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MTA Bans T & A

Let’s get one thing straight: I hate Calvin Klein ads more than I could ever express in mere words. Especially heinous is the one with the crazy-looking fat guy in the horrible jeans standing near the heroin addict in the terrifying perm. Why I–or anyone whose parents aren’t siblings–would care to look like this is, of course, impossible to know.

The only thing worse than Calvin Klein ads, however, is the MTA telling us we’re not allowed to see them on public transportation anymore. While it’s true that those white-trash ads would look better on the sides of trailers than on the sides of buses, it’s not up to MTA suits to decide the issue. We Americans have a proud history and heritage of bad taste. We cannot let anyone–let alone anyone named E. Virgil Conway–take away our right to be annoyed, offended, and pissed off.

In case you don’t know, E. Virgil is not only head honcho at the MTA but a right-wing Republican who has been leaning so far right for so long that he apparently can’t stand up straight anymore. Proof of this lies in the fact that he and his boys believe that a public agency supported by public funds actually has the right to ban free speech. Even free speech that costs a lot to create.

While something this fundamentally crazy should, of course, be open to debate, don’t count on it. The MTA recently adopted new rules allowing them to ban not only ads they find distasteful, but also ads that criticize the MTA! It’s not that difficult to understand, except in reality, of course. C’mon, now! The MTA may disagree with what you say, but they will fight to the death your right not to say it.

This justification was best summed up by the MTA’s general counsel, Michael A. Vaccari: “We’ve got over 100 lawyers,” he said. “Lawyers need to eat.” Why? Even if you could, for some perverse reason, justify feeding a lawyer, most of them are already so full of themselves that they just couldn’t eat another bite. Vaccari gives flesh to the old line that there’s a reason some lawyers work for government bureaucracies and some earn millions in the real world.

Worse–despite the fact that the MTA already has 100 lawyers on staff–they still felt compelled to hire yet another attorney, Michael McConnell, to help draft their wacky rules protecting their right to ban free speech. McConnell, out of Salt Lake City yet, specializes in defending the religious right’s right to ban whatever they don’t agree with, as well as freedom from taxation. In fact, according to Newsday, McConnell is Jimmy “I Have Sinned, My Lord” Swaggart’s lawyer. McConnell recently attempted to save Jimmy from the sin of paying taxes, but the Supreme Court–not the Supreme Being–tragically disagreed. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Call me strict, but why is Jimmy Swaggart’s lawyer being paid with public funds to tell us we don’t have the right to free speech on public transportation? Maybe it’s because McConnell’s other specialty is attempting to get rid of the separation between church and state.

E. Virgil’s justification for all this is that he and the board don’t want citizens to be forced to use other methods of transportation just to escape offensive ads. Other methods? What? Cabs whose back seats have been invaded by government-sponsored, self-promoting celebrities telling us what to do? I’d like to ride, but I gave them up for Lent. I’d suggest riding a moped, but the city banned them, too. Years ago.

It’s a good thing the MTA has 100 staff lawyers. They’re going to be awfully busy defending this latest decision against all the suits that will definitely be brought by civil libertarians.

Maybe the MTA is simply repeating history. My grandfather used to say even Mussolini wasn’t all bad. After all, he made the trains run on time. Maybe someday they’ll say that about Virgil.

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NY, OH

I dreamed I died and went to Cincinnati. Imagine my horror when I awoke and discovered that I was in Cincinnati. Only now it’s moved and lies roughly between the new and improved Times Square, the new and improved 42nd Street, and the new and improved 57th Street. It’s all so bright. And clean.

The only thing is, if we wanted to live in Cincinnati, we could–and it would probably only cost about $300 a month, utilities included. Me? I live in what used to be Manhattan because up until a few years ago, it wasn’t like any other place in the universe.

Now only Queens is like no other place in the universe. Even Brooklyn has become cute. And touristy. Don’t be surprised on your next visit to Borough Park if you see busloads of tourists hanging off double-deckers snapping pictures of Hasidim, having mistaken them for a renegade sect of urban Amish.

Sure, crime is down (except among cops). And the price isn’t too high–after all, who minds a beating now and then in exchange for a little peace and quiet? What’s $27.3 million in settlements last year alone to citizens who’ve been brutalized by the cops in the city? The streets are as safe as, say, Cincinnati. Just stay out of the station houses.

There are other, even more frightening clues to the Cincinnati-zation of New York, too.

Take for example the new white police cars with those friendly “CPR” logos. At first I thought they were EMS cars doing freelance CPR, but no! They’re white cop cars–like suburbia. (No, it doesn’t stand for the “Cincinnati Police Relocation,” but “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect.” Saying it must make it so.)

Then there are the new and improved colored newspapers. The Gray Lady has become fuchsia. The gritty Daily News looks like a coloring book. Really, who needs to see Mother Teresa in full color anyway?

Ruth Messinger certainly had a New York edge in black and white that’s missing in color. Take the News’s front page the other day. There was Messinger, all aglow in coral lipstick, blue blazer, and red AIDS awareness ribbon. (Or was that a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon?)

And that brings up another point: the homogenization of our politicians. New York pols are supposed to look weird, crazed, and slightly threatening. I, for one, am horrified to see that Al Sharpton’s had a hairdo makeover (perhaps in an attempt to look nonthreatening) and wound up with Ruth Messinger’s hairstyle. Al! Al! Remember who you are–gritty, urban, outrageous. You do not come from Cincinnati. You are not a Jewish woman.

Even Hooters, the restaurant chain, possibly the single most offensive thing about the suburbs, has come to NYC. Why, dear God, are they doing this to us?

And Disney! Oy, as they say in Cleveland. City officials think the out-of-control mouse population explosion is real? No! It’s only the exponential explosion of Mickey Mouse. Where’s a good exterminator when you need one?

And Disney is just the tip of the ice, er, suburb. Everywhere you look–Nike, Warner Brothers, fake “real NYC diners.” Why not just stay in the burbs and go to a mall?

Then there’s Times Square. Sure it’s great looking. And bright. Did you know that it’s now genetically impossible to get mugged there? Even if you did, it would probably be simulcast on the Sony big screen, sitting atop Times Square like the one in 1984. Even the hookers are fake now. You can see a re-creation of one, though, if you’re interested, in The Life. Like a prostitute zoo, or something. With a little luck, they’ll turn it into a theme restaurant–Hookers.

When the homogenization of Manhattan is completed, I hear they’re going to put a bubble over the whole thing and call it a mall. Or better yet, Cincinnati.

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Playing the Iran Card

It is one thing to fight and lose. It is another to lose and win. The former involves miscalculating your chances. The latter involves accepting your losses up front. The latter is the cynic’s move.

Saddam Hussein sacrificed tens of thousands of largely inexperienced Iraqi troops in the Gulf War, while saving both tactical firepower and his best forces. Only a regime with little need for legitimacy could keep power after squandering so many men.

In the end, it looks like Saddam outsmarted everyone. He did so by lowering the bar to a point beneath which only he could crawl.

Now, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan having brokered a diplomatic accord with Saddam, Bill Clinton has had to check his plan to bomb Iraq, at least temporarily. But even if the agreement holds, it is unlikely to control Saddam over time. Clinton needs a long-term plan–something he’s never had with Iraq before. And the only real option may be so far away that Clinton can’t see it. If he could, it might take many more years to realize than he has left–even if he survives every affair. But what would be hardest of all for America to fathom: this new anti-Saddam strategy would involve a tactical alliance with Iran–yes, Islamist Iran.

However novel, this alternative is grounded in realpolitik: Everyone who knows Saddam, including his neighbors and his own people, hates him more than they hate anybody else.

Seven years after the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein continues to squander his country’s treasure. His cynicism remains his trump card. Should Clinton ever decide to bomb, and even with the symbolic and logistical loss of allies like Saudi Arabia, the Clinton administration could still launch sustained air strikes against Iraq. Bombing might, in fact, delay Saddam’s capacity to produce chemical or biological weapons. But bombing alone is unlikely to remove him or change his regime. It could even produce a backlash. Any air campaign will produce some collateral damage. More civilians would suffer if Saddam were to deploy human shields at targets such as presidential palaces. The fallout would be worse still if the bombing were to release deadly chemical or biological agents. Meanwhile, Saddam is said never to sleep in the same place twice.

Committing ground forces, the only sure way to oust Saddam, has been ruled out. Hamstrung by the Lewinsky affair, and lacking strategic vision, Clinton could never muster the authority to deploy them. Former coalition allies will not commit any ground forces either. After years of wandering, this administration is lonely in the desert.

Many observers continue to hope that Iraqis themselves somehow oust Saddam. The presumption has always been that someone somewhere in the ruling hierarchy could do it. Indeed, the CIA still prays for a coup. To encourage one, former Bush administration officials like Paul Wolfowitz, who was a senior Pentagon planner, advocate supporting an Iraqi-government-in-exile. By continuing to place their bets on palace insiders, they underestimate Saddam. He has long guarded against a palace coup. Now he has a security force run by Qusay, his younger son.

Popular insurrection was once another option. Unlike the ruling hierarchy, most Iraqis are Shi’ites–like the regime and the vast majority of people in neighboring Iran. One-fifth of Iraq’s population is made up of Kurdish Sunnis who identify themselves first as Kurdish. Together, Arab Shi’ites and Kurds comprise four-fifths of the Iraqi people. U.S. officials, however, have always feared what self-determination might bring. It could lead to the secession of its Kurdish areas or turn Iraq into an Islamist state. So instead of chancing either, President Bush, like President Eisenhower in Hungary in 1956, provoked a revolt only to stand by as the insurrectionists were slaughtered.

Today, Clinton needs the same ground forces that Bush abandoned. Supported by neighboring states, commanding the respect of their region’s residents–many of whom risked everything–the Kurdish and Shi’ite rebels who rose up and tried to oust Saddam in March 1991 were the best hope that anybody has ever had of removing the Iraqi dictator. Now, the survivors are beat. They hate us and each other almost as much as they hate Saddam.

Thus slick Willy is in a pickle. He and his advisers don’t know what to do. So they’ve been listening to the ghosts of the Bush administration and dusting off a dead plan. Clinton never had his own policy anyway. Instead, he followed Bush’s lead, and then let Langley steer. The spooks ran the ship aground. The agency’s anti-Saddam strategy is its worst regional blunder since the 1979 fall of the Shah in Iran. And the blowback from that debacle still blinds us. The 19-year-old memory of the 444-day embassy siege is what holds our strategy hostage now.

Could a new policy that involves Iran and others work? Writing under a pseudonym on The New York Times op-ed page, an ex-CIA officer in Iran recently suggested that it might. Maybe the spooks aren’t all as dumb as they act. On Sunday, an Iraqi Shi’ite leader based in Tehran and backed by Iran was quoted in the Times suggesting the same thing. Akram al-Hakim wants the United States to coordinate anti-Saddam efforts with Shi’ite forces inside Iraq. That would mean the U.S. would work alongside Iran. The strategy would be a big leap. It is fraught with caveats–not to mention the ghosts of the past.

But it still may be the best chance anybody’s got. Sure, Algeria is a cautionary tale. For different reasons, so is Afghanistan. But if we could get past our trauma over Iran, some Iranians are already getting over their past with us. Last week the American flag flew in Iran for the first time in 19 years without catching fire. Just a month after the country’s new president, Mohammad Khatami, talked with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about opening the door to cultural and sports exchanges, five U.S. wrestlers carrying the flag in Tehran were cheered. Wrestling is as big in Iran as table tennis is in China; Ping-Pong games precipitated Nixon’s China card.

But the same day, Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, again called the United States “the Great Satan.” Khamenei still commands fundamentalists of all ages, while president Khatami is backed by a new generation of Iranians wanting more freedom. They are united against Clinton’s plan to bomb Iraq.

Before this administration does anything pointless, or something that could even make things worse, it should expand its horizon. And it should think about what it really means to hit rock bottom, and understand how we sunk there.

The days following the Gulf War were heady days. Saddam Hussein had been driven out of Kuwait. All Bush thought he needed to do was suggest Saddam be gone and, like magic, he would vanish. Last week, Bush told CNN’s Bernard Shaw, “I thought that when the war ended, he could not survive.” Bush had no other plan. General Norman Schwarzkopf negotiated the terms of a cease-fire agreement as if it didn’t matter. Schwarzkopf was worried about coalition forces. He grounded Saddam’s planes, but allowed him to continue flying helicopters. Saddam said he needed them to get to the negotiations.

The United States still wanted Saddam out of power, even though the U.S.-led coalition had never had the authority to remove him. So Bush tried to provoke a coup. On March 1, 1991, two days after Saddam yielded in the Gulf War, Bush told the Iraqi people “to put him aside” and bring Iraq “back into the family of peace-loving nations.” The people Bush had in mind were members of the ruling party and the military–Arab Sunnis like Saddam. But they failed to act. Instead, many Kurds and Arab Shi’ites revolted.

Indeed, on March 1, Islamist Shi’ite clerics in the south called for insurrection. Within days, Shi’ite rebels had taken Basrah, and fighting had broken out in nearly every southern city. On March 11, the largest gathering ever of Iraqi opposition leaders took place in Beirut with Saudi financing and under Syrian guard. Three days later, Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq launched their own offensive. Within one week, they would liberate nearly all of Iraq’s Kurdish-speaking areas. Some Kurdish couples named their newborns “Bush.” But Bush had not bet on insurrectionary forces.

Everyone presumed Saddam would be overthrown. The only question was when, and who would replace him? Back then the CIA was backing a bunch of London-based exiles. Iran was backing the Shi’ites, and Syria and Iran were helping the Kurds. Though the London exiles’ current leader, Ahmed Chalabi, is a moderate Shi’ite, most of the people he represents are Sunnis and ex-monarchists. Many left Iraq after its monarchy was deposed in 1958. They have never fielded any military force. Yet in March 1991 they planned to form a government-in-exile by themselves.

They never got the chance. While they squabbled, many Shi’ites and Kurds fought. The Kurds made the most gains, going as far as Kirkuk, a key oil-producing town, where Saddam began his northern counteroffensive.

On March 28, everything changed after dawn. In Kirkuk, thousands of Kurds were still in the city, as incoming artillery and tank shells shook the ground. A young girl was killed on her bicycle. “This is Saddam Hussein!” yelled one man who knew her. “Mr. Bush must know.” Soon several small helicopters broke the sky. They fired machine guns, as the guerrillas returned fire with anti-aircraft guns. The shells became more accurate, and tanks closed in on the town. Kurdish guerrillas pulled out just two surface-to-air missiles. By about noon, the smaller helicopters were joined by four or five fixed-wing helicopter gunships. Glistening like angry hornets, they unloaded seemingly endless volleys of exploding rockets. Kurds were dying all around. Several multiple-rocket launchers dropped a blanket of fire on fleeing guerrillas and civilians.

Kirkuk was taken by 2 p.m., not by Republican Guards but by army special forces. It took Saddam only three more days to crush the rest of the Kurdish rebellion. By then, the Shi’ite revolt had also been snuffed out. Tens of thousands of Kurds fled into the mountains bordering Turkey and Iran. They panicked as rumors spread that Saddam was using chemical weapons, as he had against the Kurds in 1988. In fact, he didn’t, but during the exodus, many “Bush” babies died of exposure. The Bush administration eventually established a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds.

Soon the London-based exiles tried again to usurp control of the Iraqi opposition. Until 1996, the CIA gave the Iraqi National Congress $15 million in covert aid. They used part of it to establish a headquarters in northern Iraq, and they tried and failed to unite the Kurds.

Iraq’s feuding Kurdish guerrilla leaders, Massound Barzani and Jalal Talabani, though united after the ground war, never trusted each other. They have long struggled over control of contraband traffic as well as over politics. Tensions flared so much that by August 1996 they went to war. Talabani was getting help from Iran, so Barzani made a deal with Saddam. Thus swung open the door for Saddam to the safe haven. He quickly dismantled INC headquarters, then hunted down, tortured, and killed its associates.

Today the CIA is where it always was, backing cadre among the same London crowd. Last week Chalabi tried to convince Clinton to back him in forming a government-in-exile. Ex–Bush administration officials nodded, but even Chalabi is doubtful. “Doing something inside London,” he told AP in Cairo, “is not the same as doing something inside Iraq.” Clinton said no.

What Bush should have done back then was back the Kurds and Shi’ites when they revolted. He told CNN why he did not. It would have fractured the coalition, incurred U.S. casualties, and upset the region’s balance of power. Though on point about the latter, Bush has always envisioned foreign forces removing Saddam. Bush always underestimated Iraqis.

Once he realized that Saddam was using helicopters on them, Bush could have knocked the copters out of the sky. Schwarzkopf could have at least kept rebel forces in mind when he negotiated the cease-fire. Anyone in the Bush administration could have asked, “What if just calling for a coup isn’t enough?” Bush, for one, wishes he had done something different. “I miscalculated,” he told the BBC last year.

Today, Clinton has another choice, even though he must build amongst his predecessor’s wreckage. The first thing Clinton needs to do is recognize that the bombing-versus-diplomacy debate is shortsighted. Clinton needs to develop a long-term strategy, even though it might outlast him. America needs to acknowledge that its own experience with bombing, from Vietnam to El Salvador, demonstrates mainly hubris. And diplomacy? Ask anyone who has ever dealt with Saddam.

Take the Radwaniya prison 30 miles west of Baghdad. In April 1991, captured journalists saw guards beat a prisoner on the buttocks with a flat board. They wanted him to crow like a rooster, laughing when a real rooster finally crowed as if to answer him. Guards hosed down a prisoner on a cool day, while zapping him with an electro-shock weapon. They chased a “subversive” 16-year-old boy around, taking turns with rubber hoses. More systematic torture took place in other cellblocks deeper inside the prison. Occasionally, journalists heard the screams of men in sustained pain.

Many Iranians are still in Saddam’s jails. Iran also lost several hundred thousand men in the Iran-Iraq war, while the U.S. and others were arming Saddam. The West backed him even after he used mustard gas in 1984. But things change. Iran’s new and old leaders know it. What doesn’t change is that they all still hate Saddam. An alliance with Iran would be a tactical one. Don’t worry, they too would be leery.

Could Clinton bring them in on a plan of prolonged confrontation? It would require more world leadership than he has ever shown. It would involve challenging, complex diplomacy with Gulf states, Turkey, and others. Of course, any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would only help. The idea would be to develop and sustain Iraqi rebel ground forces against Saddam. Considering our history, we would have to make a serious case to convince them that we would see them through. But if people inside Iraq thought that people outside Iraq were serious about them, then someone inside, or maybe lots of people, might act. Unlike us, they suffer Saddam daily.

And the caveats? Take the worst-case scenario. Saddam is overthrown, but the country splits into a Kurdish government in the north and an Islamist Shi’ite one in the south. The former would threaten Turkey. The latter would expand the reach of Iran. Perhaps diplomacy could manage it. Maybe not. The question is, considering the alternative, Would it be worth it?

Iran, too, would need to take a leap of faith. It currently helps Iraq violate the U.N. embargo against it. Iran opposes the entire U.S. presence in the Middle East, and it still backs Islamist rebels in Israel. Iran has been caught shipping arms to Islamist rebels in Lebanon; it backs Islamist regimes as far away as Khartoum. So, however, does Iraq. Closer to home, Iran, like most of Iraq’s other neighbors, fears the breakup of Iraq. Iraq’s northern neighbors all have disenfranchised Kurds.

Indeed, to win, Clinton would need to master Saddam’s game of divide and conquer. But any clear, concrete plan for removing Saddam would attract the interest of many groups and states. If anyone could unite such disparate forces, it is Saddam Hussein. He is a man who inspires hatred within his own family. In 1990, he killed a member of his own clan, General Omar al-Hazaa, after cutting out his tongue, for criticizing him. According to The Independent, the general’s nephew, Ra’ad, eventually joined forces with underground students to seek revenge. They attacked Saddam’s elder son, Uday, six years later, leaving him a paraplegic. A year before, Uday’s cousin, Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, had fled to Jordan with his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Saddam Kamel Hassan, and their families. The two men were each married to one of Saddam’s daughters. In exile, they called for his ouster. But on February 20, 1996, they returned to Iraq, thinking that as fathers of Saddam’s grandchildren they would be safe. Three days later, Uday and his security men killed them.

No one should underestimate Saddam again. Iran doesn’t. Last week Iraq’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf, traveled to Tehran. Afterward, Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, made an ambivalent statement that mirrors Clinton’s dilemma. He told Clinton not to bomb at the same time he told Saddam to let U.S. inspectors finish verifying the destruction of his chemical and biological weapons. Iran knows Saddam would use them if he could. He already has against Kurds as well as Iran. Even though everybody wants to, no one has figured out a viable way to ensure that Iraq never uses them again. Iran could be the card Clinton needs.

Research: Dan Levine

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In Praise of Graffiti: The Fire Down Below

In Praise of Graffiti: The Fire Down Below
December 24–30, 1980

John Lindsay hated graffiti. He vowed to wipe it off the face of the IRT, and allocated $10 million to its obliteration. But the application of vast resources is no match for disciplined determination, as we should have learned in Vietnam. Graf­fiti survived Lindsay’s defoliation plan, and it has thrived on every subsequent attempt to curb its spread.

In 1973, there may have been a few hundred ghetto kids writing in a few definable styles. Now thousands call themselves “writers.” They come from ev­ery social stratum and range in age from nine to 25. Their signatures — called “tags” — have transformed the subway into what the Times calls “some godawful forest.” And now that the perpetrators have moved above ground, trucks and elevators, monuments and vacant walls look as if they have suddenly sprouted vines.

It is, says Claes Oldenburg, “a big bouquet from Latin America.” It is, says Rich­ard Ravitch of the MTA, “a symbol that we have lost control.”

***

 

The great debate over graffiti, and what ought to be done about it rests on the assumption that its intention is to defile. “It’s the feeling that an antisocial element has been in the system and had its way,” says an MTA spokesman, defending his department’s annual $6.5 million an­ti-graffiti budget — money, after all, that might otherwise be used for repairs. The Times has rounded up the usual assort­ment of social workers and shrinks to bolster its contention that graffiti is “an effort to deal with deep feelings of fear by seeking out an experience that involves facing that fear.” Psychologists who treat these incipient felons “believe their pa­tients, virtually all of whom have less­-than-perfect relationships with their fathers, are intent on defacing his car, the car of authority.”

The casual rider might conclude that perp and victim share an inability to con­trol the danger in their lives. Says the indefatigable Ali, who, like many graffiti writers, has a ready capacity to articulate the ideas behind his work: “Graffiti takes away the placenta, and reminds people of how violent the subway is. The real van­dalism is what you’d see if you scraped the windows clean.”

The debate over graffiti has been con­ducted by people who are unwilling to decipher the message it conveys. Once you learn to interpret the medium, it becomes clear that no single intention is involved. Some kids do write to deface — to “bomb” a car, as they say; but the wholesale ob­struction of windows and maps is a sure way to perpetuate your status as a novice, what serious writers call “a toy.”

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Entering a graffiti zone — and these now include schoolyards, stairwells, and selected intersections — is like reading a newspaper. A writer can tell who has been there, which parts of the city are repre­sented, how long since the site has been buffed, and whether there are any star­tling innovations — “isms” — he wishes to incorporate. This communicative func­tion, says Ali, puts graffiti in “the griot tradition” of African storytelling — whether or not you grew up close to your dad.

But tagging is only the most elemen­tary form of graffiti, and the insides of cars are a practice zone in which aspiring writers fashion the techniques they will need to do “a piece” — i.e., masterpiece. The idea is to impose yourself on an entire car, to move from “a throw-up” to the carefully delineated blend of tints and lines graffiti writers call “a fade.” This riotous effect can be achieved on the car while the paint is wet, or in midair, when a writer sprays two cans at once to see the fade as it forms in the mist.

From the time a surface is sighted — ­usually a train laid up on the center track — it can take 12 hours to complete a piece. Often working from sketches prepared in advance, a writer and his “crew” may spend a weekend in tunnel light, drinking, smoking, listening to the radio. Most writers return with cameras to document their work, since the TA’s buffing ma­chines can reduce the most ambitious ef­fort to a swampy blur. In graffiti, the dimensions of space and time are beyond control. All things must pass, usually within a month.

There are two ways to look at this stuff. From the platform, mammoth letters roll by like frames in a stereopticon. Seen a block from the el, bands of color undulate like the tail of a kite: At that speed and distance, one becomes aware of how im­portant motion is to the spirit of graffiti. A willful transformation occurs as the rav­ished train is forced to boogie. The harder trick is to throw something up that looks good standing still.

Among writers, Lee is regarded as a master of freehand rendering, perhaps the first to execute a top-to-bottom, full-car design. But on the Lower East Side, where some graffiti aficionados are too young to frequent the subways, Lee is regarded as a prophet. He works anonymously, in the dead of night, covering handball courts with apocalyptic messages and monu­mental imagery. If you want to glimpse the future of this form, run right down to the playground on Madison Street, off Clinton. A bilious dragon awaits you, hov­ering over a skyline on the verge of erup­tion. Talk about Gulley Jimson: This vision was executed by a teenager with a ladder and a little paint.

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Iconography has figured in graffiti since the early ’70s, when Stay High pilfered the stick figure logo from The Saint and appended it to his tag. But a growing segment of this movement would like to see graffiti abandon representation for an open assault of color, a fauvism-on-wheels. Futura 2000, who took his name from a Ford, serves up a fade that resembles cosmic soup. Within this Day-Glo cauldron, triangles glide by — the edges carefully defined with the aid of masking tape — and clusters of circles that clearly suggest Kandinsky, perhaps because that’s where Futura first encountered these shapes.

Graffiti draws from every form of pictorial information that has entered the ghetto over the past 20 years: billboards, supergraphics, wall murals, underground comics, and custom car design. Sci-fi il­lustration — especially the lurid roman­ticism of Frank Frazetta and Vaughn Bode — was an early source of inspiration, but now that the most ambitious writers are taking classes in drafting and going to museums, there is a deliberate attempt to work in references to artists who command respect. Lost to the buffers now is Blade’s rendition of Edvard Munch’s scream, and Fred’s assemblage of Campbell’s soup cans. It is possible to imagine a car decked out to resemble something Jackson Pollack dreamt (although, to accomplish that, a writer would have to overcome the traditional graffiti disdain for drips). Or figures out of Klee riding shotgun on the IRT. These artists share with graffiti an interest in what Kandinsky called “the effect of inner harmony” in a childish line.

A writer appropriates an image made famous by an artist the way he in­corporates another writer’s line. It’s all out there, like cans of paint waiting to be “racked.” But image-theft is not the only reason writers raid the museums. A subway Munch raises the heady possibility that art can happen anywhere. Like conceptual art and Pop, graffiti questions the context in which art is appreciated. It renews the dream of work for its own sake, the idea of creation as a democratic process — in short, radical humanism. Ali speaks of “taking responsibility for your environ­ment” by creating a surface on a subway train. “The production of art,” wrote Jean Dubuffet in 1947, “can only be conceived as individual, personal, and done by all.”

There’s a lot of positive mythology floating around what some writers call “the graffiti community.” Aspiration runs high when you’re living in a project on Columbus Avenue, 10 blocks north of the gentry line. You walk into Fiorucci and mutter, I can draw like that. At the same time, there’s a feeling that graffiti is some sort of revolutionary act. A writer hauls out a book of Soviet art to show me photos of what he calls “a propaganda train.” These cars rumbled across the coun­tryside, decked out in heroic iconography designed by artists who were committed to the revolution. The graffiti writer is clear­ly impressed by one tableau, featuring a rising sun. “Look at that fade,” he sighs.

***

Graffiti is a setting from which art may emerge, as was rock ‘n’ roll back when ev­eryone on my block sang doo wop with an absurd intensity, and some of us got respect for it. Mourning John Lennon, it is hard to remember that rock musicians were once commonly regarded as delin­quents, or if you were liberal, rebels without a cause. The music didn’t cover up subway maps, but there was aggression to burn among its staunchest fans. Alan Freed was arrested after a riot at one of his shows, and charged with incitement to anarchy. Ten years later, the music inspired a more visionary insurrection.

SE3, a/k/a Haze looks a bit like Buddy Holly, black hair spilling over his brow — ­but neatly. The son of a West Side analyst, he took to the Bronx at an im­pressionable age, commuting to hang out. But to get over, he had to earn respect in the subway yards, swimming upstream with all the other toys. One night, SE3 was busted in the South Bronx. “We have your son on a graffiti charge,” said the cop at 4 a.m. The ride home from the station house was silent — like an iceberg — but the fric­tion it produced sent SE3 into exile at a school in Massachusetts. He was forced to pass up acceptances from the high schools of Art and Design, Music and Art, and Brooklyn Tech. In New England, he repressed his interest in graffiti, studied architecture, worked in oils; but once back on the pavement, SE3 returned to hanging out. He renewed the old connections — ­with Dondi, Crash, Zephyr, Futura, Ali­ — and began incorporating his fine-arts training into graffiti. This was like Buddy Holly playing the Apollo. SE3 had become what Zephyr calls “a pioneering white boy.”

The big lie is that graffiti is confined to “antisocial elements.” Increasingly, it is the best and brightest who write on sub­way walls, tenement halls. They travel in bands with names like Crazy Inside Art­ists (CIA), Children Invading the Yards (CITY), Rolling Thunder Writers (RTW), Out to Bomb (OTB). Unlike the news­paper that has called for their demise, these bands are racially integrated, which gives writers access to the same cross-­cultural energy that animates rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the graffiti sensibility has a musi­cal equivalent in “rap records” — another rigid, indecipherable form that can sus­tain great complexity. I’m sure Ali would agree that rap records are also part of the griot tradition.

For me, the real mystery about graffiti is why this generation has chosen to ex­press its ambitions in pictorial terms. The answer may lie in the changing nature of prestige in New York. This has become a visual city, with photography, video, and graphic design emerging as hip cultural forms, and with Soho replacing Greenwich Village as the paradigmatic neighborhood. Thousands of visual artists migrated to New York in the ’70s, many settling in high-graffiti neighborhoods. There is an unvoiced connection between these groups, as there was in the ’60s between bohemians and rock musicians. With little formal training or access to galleries, how does one get in on the art action? One shows on the subway.

***

“I sold a piece tonight. For $200.”

Futura is dressed in downtown formals — a white Lacoste over baggy black slacks and clean white sneakers. He’s accom­panied by his father, his cousin, and his girlfriend Rennie. They’re standing before a monumental fresco in a spray paint, bearing the unimpeachable Futura logo. The crowd is in a pre-Christmas, buying mood.

Sígame,” says 16-year-old Lady Pink, one of the few female writers to have earned respect. She leads her father, who is holding an Instamatic, by the hand. She wants him to take a picture of her piece­ — fluorescent orchids — which hangs next to one in which Ali has borrowed Stay High’s stick figure and placed it on a Dali cross. These canvases suggest the sentimentality graffiti is prone to when it tries to go imagistic, but also the extraordinary use of color, and that “effect of inner harmony” — is it in the paint, the way it’s applied? The secret is safe with Ali, who roams through the gallery in the baggiest of slacks, the floppiest of jackets, a chino rainhat, and wrap-around silver-slitted specs, cruising girls who could be Debbie Harry.

Clearly, this is not a typical opening at the New Museum, the visual extension of the New School annex, where you might expect to find an enigma in aluminum and sand but not an original Lee. Through January 8, however, the New Museum is throwing open its doors to Fashion Moda, an international art conspiracy located in the South Bronx. The resulting show is unlikely to strike Hilton Kramer as having anything to do with art. But New Wave is about cross-cultural referencing, if it is about anything. With its ghetto rep and its eclectic eye, graffiti is an authentic element in New Wave aesthetics. Says one artist, “It’s our reggae.”

The point of departure for “graffiti as an alternative to standard art” was pro­vided by a New Wave musician named Jean-Michel Basquiat, who joined forces with two friends a few years ago to tag Soho and the Village with phrases like the one above. Samo, as this crew called itself, combined rants against consumerism with assertions about textual ambiguity — all of it copyrighted. It’s unclear whether con­ceptual artists began picking up on Samo’s strategy, or whether Samo bor­rowed its m.o. from conceptual art. At any rate, a number of young artists are under­taking phantom installations that can only be called graffiti. Keith Haring began by drawing crawling people and dogs in black marker; lately, he has taken to em­bellishing Johnny Walker ads with flying saucers. Last summer, when Ronald Rea­gan spoke in the South Bronx, he pointed to a wall that said BROKEN PROMISES, and expounded at length on what could have driven the residents to write such a thing. The actual perpetrator was John Fekner, a conceptual artist who transfers phrases onto abandoned autos and tene­ment walls.

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When asked to comment on graffiti, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers were unavailable, but Andy Warhol con­fided, “I like it.” Curatorial types were also queried. “I have no feelings about it, one way or another,” said Thomas Hoving. “I really don’t know enough to make a statement,” added Alicia Legg at the Museum of Modern Art. When a photo from the series that accompanies this piece was submitted by MOMA’s publications department for use as a Christmas card, Kathleen Westin, co-chairman of the museum’s Junior Council, put her foot down. “I thought it was the most revolting idea that ever came up,” she volunteered. “The people who do graffiti ought to be shot at dawn.”

But a number of galleries — the Razor, the O.K. Harris, the 112 Workshop — have shown work by writers, and the movement may soon make its debut in Paris and on 57th Street, under the aegis of the Pierre Cardin galleries. There are at least three graffiti documentaries making the rounds of distributors, and New Wave filmmaker Charles Ahearn is now working on a film with Fred. Fred and Lee are stalwarts of the Fabulous Five, a group that writes on the number five line of the Lexington Avenue IRT. When I caught up with Fred, this 24-year-old veteran expressionist was en route to Milan, for a show at the Paolo Seno gallery. This is his second Italian exhibition; the first was warmly received by Unita, the Communist Party paper, which suggested that the Fabulous Five be hired to paint the Victor Emmanuel mon­ument (built by Mussolini and contemptuously known as “the wedding cake”).

“My art is like an artifact,” Fred says. “Like, the paintings I do, I want people to look at them as an art based on graffiti.” He has started reading Artforum. He has developed a fondness for Dada. He has cut a rap record. “With a little time and paint,” Fred says, “anything is possible.”

***

The Soul Artists, an amalgam of 21 writers, including many of the best to have surfaced underground, want the MTA to give them carte blanche on the outsides of cars. In exchange, they propose to regulate what goes on inside and to impose a ban on writing over windows and maps. Pas­sengers might welcome such a compromise — assuming it could be enforced, since graffiti inspires a lot of very independent toys. Imagine a contest in which the best artists select the most original designs submitted by graffiti writers, creating a new emblem for New York, attracting tourists from all over the world, and freeing millions of dollars now used to buff the stuff.

With or without the MTA’s coopera­tion, we may soon be inundated with graf­fiti, as the Soul Artists attempt to trans­pose the form onto fabric, video, posters. Writers are beginning to regard graffiti as something you can do on paper, or in a book. A lot of these kids carry “piece books,” the kind you used to whip out in high school for autographs at the end of the year. At special events like the New Museum opening, they stand around tag­ging each other — but not the walls. The best writers copyright their major pieces. Many carry portfolios; a few have even begun to buy their paint.

Though some writers would agree with Fred that “graffiti dies when it’s legal­ized,” the possibility of a career in fashion, graphic design, or even art is making in­roads into traditional assumptions about what graffiti is. Or might be. Graffiti may enter the commercial mainstream and bestow itself on haberdashery, like punk. Or its simultaneous discovery by artists and kids at large could change the way we think of public space. Imagine workshops dotting the ghettos, and in the quiche districts, thousands of otherwise benumbed adults taking to the streaks.

You can collect graffiti, wear graffiti, make graffiti. It’s not a form, but an attitude toward form. “Thunderism,” Fred calls it. Imagine! ■

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Where To See Graffiti

Given the MTA’s churlishness (a John Lennon memorial car, executed last week, has already been buffed), the best way to evaluate the potential of graffiti is to seek it out on walls. “Monumental graffiti works” by Lee are viewable on handball courts scat­tered across the Lower East Side: on Madison Street between Clinton and Montgomery, Cherry between Clinton and Montgomery, and Cherry between Pike and Market streets. The Bronx Graffiti Disco, on 204th Street and Jerome Avenue, features a facade by Crash, Medi, Mitch, and Noc. Con­nie’s Supermarket, at 148th Street and Brook Avenue (near Fashion Moda), has been embellished by Crash. Closer to quiche, Unique Clothing Warehouse on Broadway near Bleecker has a piece by Lee. And a half-dozen graffiti can­vases are at the New Museum, Fifth Avenue corner La Catorce. (If you’re driving home to — or past — Ohio stop at the Canton Art Institute, for an audio-visual graffiti spectacular, fea­turing photos by Henry Chalfant and a rap-tape by Fred.) R.G.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

A Sid Vicious Story

A Sid Vicious Story
October 23, 1978

Before last Thursday, what I always thought of whenever anyone mentioned Sid Vicious’s name was what a photogra­pher friend who’d been on the Pistols’ American tour said when I asked him what Sid was like. “A dying child,” he an­swered, rather nonchalantly I thought. “Just like a giraffe that holds open its mouth and you throw the pills up.”

Thursday, of course, I got a little more to consider. Sid and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen had been seen stumbling into the elevator on the way to Room 100 in the Chelsea Hotel be­tween 4 and 6 a.m. According to hotel manager Stanley Bard, they were “loners” who slept most of the day, and were out most nights till about this time: “I didn’t know anything; wasn’t he supposed to be a rock star or something? He was off his rocker: a nice, quiet, pleasant person, but he and his girlfriend were always bruised, and they were both always inebriated or high. I had told them I was gonna throw them out, because they had been knocking at other people’s doors when they came home at night and couldn’t find their own apartment.”

On the whole, it had not been a good week for 21-year-old Sid and 20-year-old Nancy, who were registered as Mr. and Mrs. John Ritchie (Sid’s real name). The preceding Sunday, their room on the second floor had gone up in flames when Sid fell asleep with a cigarette in his hand; that was when the man­agement moved them down to 100. On Tuesday, according to one tenant, “Sid and Nancy went down to pay the rent — I was in the lobby at the time — and Sid was sayin’ ‘I couldn’t hit it, man,’ right in front of him. Nancy fell down on the sidewalk ’cause they were on Quaaludes and chipped her tooth and cut herself that day. Later she called me up and asked could I find her anything — I’d hit Sid up once. He couldn’t find a vein, so I hit him through his scar tissue. That afternoon before that morning was when we saw them most — they were all over the hotel looking for Dilaudid. That’s when I realized the incredible tolerance they had for junk.”

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Apparently they didn’t find any — there is a lot of junk around those parts, but according to another tenant the couple were so desper­ate, and their tolerance so high, that they had no regular dealer; everybody agrees that he was on Tuinals, which are known to make you mean, the night that it happened.

About the time New Zoo Revue gives way to Bugs Bunny, a friend of Sid and Nancy named Neon Leon, who lives on the same floor and has recently made himself scarce, reportedly heard someone knocking on his door. It was Sid and Nancy, bearing their most prized possessions: Sid’s leather jacket, his two gold records, all kinds of Sex Pistols memorabilia and letters from Pistols manag­er Malcolm McLaren. They asked him to hold the stuff for them and went back to their room. A bit later Leon heard someone pounding desperately at his door, but didn’t answer — he told a neighbor that at that point he was frightened. “Of what?” wondered the neighbor.

No one is too clear about what happened then or for the next couple of hours, but at around 9:45 Sid, who later told lawyers that he couldn’t remember anything, dialed 911 and, according to the hotel desk, said, “Someone is hurt.” When the ambulance at­tendants arrived they found Nancy’s body, nude except for a black bra, under the sink in the bathroom. She had been stabbed in the stomach, and had hemorrhaged.” They called the police, who showed up and promptly ar­rested Sid for what turned out to be a charge of second-degree murder. “We think it was just an argument that started and went too far, like most homicides,” Detective Gerald Thomas told me that afternoon as his associ­ates booked Sid, whose pupils looked they were made of wax, in the next room. “I would hold him responsible for her demise, but I couldn’t say whether it was accidental or not.”

Then the press moved in.

Sid Vicious was christened John Simon Ritchie on October 5, 1957. He comes from a broken home. He got beat up regularly by gangs in the neighborhood, and didn’t get along so well with certain visitors to the household. He quit school at 15, claiming lat­er it bored him. While there he had become friends with one John Lydon, later renamed Rotten, and it was John who tagged him “Sid Vicious,” saying in a later interview that he did it as a joke because Sid was so much the other way, and bristled at the name Sid be­cause he thought it sissified. (“So now I’m stuck with it,” laughed Sid at the time.) When a rift developed early in 1977 between Rotten and Glen Matlock, original bassist for the Pistols, Sid was the obvious replacement: he’d only been playing bass, in emulation of his idol Dee Dee Ramone, for about six months, but Sid had so much charisma that he soon almost eclipsed Rotten. At times the latter seemed perhaps a little too cerebral, even paranoid, whereas Sid was hewn of more gutbucket rock-hero stuff. No one knew what he bragged most about — all the girls he’d fucked, all the junk he’d shot, all the money he’d borrowed, or how he’d kicked shit out of rock writer Nick Kent, who later wrote an admiring profile of Sid in New Musical Express.

But a lot of people think that in reality he’s plenty more Sid than vicious. “Sid had bare­ly even smoked grass before the Pistols’ first gig at the 100 Club [March 30, 1976],” says one New Wave artist, and his friend Stiv Ba­tors of the Dead Boys, calling him “generally a very sweet guy,” said that although he’d heard Sid had quite a reputation as a street fighter back in London, he’d never seen him make a violent move, in fact had witnessed Sid backing down from fights. “It’s his reputation,” explains Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. “He’s got this thing about his image that he like tries to impress on people. There were two couples down souf in this caf’, and this one guy says, ‘You think you’re really tough, don’t you, well how about this?’ And takes a cigarette and puts it out on his hand. So Sid says, ‘How about this?’ and takes his knife, slashes open his wrist, pours the blood on his cereal, and eats it. That was just the way ‘e was. ’E just did it to prove ’e was tough. He’d rather have a scar on ’is face and not have anybody laugh at ’im for the other thing.”

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All this must have impressed Nancy Spungen. From a well-heeled suburban Philadelphia family, she came to New York in 1975, gravitated to the people hanging around the Heartbreakers, supposedly started doing junk. When the Heartbreakers moved to London, she went with them — “to be a rock star’s girlfriend,” says one friend. She ended up with Sid. By most accounts, not only were they terrible for each other, but the relationship was epically destructive. Not many people on the punk scene have anything good to say about Nancy Spungen. “Sid said to me on the American tour that Nancy was the only woman he ever loved,” says Blondie publicist Roberta Bayley. “He was very poetic about it. I guess she was per­fect for him — they could beat each other up every night and nobody’d mind. They had real fights. Sid really liked to get hit, getting the shit beat out of him. But it wasn’t like real s&m — more kiddie stuff.” “He was a real masochist and she was real dominant,” says Punk magazine’s Elin Wilder, while Malcolm McLaren, gearing up to claim a sui­cide, avers, “She was a known masochist. Many times she committed various masochis­tic acts to attract his attention when it seemed he was going over her. She would make herself ill, cut her wrists.”

Things had been deteriorating for the two since the Pistols broke up last spring, and by the time they arrived in New York on August 23, they were nearing bottom. She was managing him now, and there were some who said that Sid didn’t even want to play his aw­ful gig at Max’s last month, that she made him. Meanwhile, he was getting beaten up regularly on his way to the methadone clinic, which everybody said was why he bought the knife that supposedly killed her. Stiv Bators was with him the day he bought the knife. “The last thing I remember him tellin’ me, two days before it happened, he said he’d been fucked with so much he wasn’t afraid of getting beat up anymore. Then we took a cab up to Times Square and the two of them bought identical knives, 007 Blades, at Playland.”

“Everyone hated her,” said a friend who’d known them in England and lived at the Chelsea. “They didn’t go out much; too sick all the time. When Sid played Max’s he was so sick from methadone he couldn’t even talk. I think the chances he didn’t do it are very high. They played with knives all the time, just stabbing each other lightly. She could have fallen on the knife. I think he cared about her more than he cared about himself. Nancy said in England that Sid would be sick himself before he’d let her be sick. Sexually they had a really normal, good relationship. That was the strong point — the rest of it was just games. They got so wound up in the punk image, so conscious of who they were because the media kept pushing them. Of course they loved it. When I saw them in England, they looked good. When I saw them at the Chelsea, it looked like she’d been run over by a truck, both of them were covered with bruises and sores, and Sid couldn’t even talk enough to say hello.”

She appears to have been simultaneously his lifeline and, according to most accounts, his ruler. One Chelsea tenant described being introduced to him by Bators: “I held out my hand and she shook it, shielding Sid.” One Max’s habitué described an incident during his gig there: “A girl stopped to talk to Sid in the hallway. He talked to her till Nancy came by and screamed, ‘FUCK OFF!’ He snapped, slugged the other girl, smashed her head against the wall, almost cracked it open.”

A neighbor describes them a couple of hours before Nancy died: “I was afraid to get in the elevator with them — I saw them at 4 a.m. before it happened — not because of vio­lence but because I was afraid they’d vomit or fall down on me. He didn’t even look like he could lift a knife.”

Almost everyone who knew them on the punk scene feels that it was probably either an accident or suicide, but some of the Chel­sea Hotel’s other residents are inclined to look to the environment itself. “I’m scared to death,” said one woman. “People come into my room when I’m sleeping at night. We’ve heard them. They take your stuff when you’re not around; when they hear we’re here, they slam the door and run. Plus they don’t have anyone who asks what you want at the desk — anyone can walk in here and do anything. The police should close this place down, or at least investigate it and the man­ager a little more thoroughly. The maids are freaking out constantly — they’re always finding things like manure and blood in the rooms. You can come in here at 4 a.m. and nobody asks you where you’re going. This is dangerous. If somebody wanted to get in this room they could, because the door frame is loose, and so is the window shutter.

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“Who knows if Sid Vicious killed that girl? Everybody knows they had a lot of money. You could see big wads of it in her open purse while she wandered around on the nod. They always paid their rent in cash, and they were always dropping it in the lobby — even my eight-year-old daughter referred to him as ‘the man that’s always got a lot of money in his hand.’ My friend was coming up here that night and saw them — said they were all lovey-dovery. That girl was killed on the first floor — how come nobody heard her screaming? We don’t think Sid Vicious did it either, and if he didn’t, we wanna know because that killer might still be running around.”

Another tenant says: “My first flash was somebody came to the door and she opened it. I told Stanley I didn’t wanna be on the third floor or below, because that’s where most of the junkies are. He said, ‘What’s the matter with the third floor? I have 32 foreign-­language students staying down there.’ I guess he figured out that the junkies can walk up and down to the first three floors and not bother the other tenants in the elevators. But I don’t trust the employees either. I’ve seen ’em take money from people checking in at 5 a.m., and say ‘You have to leave at noon,’ and then just pocket the money. A girl on the —— floor finally put her own lock on her door because the bellboys kept coming in and out stealing cocaine and grass, finally stealing jewelry. She said, ‘That’s it, a joint now and then is cool, I don’t even mind the cocaine, but the jewels…’ Don’t put in the article what floor she’s on. One reason I’m saying that is because of my own paranoia of the employees. I don’t wanna get robbed myself.”

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While I was there I made one last attempt at contacting Neon Leon. I phoned his room and a male voice answered. He said that he’d given Leon my previous message, but that Leon wasn’t talking to anybody. “Do you know anything?” I asked.

“Them and one other party were in the room,” he said. “I know who it was but I don’t wanna say.”

“Was it a dealer?”

“I’m not sayin’ any more,” he snapped, and hung up.

On Friday, bail was set at $50,000, and Malcolm McLaren flew in. Sid spent the weekend detoxifying at Rikers Island, and by the time you read this McLaren should have him out. Malcolm says that a new Sid Vicious record produced by Steve Jones, supposedly to pay his legal fees, will be in the works “as soon as he’s capable. I’ve got a film of Sid from our movie that I’m going to show to the TV people over here, and what you will see in there is a tremendously charismatic per­former. I don’t think any of this is as clear­cut as it’s being made out to be. Is he inno­cent? Of course he is. Until proven guilty.”

A young woman is dead. I don’t care. You probably don’t care. The police don’t care. The papers don’t care. The punks for the most part don’t care.

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The only people that care are (I suppose) her parents and (I’m almost certain) the boy accused of murdering her. I have no idea whether he did it or not. I do think that they both wanted to die, and now she is dead, and I don’t imagine he cares much about living. Such a compliant sacrifice seems somehow unworthy of all this public attention — think of the scene in The Chelsea Girls where the S girl says of the bound M man, “This is no fun, he’s enjoying it too much!” — until you think of Gary Gilmore and remember how banal and straightforward this bloodlust is.

The only reason anybody much is interest­ed in this homicide in the first place is that he’s famous, and is supposed to stand for something. But since almost no one really cares about whatever it is he stands for — these little nerds yelping “please kill me” were gonna threaten this society? — we’re left with celebrity: Sid Vicious isn’t famous be­cause of the Sex Pistols (the American public cared about their music, much less what their lyrics were saying?), or even because he’s ac­cused of killing somebody — Sid Vicious is fa­mous now because he was semi-famous before.

Sid Vicious is a patsy. He should have been in the Stooges. A lot of people think he was used by the Sex Pistols organization; a lot of people think he still is being exploited. But that was nothing in comparison to what a great scapegoat he makes now. A case like this certainly does bring out the best in people.

Thursday night I went down to Max’s to see if I could find anybody who’d known Sid and Nancy. That was where I met Trixie Plunger. She works in a boutique called Re­venge, looks like she just slid out of a bin filled with flour and soot where she spent the last six months watching endless replays of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and told me: “I actually think it’s kind of cool. I really liked her, but it’s cool that him having the reputation he does he stabbed his girlfriend and she’s dead.”

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Trixie is no more typical of the people you meet on the punk scene than Sid and Nancy were, but quotes like that certainly are help­ful at moving products of various kinds. Saturday Night Live has already whipped up a Sid Vicious joke. “Free Sid Vicious” signs are appearing. There’s a picture of him at Bleecker Bob’s with “Mack the Knife” writ­ten on it. I’ve heard about one woman who has tapes of his sets at Max’s and is looking to get them pressed.

Meanwhile, Punk magazine had its annual awards ceremony Friday night and a party at a new club afterwards. Everybody had a great time, and what Sid Vicious talk you did hear mostly centered around how the public reaction to what happened Thursday at the Chelsea and in the papers since was going to affect the rest of them. Tish of Manic Panic and the Sic Fucks found out when she left the bar that night. A bunch of kids from the suburbs drove up, jumped out of their car, and surrounded her and her friends. One guy made an obnoxious sexual overture and she told him to get lost, so he gave her a right to the jaw that put her in the hospital.

Punk-bashing? It beats toga parties cold.