Eulogy for a Graffiti Writer
TIE ONE -- June 19, 1979-March 18, 1998SAN FRANCISCO -- Tie loved graffiti. He lived graffiti. Writers will say they live graffiti or graffiti is their life, but they are lying to themselves. Graffiti for them is a part of their life but it is not their life. Tie found what he lived for and he was killed for doing it.Graffiti permeated this 18-year-old body like soy sauce soaks into rice. Tie's veins flowed with permanent ink; with Rustoleum paint; with pure, unrestricted self-expression. Graffiti's loud and angry reaction to the backward system in which we live sprang from every step he took.Tie's response is seen -- on the bus, on the walls, in doorways, over stop signs, on billboards, on overpasses, even on police paddy wagons. He cared not to be confined by authority, by categories and limitations, by the risk of another beating him in defense of his pride, by the walls of separation that the ruling class constructs in grids that attack our psyches.Tie bounced off these walls. Hit-ups looking like horizons just altered and diagonal planes invaded our spectrum of sight -- big with a fat cap and whipped out in seconds, like rampaging elephants, round and bold, over windows, over entrance ways, poles -- what have you -- he bombed. Making a mockery of this bureaucratic world of ridiculous and humiliating laws, of this power structure and its home. Tie was that big rash the beast despised the most.This beast battled Tie hard with paint buff squads and good Samaritan "keepers of the state" who took it on their own initiative to shut up this one youth from ever speaking his mind. But he won. Even after the system took him out, he is up everywhere, on the streets and in our hearts.Tie's last piece had a message on it. It said "The joy of life." People have been taught how to kill, but Tie told the world to live. What was he doing that was so wrong? Perhaps feeling his own heart, responding to his gut-felt soul voice. Is this what was so dangerous?When I think of Tie, I think of his pain. I think of his family. But I also see a smile that told a story of life's acceptance -- a smile that stretched longer than the Great Wall of China. I see a spiritual man-child who walked in prayer everywhere, with Buddhist prayer beads around his neck, a strong and complete pride in his Chinese ancestry and a mind that thought justice before peace.Tie always gave thanks. But he was steamed, too, "like a steamed (BBQ pork) bun," he would say, and he started getting that up, spelled "SEO," a transliteration of the Chinese character -- meaning he was angry, pressure-cooked with thoughts and frustrations.Tie chose to be a rebel. He even looked like Luke Skywalker, the Jedi knight on a speeder bike with his knit cap beanie and brim. His rebelliousness made him an enemy of the state, which labeled him a vandal, a criminal, a gangster, one of those good-for-nothing youth that cause trouble, the kind they'd rather jail or kill.Tie was not an intruder. He carried no threat, and he did not deserve a .38 slug in the back of the head. He was climbing the ladder to "fame" -- a principle highly regarded as the "American thing to do." He was climbing to scream his presence -- "I am here!" -- and stake a claim as a free person in this jail called America.What other writer do you know who took the bus across America to the graffiti Mecca of New York, picking the route with the most stops just so he could bomb along the whole way? Who do you know who ever survived getting shocked by the third rail? What writer ran from cops after getting up -- jumping off a building breaking both of his legs, then covering himself in the snow to escape getting busted? What writer got the utmost respect from Queens and Kings coast to coast and paid his dues to writing graff? What writer did you ever know who said, "I got nothing to lose!" and would scream at you to go out and do the same?"BOMB, SPIE, BOMB!" he said to me with a passion of expectation as he left to carry on his journey. I thank you Jon, TIE ONE. You taught me a lesson in living up to my full potential and I love you for that. You are forever young, and in your memory we will not ever give up the fight.Spie, the author, lives and "writes" in San Francisco.