The Library

Taking The Train

Joe Austin
[Columbia University Press]

We’ve all seen graffiti adorning the walls near our houses, lighting up drab walls and boring train journeys, but unless you’re really interested, you won’t know much about the history of writing. And that’s where this tome comes in, because it charts the rise of simple tagging of a neighbourhood to the full scale bombing of subway trains and the writers’ battle with the various Mayors of New York.

What is most impressive about this book is that Austin is able to keep the pacing and narrative interesting and easy to read, despite having to explain sociological reasonings behind the writers’ efforts and go into detail about the various institutions that were trying to rid the subways of what they considered to be aggressive vandalism.

Starting in the late 1960s and moving through to the mid-to-late 1980s, Austin goes through the first and second “wars” on writing, which saw huge amounts of money being spent trying to rid the city of murals and tags, despite huge unemployment and housing problems needing the money. Graffiti was targeted as the reason for the citizens leaving in droves, but Austin maps out the truthful reasons, including a look at how New York’s economic plight compared to the rest of the USA.

I was deeply interested in the history of writing, and excerpts from magazines and papers from the time as well as interview clips from the various kings of writing enable the story to be told by the people involved, rather than having to speculate. Though the author is extremely pro-graffiti and makes this clear throughout, it is a great read to see just what problems this youthful art culture caused for stiff Government officials and middle-to-upper class citizens, even when graffiti became a brief favourite of the art galleries.

Thankfully, graffiti continued and grew stronger thanks to its community, and this book is a brilliant at showing how powerful this movement was, and still is. A definite must for anyone interested in the hip hop culture and art.