Friday, January 11, 2013

The Biter's Book - Stay Up! Los Angeles

Whenever an underground genre begins to achieve some mainstream fame, then carpetbaggers and opportunists will try to make a buck or a name off of that genre.  Just like LA's mad street art rush of 2011 saw a wave of 'Fame Banger' artists, that is, artists interested more in using art to get famous rather than making art, the momentary mainstream success also brought with it folks from outside the genre attempting to capitalize on street art.

M&F was first approached by Jim Daichendt in 2011.  Jim had contacted us and told us that he was working on a book on Los Angeles street art.  He asked if M&F would be willing to meet with him for the book.  We agreed and spent a morning walking the streets with Jim, telling him our thoughts on the scene, and hearing who he had talked to so far and what they thought, and what he had gathered for his book so far.  Jim told us that he reads M&F every day and that M&F is his main source for information. 

We told Jim at the time that we loved how he was writing a book about the genre.  We believe, and still do, that anything that pushes the genre forward pushes all parts of it forward.  Everyone benefits when something good happens, and we still maintain that.  So M&F has been pretty surprised the way that things played out.

After our first meeting, as Jim was composing the book, he continued to follow M&F.  Jim would contact M&F when he had a question, and even sent over rough draft pages of his book for feedback.  M&F responded and helped out in every way that we could.  We were fully supportive of Jim and his book all during the working stages.  However, we told Jim that although we understand there can be different opinions in any genre, the names he kept name dropping made us uncomfortable, so we encouraged him to push ahead with his book, but asked that he do so on his own and keep M&F's name out of it.  At the time, Jim never told us the title of his book, and so M&F was absolutely stunned when we received a press release hyping the release of his book entitled  'Stay Up! Los Angeles'.  

Followers of M&F already understand the reference in terms of the blog and the relationship does not need explaining.  But for those who don't regularly check the blog, it is commonly known that 'Get Up! Stay Up!' is M&F's catch phrase.  Not only that, but M&F uses the term 'Stay Up!' as a signature commendation on the blog when we see something we dig.  It is how we sign all of our emails, even those we sent to Jim.  And, more specifically, the exact phrase 'Stay Up! Los Angeles~' is placed by M&F at the close of any major essay or any time when the blog is addressing the community at large in Los Angeles.  Basically, to sum it up, the phrase 'Stay Up! Los Angeles!' has such a strong relationship to the blog that the title suggests that M&F plays some sort of official role or endorses the book--M&F does not.

Our eyebrows were raised after hearing Jim's book title.  Then we started receiving a few emails from well meaning supporters congratulating M&F on what they thought was our new book.  At this point, M&F's Editor-in-Chief Greg sent Jim an email saying in a very nice way --WTF? Why Did You Title Your Book That!?:

 (pardon the length but everything is relative to the discussion and it didn't seem anything should get cut)  

From Greg to Jim in fall of 2011:

I guess more people have been starting to hear about your book--congratulations again.  The funny thing is that I have received a few emails from people congratulating M&F on the book, thinking from the title that this was somehow a M&F book.  

I don't know your direct influences for choosing the title, and M&F did not coin the term 'Stay Up' but the blog did thrust it forward as a mantra both as a feature title (Get Up, Stay Up!) and again as a nod of encouragement (Stay Up!).  The inspiration for that motto came when I wrote the song Graffiti Saved My Life.  It actually was written as a raggae song, and the 'Get Up, Stay Up' refrain was inspired by Bob Marley's lyrics 'Get Up, Stand Up', and I thought that the graffiti version captured the revolutionary style.

I think it is awesome that members of the street art community have responded to the call.  And even if perhaps it wasn't meant this way, I take  your selection of the title as a compliment to M&F's representation of the Los Angeles streets.  I think you are a great writer, with great ideas, and I do like that part of the association.

On the other hand, as I have mentioned to you before, I do have problems with some of the sources that you mentioned and I don't like people thinking that M&F is involved with a book that pushes forward people with agendas that the blog does not agree with.  I guess I will have to read it to see, but I fear your book celebrates the sell-outs.

A lot of people who have never met me are convinced that I am an asshole, and even some who know me might still agree.  But there is a big difference between getting called an asshole for standing up for something that you believe is right, and trying to protect and defend a certain community, which is what M&F has always tried to do.  I am okay for being called an asshole for doing what I think is right. But there are different kinds of assholes, and the types of assholes who scam members of the community, or try to manipulate art for false financial gain, or artists who are abusing the streets to get into a gallery--these are the worst kind of assholes and the ones I have heard you mention, and this is why the name association does bother me with the book.

Stay Up?'

Jim completely dodged the question at hand as to the title of his book.  Instead, he responded with a short email saying that he was confident once M&F read the book we would see that is not the case.  He asked if he could send M&F a book for review.  That book has never arrived, and we have yet to be proven otherwise.  

Instead, what we have seen is a discouraging trend of Jim continuing to borrow from M&F and present the watered down ideas as his own.  For example, just two weeks after M&F posted a feature showcasing a new Bankrupt Slut piece entitled 'Slut - Its a good thing!', Jim copied the essence of the feature and reused it as his own.  M&F's post pointed out that words like gay and queer were once used as an insult, but that has changed and those words are are now a badge of pride.  M&F's post wrote that slut should also undergo a similar change so that a slut is a good thing.  Well, less than a week and a half later Jim wrote in an article publicizing 'Stay Up! Los Angeles' saying how the term 'geek' has changed from and insult into a good thing.  

Even though we still haven't seen a full copy of 'Stay Up! Los Angeles' we can say that while the book purports to be about street art, the most thing 'street' about 'Stay Up! Los Angeles' are the pictures and when it says 'Street Art' in the title.  The main theory in the book is an attempt to convince the high brow institutions of art, the galleries and museums that street art is indeed and actually art.  Those who follow the action on the streets don't need any convincing.  We already know this.  Besides, you can't convince institutions that something is worthwhile, they have to be shown.  

M&F's view is that the best way to make a name and get famous is to make your own fame.  We believe that street art and graffiti will continue to grow to the point where this genre will be the biggest in the world.  Once graffiti and street art reach that level, galleries and museums will be clamoring over each other to get a piece of the action.  Even if some opportunists do try to cash in on our fame, we are going to keep it real on our end and M&F aims to enjoy marinating in this relatively 'pure' stage before street art goes completely mainstream, joins the institutions, and completely sells out.  Look at punk.  Look at skateboarding.  Look at any once underground genre.  Success and the subsequent sell out will happen.  So why hurry it along?  M&F believes the larger point is that street art and graffiti belong on the streets where street art and graffiti compose an active, living and evolving genre.  Who cares about institutions? The galleries and museums are welcome to buy, sell and display the carcass of the street art genre after its dead.  

Jim is a professor at the University of Azusa, a christian college in a city whose name, according to Jack Benny, refers to 'everything from A to Z in the USA'.  Apparently they wanted some street art in there, too.  The University of Azusa is not an academic powerhouse, and yet Jim seems to be trying to leverage his book into being able to present himself some sort of authority on the subject.  You can't blame a guy for trying, but any opportunist self-proclaimed expert in any genre should be questioned and asked, what makes this person an authority?  

Jim has no background in the street art genre.  He has written many other books but this is his first on the subject.  Jim literally became interested in it only a couple of short years ago, which is decidedly enough time to get your bearings for sure, but not enough to become an authority.  There have been grumblings from members of the community who have purchased and looked through a copy of 'Stay Up! Los Angeles'.  Some people have questioned the curation of the book and questioned why some things were included in the book and other things left out.  While some of this can be expected any time someone releases something that is supposed to encompass a genre, this book feels particularly suspect.  But really, when you know the history and Jim's short relationship with the genre, who can be surprised?  His last book, written a year before this one is entitled 'Artist Scholar: Reflections on Writing and Research'.  Jim Daichendt is less of an expert on street art and more of an expert on writing.  His 'knowledge' of the street art is a rehashed, watered down version of M&F, and Jim's attempt to bridge from street art to institutions seems misguided and wholly unnecessary.  

M&F is sorely disappointed to write this type of review.  We actually like Jim as a person and we wanted this book to be a good thing for the community at large.  Its why we put it off writing a review for so long.  For months, really.  We want the scene to grow together and really wish we could have written a positive review.  We kept hoping and waiting for something to redeem the situation and change our minds.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Bottom line: we are glad that there is a book covering the street art in Los Angeles, however, it would have been better if the focus of a street art book were on the streets, and not pandering to the institutions.  'Stay Up! Los Angeles' is the carpetbagger's version of LA street art, and the title is a straight attempt to steal the thrust of leverage that M&F has built around the scene.  It is a biters book, and it makes M&F want to replace the exclamation point with a question mark.  Stay Up? Los Angeles. 

That said, the best part about 'Stay Up! Los Angeles' is the photography.  The incomparable Lord Jim provided the photos for the book, and you can check out his work anytime, for free, over on Lord Jim's Flickr Account.

If you want the real deal and not a watered down static version, keep visiting MELROSEandFAIRFAX. It doesn't cost anything.  Its free.  You don't have to buy a thing.  The only thing we ask is that you don't sell out~

1 comment:

  1. The book has a great preface by SMEAR, great pics by LORD JIM, the rest of the writing is meh. They left out a lot of legit artists while giving some of the ones they included multiple entries. That being said, I'm hoping the powers that be at MELROSE and FAIRFAX will produce a book that is more inclusive, knowledgeable, and exciting. We know you must have some great behind the scenes stories as well.