking stick figure into the mass consciousness.
The undisputed king of the Broadway line from 1973-75 was MOSES 147 . He had his name on almost every train on Broadway. Nobody in the history of the 1 line ever came close to him in terms of coverage.. He did wholecars, top to bottoms, insides- everything. He even had pieces running on the 7 line out in Queens. A very under-rated writer, Cliff159 was probably one of the first writers to go all city. Some writers hit multiple lines, including numbers and letters. I imagined they stayed out all night long and cut school every day.
OK, Musa , you asked me for a story so I’ll give you a good one. I like it because contrary to most writers who christen themselves legends , I am the victim in this one.
On a sunny Autumn afternoon in 1973, Lee182 and I entered Bombay stationers. We immediately recognized LTD/ LAZ, the kid who told us about the store. He stood in the midst of a group of kids who were casually reading comic books while trying not to let on that they were watching our every move. They observed my toy ass, happy as a clam, buying the markers I had coveted for so long. The 1973 uni-wide came with a little plastic bottle of ink,inside a box labeled Deko- pen 3000. After watching me make a successful marker buy one of the kids followed me out of the store– a black kid, older and taller than me, with a big Afro and a leather jacket. He seemed friendly enough when he began the conversation that still haunts me.
The dialogue went something like this:
Him: “Yo, you write man?”
Me: Yeah, but you never heard of me. Why , you write?
Him: I write Moses.
Me: You can’t be Moses, Moses is a king.
A few yards behind Moses an old lady blabbered away inside an old style plexiglass phone booth with a folding door. Moses pulled out a battle worn flooded black pilot wrapped in electrical tape and took a tag directly on the part of the plexiglass where the old lady’s face was. She began screaming at him but her cries were inaudible due to her encasement. One thing I knew instantly. This guy wasn’t faking the tag. I had become a MOSES expert. MOSES didn’t have very good tag style, but it was very distinct and with absolute certainty I knew that the tag that dripped down the phone booth glass ten feet away from me was indeed the real McCoy. Meeting MOSES 147 and getting my prized markers on the same day? Euphoric! The short-lived joy I felt began to dissipate when MOSES asked me the $64,000 question:
Moses: Yo man , Watchu got in the bag?
Me: Uni’s, Mini’s pilots.
I thought I was impressing him and so when he asked to hold the bag for a closer look I thought nothing of it.
“Yo, thanks!”, he said as he began to walk away with my new bag of markers. Then he took a couple of markers and gave them back to me, telling me how lucky I was that he gave me mercy. Never have I gone from such a high to such a low in a split second.. He made such an idiot out of me. I followed him down the block pleading: “Hey, come on man, give me my shit back!”
He remained affable throughout our little exchange. I posed no threat to him.. MOSES had probably robbed a hundred other toys in similar fashion and I represented just another day at the office..
KING MOSES 147
Humiliated ,I wanted to cross out everything MOSES ever did, but the guy had so much shit running I couldn’t have made a dent in his legacy.
This was one of the most valuable lessons I’d ever learned, because after that day I realized that graffiti was not a fan club. You’re food until you prove otherwise. When the dust settled and my bruised ego healed I realized that I still had a good thing, unlimited access to a yard in a white neighborhood where nobody bothered me. Territories shaped graffiti’s landscape and I had mine. I did a lot of damage in the 1 yard. As the years rolled by and the 70’s became the 80’s I would meet other kings, guys like Iz the Wiz and Tracy 168 but it wasn’t the same. They had either quit before I met them or their best years were behind them.
MTN World: Which differences do you find between these times and today?
Terror161: Well, I look at my graffiti career as two separate ones- 70’s and 80’s. In the 70’s there were no books except “The Faith of Graffiti” which remains my favorite . It captures the transitional period between tagging and piecing. In the earliest part of the 70’s there were no pieces, only signatures, and with time, in order to gain prominence, handwriting styles became more elaborate. The trains, were relatively clean, so if you had a nice style of handwriting, your tag stood out, like those of Stay High 149 and Jester. Seeing their tags on the insides with all different flavors of ink often surpassed seeing a nice piece on the outside of the train.
So, there was a lot of attention paid to the style of writing your name. This kind of diminished in the ’80’s when writers concentrated more on doing pieces and characters.
In the 80’s a drug epidemic hit NYC hard. Crack and angel dust became many writers’ drugs of choice and people were willing to fund their habits by any means necessary. There were a lot more guys in the street, some into graff , some not, a lot of them violent. People were wilding out. You had to be really careful to avoid getting caught in the wrong place. I had people wanting to kill me out of jealousy or for dogging their names. One of my enemies during that time murdered a couple of other people. In 1982 I hooked up with Cap and other members of The Morris Park Crew. Later the same year I started hanging out with Seen and T.KID 170. I would describe my career as that of a journeyman’s. I rocked the lines with a lot of the greats, but never considered myself their equal. I bombed a lot and crushed many lines. Beef in the 80’s became an all consuming cat and mouse game for me and the stakes were very high. Going over people became a necessary evil. The ongoing beef between MPC and The RTW and CIA crews, put me right in the thick of things. It was adrenalized and crazy. If they saw me I had to hide. My enemies came to my house with bad intentions and we went to their houses with similar notions in mind,. It took me a long time to walk safely through Manhattan without wondering if any one would recognize me and attempt to do me in. I could have been in Style Wars, but didn’t want anybody to see my face. They saw my trains. That’s all that mattered. I didn’t want people to know what I looked like. In the 80’s I hit strictly outsides. The elegant tags I grew up on in the 70’s had vanished by then.
MY TRILOGY OF TAGS
On the insides,there were a lot more writers competing for a very limited amount of space. It became a sea of ink, black tags over black tags with drips. You got fame for doing outside pieces on the trains. In the 80s having a car made a huge difference. I could hit 20 paint stores in a single afternoon and fill my trunk with paint , hit highways and drive awy from the scene of the crime and stake out enemies unseen. I was able to sneak by cops and transit workers much easier since I looked like them. Everybody imagined a graffiti writer to be a 15 year old black or Hispanic kid. I should’ve stopped when I was 16, but didn’t. When I was 16, Stayhigh was 24, so why not?
For a couple of years I wanted to get on the blog roster of 12ozProphet.com. I liked their group of bloggers and it seemed a perfect outlet to reach a wide demographic, something that subway writing once provided. When I was painting trains I wanted hit the two and five lines most, because those lines covered a vast territory , geographically speaking and were followed by writers from the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. It has always been about reaching a mass audience and a quest for fame for me. When I scored my book deal , I chose to profile Street Art because graffiti had become a bit passe. My writing compadres and I were old and most of the people doing Street Art were young. They were doing a lot of productive stuff. Graffiti has become affiliated with a lot of commercial enterprises today.I have a world of information, a data base inside my head dating back to the beginning and can remember everything like it was yesterday. I really feel that my role in graffiti is that of a historian based on longevity and experience. I’m not saying I’m the only guy that tells the truth, but, hey, I’m telling you a story about getting robbed, normally people tell tales about them robbing someone else. That’s keeping it real!
Some of the illest guys I knew got robbed at some point too. One guy that became notorious for robbing others cited getting taken off by T.KID 170 as his inspiration. That was the thing in the 80’s, you went to the Ghost Yard and you got robbed. You returned home with no sneakers or spraypaint. You went to the 1 tunnel and you got robbed and beaten by a mob. I was not that type of guy. We did chase some people, but there were some crews that specialized in robbing people. They were out to victimize all who crossed their path and graffiti was secondary to them. I wanted to do nice pieces and go over people that started going over me. I tried not to be the one who initiated the beef, but there were a couple of exceptions I regret. On one occasion and I won’t mention his name, I went over a panel piece done by a writer I’d known forever and considered a friend. Spur of the moment mean spirited madness, just because I thought it was a fun thing to do. He didn’t deserve that at all.
In my book I attempted to recognize people who paint well internationally. Nychos, Os gemeos,Won ABC, Odeith , Okuda are all in my book. There are two types of graffiti that have always tried to coexist, as Cap said in Style Wars: The writer who tries to do more and the writer who tries to do the best pieces. Quality vs. quantity. Both are important. But , honestly, the best pieces make the best pictures.
Now that I’ve been away from bombing for close to 30 years, the biggest difference I find is the existence of companies like Montana and other high end Euro paint purveyors. We relied mainly on Red Devil, Krylon and Rust-oleum. There is no comparison between the color spectrum available today and the palette of colors we were limited to. The caps we had to work with, and the techniques? Dinosaur-esque! Internet? No such thing. You can bite everything today. Cameras? Very few. Sites like Art Crimes, at 149th street and subway outlaws? I wish.Today , there’s a million books and billions of instagram followers. You know when we began, we didnt want anyone to know who we were. Now the internet makes life simple. Instant recognition, as graff has become a global village. I can see an Aryz wall in Barcelona or Poland before it’s even finished by pressing a button. Style today? I find that the colors and blending overpower the outline.The techniques, effects and caps all make the piece look more abstract, but if you dissect it and look at the outline it’s often wack. Also, you have a blanket acceptance of permission walls, 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 populated by cats nobody ever heard of juxtaposed with legit legends? Hardcore train bombers lining up to get checks from “Hello, Kitty”? I’ve definitely lived too long.
It’s diffcult to explain what a bomber like JA does in just one photo., He is a graff robot with 25 years of service under his belt. A graffiti writer idealized, but nobody writes about him. Over time there have been a lot of books documenting the history of graffiti, but important writers that shaped the culture are too often omitted. I wanted to give them some long overdue credit. I also give credit to photographers like Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant and Jack Stewart who dedicated countless hours to documenting graffiti. Especially, Martha Cooper, a woman in a violent world,who trooped to yards and tunnels with a very suspect group of individuals (myself included). It was an exciting time. I’m proud of having been there and I’m still trying to remain relevant and involved as I head into my twilight years. Painting? Hard to embrace the legal mindset and compete with today’s talented artists. Glad I got to turn back the clock in Barcelona with a little help from my friends. Thanks to Musa and all my new amigos from Barcelona. Viva Espana!.