Friday, June 25, 2010

Meet the Original Stay High 149? I ain't buying it.

A few weeks back this video by Steven Hager of High Times Magazine came onto my radar.

It is an interview with Luis Berrios. Most of you in New York's urban art community are probably aware of the fact that Berrios is claiming that he wrote STAY HIGH 149 before Wayne Roberts did.

Initially it piqued my interest, but only for its trivial if not amusing nature. But, after giving the deal a bit more thought, It really got under my skin.

From my perspective there are several big holes in Berrios' story. First up, when Berrios came on the the scene in the late '80s early '90s he told several writers who were active at the time that he was STAY HIGH 149, but he neglected to tell them that he was NOT the STAY HIGH that became famous on the subway, in New York Magazine and in Norman Mailer's Faith of Graffiti. The fact that he waited until the 2000s when Roberts came back on the scene to make the distinction is suspicious.

Second thing is when Roberts came back he would occasionally append his tag with "Since 1969'". I found it odd that Berrios did not begin to claim to have started writing in 1966 until after the Roberts "Since 1969'" tags began to appear.

The few supporters that Berrios has--few of which are writers, by the way--state that Berrios has nothing to gain because he admits Roberts made the name famous. On the contrary, Berrios has plenty to gain. STAY HIGH 149 is one of the most, if not the most celebrated and influential tags in New York's history. There is plenty of glory to be had in saying you played even a minor hand in creating it. In the graffiti world an individual has to devote significant time and effort to earn a place in history, even as a footnote.

STAY HIGH is a common nick name in the hood. There are dozens of them. Just like all the CHINOs, SHORTY WOPs, LIL MANs and BLACK BOYs, there are plenty of STAY HIGHs. Perhaps Berrios did write STAY HIGH. I won't contest that, but there is only one STAY HIGH 149 and that's Wayne Roberts... Voice of the Ghetto!

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