When COOL DISCO DAN walks into a room, no one notices. As one of the world's most prolific graffiti writers, DAN wouldn't have it any other way.
This idol of Washington D.C. graffiti is a medium-sized 5'6" and wears dark clothes all the time. He hardly ever speaks, and when he does, his voice is quiet and subdued. It seems, however, that DAN's demeanor is premeditated, as his multi-decade graffiti career has depended on his ability to slink into highly populated places, bust a tag, and slip out without being noticed. This formula propelled DAN to starry heights in the graffiti world; DAN was so popular that The Washington Post thought it appropriate to publish a lengthy personal exposé on the quiet graffiti writer who grew up in Southeast and began writing graffiti in '84. The piece highlighted DAN's upbringing in the turbulent streets of Southeast and his overwhelming desire to garner attention that was a by-product of his father's death.
By the 90s DAN's name covered walls all over the D.C. Metropolitan area and he was well-known even to laypeople who didn't know the difference between Krylon and Rusto. DAN was even admired by some police officers, who turned the other way when they came across DAN on the street. DAN's original influence, however, was the Southeast D.C. Go-Go music scene. To anyone living outside of D.C., the term Go-Go conjures the spirit of Belinda Carlisle and such popular hits as "Vacation." But D.C. Go-Go music is anything but Belinda Carlisle. No, D.C. Go-Go music is George Clinton, Notorious B.I.G., and fifteen Congolese drummer boys all tossed into a blender. In other words, Go-Go is like tribal-flavored hip-hop, a hodgepodge of congas and other exotic drums overlaid with funky bass lines, rapping, and R&B-style singing. It is tremendously popular only in D.C., and COOL DISCO DAN met his first graffiti influences at the Go-Go shows where all the other Go-Go graffiti writers congregated before bombing.
DAN distinguished himself early by hitting up the Metro buses with reckless compulsion. He rarely attended school (and dropped out before starting high school) in order to go bombing. DAN figured he could gain recognition for showing his simple talent of writing his name on walls, lots of walls.
DAN ran with a Go-Go crew named FFC (FURIOUS FIGHTING CREW). This crew was less interested in bombing and more interested in fighting, but in the early 90s, when many of FFC's original members had been murdered or incarcerated, DAN changed the purpose of the crew from fighting to graffiti and expanded FFC's reach to all parts of D.C., not just Southeast. This transition proved immensely successful for DAN and FFC, as the crew became one of the most visible during the graffiti boom that swept D.C. in the early 90s.
What's so remarkable about DAN's story is that, because of graffiti, he survived an environment that claimed the lives of countless young men in the late 80s and early 90s. D.C. was the murder capital of the world during this period, and most writers that came up with DAN were lured into drug-dealing or drug-using. Most were killed as a result of the crack wars, and those that did survive, for the most part, are now serving lengthy sentences for homicide. Because DAN was so dedicated to writing graffiti, he abdicated the vices of his city. True, graffiti isn't exactly God's work, but it's a far lesser crime than homicide. Compared to his cohorts, DAN took the high road.
As late as '98, DAN has put in work on the streets of D.C. It seems that the mystery to be solved around COOL DISCO DAN is not if he will get back in the game, but when. DAN always knew that he would be a graffiti writer for life.
All Free Agents material and photos are copyright © 2001 Roger Gastman and the artists. For information about the book see the website CoolDiscoDan.com
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