My name is Jayson aka Terror 161 aka Tarantula 2351. I was a graffiti writer from 1973 until 1984 in New york city, and did my last train in 1988. I travelled to 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.
–This is not your first time in Barcelona, no?
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 has this throw-up with a pyramid, 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. That generation loved the beef, the results of somebody crossing out your name. Those times are gone. Now, since I wrote a book about graffiti and street art, my opinion about street art has changed a lot!
I Came to the MTN shop because I knew this guy, Ripo, from my book.. I’ve been in touch with him since via the internet, but I never met him. He told me to go to the shop, and there I met one of the writers I met in Denmark in 96, 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 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.
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 they truly are.
-Can you explain to us why you did the book and what it means for this actual moment in graffiti?
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 r, 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.
Also, the 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 art. the book is encyclopedic in scope… I call it graffiti for dummies, because even your grandmother will love it.
-I want you to tell me how you got into graffiti.
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 there was no graffiti happening. My bus route took me through the Soth 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 guys like Snake1, Cola188, the Writers Corner188 guys. Later graffiti appeared on the Broadway subway line, which was my right in my back yard. This was the first line to get hit, by guys like Junior and Cay161, Frank207, Turok161 and Ace137 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, Tan144, 139 Rick2, Soda1 and so many others. I started seeing these names on my way to school.
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 there were maybe two other people who 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.
Eventually, I began writing with a kid that wrote LEE182 who lived in my building. He went to school in Manhattan as well and met a guy in his class who knew everyone. The kid wrote LTD aka Laz and had a big presence on the Broadway line. He lived on the Upper West Side and painted with the king of the line MOSES147 as well as B.ONE and Taki 149-Broadway royalty! Through the grapevine I discovered the whole game-where to uni-wide, mini wide and pilot markers, what products had fatcaps and where to rack paint. There was a train yard in my neighborhood, last stop on the Northern end of the broadway line opposite Van Cortlandt Park and across the street from a college. Broadway line It was an outdoor elevated yard with 14 tracks and very close to my house. The other hot spot was ‘the one tunnel’. Situated between 137th and 145th street and Broadway, underground. ‘The one tunnel’ was a very popular place, but you could get robbed there in a second. I was a sheltered kid and had strict parents. 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 got very few writers by comparison. Located in an all white very quiet part of Riverdale black and spanish kids didn’t come uptown too frequently , since they stood out and neighbors were quick to call the police. The one tunnel suited them fine since it was closer to home and housed more trains to bomb.. So my friends and I began painting in the 1 yard.. 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.
That’s also when I began to get into other kinds of problems, drugs. I was out of the graffiti loop from the second half of 1976 to the beginning of 1980. I never imagined making a comeback but I 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. We got pretty drunk one night and started to paint around the old yard. We didn’t get in, but we were now in our early twenties and looked like men. We drove cars and other writers often mistook us for cops.Racking paint had never been easier since we no longer arouse storeowners’ suspicions.
Soon we ventured into into the yard, and it felt like we’d never left. From 1980 to 1984 we bombed more trains than we ever had before. I was a bit old for it, but from a fame standpoint graffiti entered its Golden Age. 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 NYC night clubs became like an above ground yard. Subway painters, street artists and celebrities hung out in the chicest . You had to be cool enough to be picked by doormen with attitudes to get into the club, and 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 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 make some cash on doing it it’s different, and they were very talented, much moreso than I. Soon writers began hanging out with people like Blondie, Andy Warhol and The Clash and signing autographs, revealing their formerly secret faces. This new level of fame that a select few began to enjoy eclipsed anything previously imagined But to me graffitiat its best was illegal and mysterious. I didn’t try to participate in the art world.
After a year or two doing that I got arrested in January of 1974. 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 I could pull out to fool my parents ever since I got arrested. This included stashing steel wool in my building to scrub the paint and ink off my hands before my mom would inspect them. They thought it all disappeared and that it was a phase I went through that had ended.
OK, you asked me for a story and I’ll tell you a good one. I like it because contrary to most writers’s tales of antics of superhero proportions I am the victim in this one.
After discovering the location of Bombay , the stationery store on 100th street and Broadway that sold all the professional grade graffiti markers, I felt like a new world lay before me. Stayhigh149, SuperKool223 and all the great writers used these markers.. Everyone wanted to be like them and now my time had come. My tag at that time was Tarantula235, I used my real street number, which in fact was kind of a toy move since it was so far uptown that nobody that mattered even knew where it was.
The undisputed king of the Broadway line from 1973-75 was MOSES147 . 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.
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 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 1974 uni-wide came with a little plastic bottle of ink,inside a box labeled Deko- pen 3000. after making 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 dialogue that is etched in my brain like the commandments written on those fame tablets of stone:
The dialogue went something like this:
Him: “Yo, you write man?”
Me: Yeah, but you never heard of me. What aboutchu? Whatchu write?
Him: I write Moses.
Me: You can’t be Moses, Moses is a king.
He took out a marker, and in those days there were these phone booths that looked like plexiglas transparent closets with a telephone inside. Behind Moses an old lady blabbered away inside a phone booth. Moses took out battle worn pilot encased in black tape and took a tag directly on the part of the glass where the old lady’s face was. She began screaming at him but her cries were inaudible 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 unique and with absolute certainty I knew that the tag that dripped down the phone booth glass ten feet away from me was indeed the handi-work of the king in whose presence I now stood. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Meeting MOSES 147 and getting my prized markers on the same day? 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 when he wanted to hold the bag for a closer look I was happy to oblige him.
He took the bag and began walking away.
He remained affaable throughout our little exchange. To him I was so non-threatening that the experience amused him.
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, 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 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 ever learned, because I after that day I realized 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 nobody bothered me. I’ll stay right were I belong. I did a lot of damage in that 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.
-Which differences do you find between these times and today?
Well, I look at my graffiti career as in two separate ones-the 70’s and the 80’s. In the 70’s there were no books except “The Faith of Graffiti” which remains my favorite ever . In the earliest part of the 70’s there were no pieces, only signatures, and with time, because people wanted more 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 the tags of Stayhigh149, and Jester. Seeing their tags on the insides with all different flavors of ink often surpassed seeing a full piece.on the outside of the train.
So there was a lot of attention to the style of writing your name. This kind of ended in the ’80’s when writers focused more on doing pieces and characters.
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 1982 I hooked up with Cap and other members of The Morris Park Crew. Later the same year I met Seen and T-kid. I would describe my career as one of a journeyman.,I rocked the lines with a lot of the greats but never considered myself one of them. I bombed a lot, I did a lot of damage. Beef in the 80’s became an all consuming cat and mouse game for me and the stakes were very high.Going over people. There was a big beef between crews. 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. I could have been in Style Wars, but I didn’t want anybody to see my face. They saw my trains. That’s what was important. I didn’t want people to know what I looked like.
And also there were a lot more people competing for a very limited amount of space by then. Black tags over black tags with drips. 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 by the securit y much easier since I now was a man, with a terrorist style moustache and all. Everybody imagined a graffiti writer to be a 15 year old boy. I should’ve stopped when I was 16, but I didn’t. When I was 16, Stayhigh was 24 so…
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 two and five lines most, because those lines covered the most territory , geographically speaking and were followed by writers from Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. It has always been about reaching a mass audience and a quest for fame for me. When the opportunity for my book deal arose, I chose to profile Street Art because graffiti had become a bit passe, I realized that I was old, and most of the people on doing Street Art were 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 commercial enterprises behind it today. I realized that I have a world of information, a data 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 tell tales about them robbing someone else.
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 there were some crews were known for robbing 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. On one occasion and I won’t mention his name, but I went over a panel piece done by a kid 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. 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 of today and the palette of colors we were limited to. The caps we had to work with, and the techniques. Internet? No such thing. 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 anyone to know who we were… I find that the colors and the blending overcome the outline, the techniques, the highlights that make the piece look more abstract, but if you look at the outline it’s wack, but it 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 populated by cats nobody ever heard of juxtaposed with legit legends?
In my book I attempted 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 have always tried to coexiss, like Cap said in Style Wars: ‘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 does in just one photo., He is a machine with 25 years of service under his belt. Graffiti writer idealized, but nobody writes about him. Part of the reason why he’s in my book.Over time there have been a lot of books documenting the history of graffiti, 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 remain relevant and involved. Hopefully illegally, but I am also trying not to be a problem for my family.
Action photos by Rodrigo Mirando.