All finished! Congratualtions to our very pumped winners: Jessica and Monica.
So we know you want to hang out with Henry Rollins, check out some concert posters, listen to Go-Go and hardcore and reminisce on the ‘real’ DC of the 1980s. Problem is the party was way sold out before you got the chance to buy your tickets. Bummer. But wait– surprise! We decided to give away a few final tickets. Yes, we do love you. So how to score these golden tickets?
Option #1: Follow @CorcoranGallery on Instagram before noon today. We will announce one randomly selected (read: lucky!) winner at 1pm.
Like ‘Kilroy Was Here’ to G.I.s of the second World War, the three words Cool “Disco” Dan resonate in the memories of Washington, D.C. residents in its most difficult ‘Murder Capital’ years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The
name, if not the man behind it, became legend, a symbol of survival of the city’s most difficult years. It was a graffiti nickname, written in marker and spray paint throughout Washington, D.C., clear and legible, never fancy. Any resident of Washington, whether young or old, stick-up kid or Congressman, couldn’t help but be intrigued by its omnipresence. Who was this Cool “Disco” Dan?
Cool “Disco” Dan is an anomaly: He lived in tough neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, D.C. during the height of the crack era, yet he never took or sold drugs. Though his father was abusive and died young, Dan was raised by a stable family, and only as a young adult did he become homeless. He witnessed at short range the spiraling street violence of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that earned D.C. the dubious title of America’s “Murder Capital”—yet Dan was gun shy and hated to fight.
At the same time, Cool “Disco” Dan was an enthusiastic member of Gangster Chronicles, one of the most notorious of the District street gangs. In an era when gangs and crews (the terms are fairly interchangeable to Dan) were demonized, due to the brutal 1984 murder of Catherine Fuller by the notorious 8th and H Crew, Dan wanted in. The crews offered too much of a reputation boost to pass up. And so did graffiti.
“Graffiti is a good way to get out of hard times, and I wanted to be big. Like big big,” he says. “I wanted people from out of town talking about me as much as people in town.”
Graffiti was really where Dan wanted to make his mark. He saw his heroes writing their names—such as R.E. Randy and Sir Nose 84—and wanted to be among them. Gradually, he wrote his name enough to get their attention, and to meet these street legends himself. But Dan took it farther—much farther—than any of them. “Writing was like my girlfriend,” he laughs.
By the early ‘90s, Cool “Disco” Dan was D.C.’s biggest underground celebrity after painting his moniker all over the city until it seemed as though no wall, rooftop or street sign had been forgotten. He wrote on every Metro bus, and took his name to every neighborhood, crossing socio-economic boundaries in a way that no other graffiti writer in the city had ever done. He was obsessed with making a name for himself with graffiti street fame, but at the same time hated the attention he got for it—including being sent in and out of institutions by his mother as they tried to deal with him throughout his teenage years.
Despite the name, Dan doesn’t like disco music. The soundtrack to the story of Cool “Disco” Dan isn’t disco, but the Go-Go beat, a fusion of funk and hip-hop largely overlooked outside of the Beltway. With big names like Chuck Brown, E.U., Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, Junkyard Band, and Dan’s favorites, Class and Ayre Rayde, these Go-Go bands were some of the biggest names in town, yet they stayed local. Their shows were a sweaty, continuous beat, and a place where the Washington, D.C., community came together, both in peace and violence.
In the mix of the story of Cool “Disco” Dan are other fellow legends of Washington, D.C. The crack lord Rayful Edmond III, who led a $300 million-a-year operation at age 24, was king of the town, and provided the personal style blueprint for a generation of non-drug-dealing individuals to follow. And of course the other king of the town, Mayor Marion Barry, whose years of womanizing and drug use led to his downfall, though to most of Washington, he was still Mayor for Life.
Dan is as much a fixture of Washington, D.C., as anyone, and it’s his city. He knows the city like no one else: Even today, he has a better knowledge of D.C.’s streets and back alleys than any cab driver’s, yet he’s never had a driver’s license. From the time he was 19 years old, he was homeless, largely by choice, for the majority of his adult life. Yet he made himself so much a part of his city that his spray-painted name is on permanent display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, that he is a starring presence in the current exhibit Pump Me Up, and the subject of the new documentary film The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan.
Most importantly, the legions of his peers who are dead, incarcerated, or utterly adrift all speak to who Cool “Disco” Dan truly is: a survivor who made it out alive. And in the process, he became a legend. Cool “Disco” Dan’s story is the story of the Washington D.C., completely bypassed on school field trips, that gentrification has all but erased and whitewashed—the real Washington, D.C.
This weekend also hosts the world premiere of the new documentary “The Legend of Cool ‘Disco’ Dan” at AFI Silver Theater. Three screenings have fully sold out, but a fourth showing was just added on 3/1 @ 9:45pm. We recommend snagging your tickets right away! And check out this Washington City Paper article for a look into “The Making of The Legend of Cool ‘Disco’ Dan“ and to watch the trailer.
In the photograph, a girl, maybe fifteen years old, crouches against a wall, trash scattered around her. Her pose is stiff and rehearsed—contrived to show off the handgun she points skyward with her right hand, the fan of cash in her left, and her gleaming white sneakers. But even more than her carefully selected props, the girl calls attention to the writing scrawled on the wall behind her. The words “Cool Ass Lisa of the World ” hover above her pointed gun. Even more than her money and clothes, the tag affirms her status. When she is gone, her name will remain.
It is a cliché to say you live by your name in Washington, D.C. Yet as much as that has always been true for the politicians and lobbyists involved in the official business of the nation’s capital, during the 1980s it was of critical concern to people living in the shadows of that business. Pump Me Up explores the various local subcultures during this period and the ways that artists, musicians, and ordinary people strove to make their name, and their mark, on the city.
Exhibition curator Roger Gastman describes how, in the wake of the riots of 1968, Washington was a burned-out city, with entire streets vacated, huge segments of the population having fled for the suburbs. Relatively empty and outside of the official spotlight, the city was a blank slate waiting to be filled. People rushed to fill the void, in a sort of primal assertion of their presence—a desire to be recognized.
Graffiti writers scratched and sprayed their names on buildings, rooftops, and on the sides of buses. People in the audiences of Go-Go concerts waited for their names to be called out by the band, a sign that they had “arrived.” Vacant buildings around the city were colonized by artists in search of studio and gallery space. Musicians occupied empty warehouses, practicing and playing impromptu gigs. Bands and promoters blanketed walls and lampposts with posters printed by the Globe Poster Company, colorful and ubiquitous announcements of performances.
Riders on the Metro’s Red Line during the 80s remember COOL “DISCO” DAN’s tag appearing from one end of the line to the other, new examples popping up seemingly every day in rich neighborhoods and poor, seen by businessmen and cleaning women, bridging geography and class. Dan recalls,
“I was just getting my name up. That was my first priority… I had to be where the scene was. It was all about getting up, going to the Go-Go’s, getting your name on Go-Go tapes, letting everyone know who you were.” The physical landscape of the city was transformed by the actions—and the drive—of COOL “DISCO” DAN and others.
Pump Me Up explores the landscape and the culture of this period—Go-Go, graffiti, punk, hardcore, graphic design, fine art, and the heady relationships between them.
Through the exhibition and book, Pump Me Up attempts to pull these threads together—to examine their relationships as well as their uniqueness, and to understand how what was happening in D.C. stands alone as much as it relates to what was going on around the country. This exploration could not happen at a better moment, when time provides enough distance to see the era clearly but when memories are still fresh enough to allow firsthand recollections. As an art school and a museum in the center of Washington, the Corcoran could not help but be a part of it what was going on during the 80s. Many of the most prominent artists and musicians, including Cynthia Connolly, Jeff Nelson, and Robin Rose, studied, played, and showed their art at the Corcoran. The Corcoran was fortunate to be a part of the scene at the time, and is honored to help look at it anew now.
PHOTO: Ronald Bladen, The X (installation view), 1967.
When William Wilson Corcoran founded this institution in 1869, he set forth a bold and enduring vision. However, he could not have imagined the shape that vision takes today–or the many ways that “Genius” is transmitted. In this forum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Corcoran College of Art + Design, and members of our community post thoughts, opinions, and observations about the collection, exhibitions, programs, classes, art making, and the world at large.
What will Unveiled unveil?
For starters, insights that are more in-depth than 140 characters, a Pin, or a Facebook post. Unveiled offers a space to convene conversations about art and innovation, and to provide inside access to the experiences and interactions that define the Corcoran community. Unveiled’s launch coincides with the exhibition Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, but over time it will come to embrace all (or nearly all) of the many activities at the Corcoran.
to illustrate the 2010 White House Holiday Guide Book, the first published under the Obama administration. Congratulations to Roberta Bernstein, Wendy Cortesi, Leslie Exton, Charlotte Fremaux, Vicki Malone, Kappy Prosch, Eva-Maria Ruhl, and Ellen Saunders.