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History of writers.


 Started : Early 1970's

Location :  The Bronx , New York

Lines Hits : 2's, 5's, 3's, 4's, 6's, 7's, D's, K's,

Writing Group's : TC-5 ( The Crazy Five ) , TED ( The Ebony Dukes )


I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment in Park side, a working-class housing project in the Bronx. As a kid, the playground outside my bedroom window was the center of the universe. My brother and his friends hung out there in the 1960s (Richard Price wrote about

  my brother's crew in his coming-of-age novel "The Wanderers"). In the mid-1970s, I carried on my brother's legacy. Along with VAMM, BLADE, DEATH and TULL 13 - we all grew up in the same neighborhood - the park became our refuge from the world. During the day - especially in the summer - we would sit on long wooden benches near the basketball courts, shooting hoops, designing pieces in our black books and holding court for visiting graffiti writers. At night, we drank cheap wine (Boone's Farm) and beer (Colt .45) and made out with our girlfriends. We never thought about what we were going to do with our lives - the days and nights were endless. By the summer of 1972, graffiti was becoming trendy. Overnight, names seemed to magically pop up on walls and light posts in our neighborhood. Before long, we noticed single hits on the elevated trains passing by the Parkside playground: STAY HIGH 149, HONDO, SUPER KOOL 223. One day, VAMM and I decided to "create" our own names. I became CRACHEE (an abbreviated version of Crazy Cheese.)  And Michael Visvader combined his initials with his girlfriend's to become  VAMM.  At the time, VAMM and I were best

 Friends (we had known each other since kindergarten) and decided we were going to become "kings." So we bought black magic markers from a Woolworth's on Allerton Avenue and hit light posts. We did that for weeks before stealing spray paint and graduating to walls and trucks. After hitting almost every wall in the north Bronx, we turned out attention to trains.  In mid 1972, the transit authority began parking long rows of subway cars in the middle track over the weekend. From Friday night to Monday morning, the cars

 would sit there. Idle. Just waiting to be bombed. The lay-ups were ripe for fledgling graffiti writers. Even more inviting: the transit authority had been giving the old "red" cars a facelift. By early 1973, about half the IRT trains had been painted silver with a blue stripe. They were, in retrospect, perfect rolling canvasses. So on a cold Sunday morning in January 1973, VAMM and I dropped a token in the turnstile and walked quietly past a worker asleep in the token booth before tip-toeing up a flight of stairs to the Burke Avenue station. With cans of spray paint tucked in our waistbands, we walked to the end of the platform and hopped on the tracks. We only

 managed two pieces each that morning - it was too cold and the spray cans froze. But we were the first in our neighborhood to hit trains. That afternoon, we returned to the tracks and took pictures of our pieces with a Kodak


camera (We were one of the first writers to take pictures of our pieces. To this day, VAMM and I have an extensive photo library of the early days). In a way, we become "instant" celebrities in our neighborhood. Everybody talked about our exploits. And we soaked in the attention. We bragged we would become "king of the lines." And within a few months, VAMM and I - later joined by TULL 13, DEATH and BLADE - had fulfilled our promise. We had bombed the entire IRT's: the 2- 4- and 5-lines. Then we branched out to other lines,


including the the IND's and BMT's. Because of our "fame," writers from other neighborhoods began hanging out with us at Parkside, including COMET and AJAX, whose home base was Bronx Boulevard and Gun Hill Road. They brought their friends - and girlfriends: KIVU, Z-73, SUKI and POONIE. On some nights, we had as many as 40 people in the playground. 

The first names I remember were STAY HIGH 149, HONDO and SUPER KOOL 223. I can vividly recall a yellow, top-to bottom SUPER KOOL 223 on a red subway car and thinking "man, that's wild." We wanted to be like them. We wanted our names to get around the city. Remember, we were kids from poor, working-class families. Graffiti was a way to feel good about ourselves, a way so

  show "we could do something right." We didn't have much encouragement growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s. At times, the streets could be a mean, shitty place and you had to be tough to survive. But there was something special about watching your name go by, knowing thousands of people a day would see your "art." You felt good. You felt important. You felt cool. We almost never hit buses. Our feeling was: if we're going to risk  our necks stealing paint and hitting, why waste our time on buses? Quite frankly, trains reached more people than buses. We wanted to be king of the train lines - not king of the bus lines. We hit the lay-ups between Burke and Allerton avenues in January 1973. It was so cold, the paint froze and we had to leave after a half hour. I remember my first piece; a black CRACHEE with a white outline. Red Devil paint and Jiffoam nozzles. The piece, though, was nothing to brag about - just a single hit with an outline. My partner At first, I almost always went hitting with VAMM. stopped writing briefly



 in October 1973 after my father found spray cans hidden in my closet ( he beat the shit out of me ). When I returned in early 1974, I almost always went hitting with BlADE. By then, Blade and VAMM had taken over the lines. They were undisputed kings. And by then, BLADE was clearly the most creative graffiti writer in the city. Every week, he would invent a cartoon character (i.e. Joint Man) or design a new concept (letters disappearing into a cloud). After smoking Thai weed, Blade would outline pieces in his black book and take the pages with him when he went hitting. Like an architect at a construction site, the pages became his blueprints. Blade lived for two things: hitting and music. Blade and I became close in part because of our music connection. From 1974 until 1981, we performed in the same band - playing mostly Rock n Roll, Disco, Funk and Top 40. We even wrote songs together (Blade played bass while I handled keyboards and sax). Our band - known as Bazay - played gigs in clubs all over New York City and upstate New York. We were there for the beginning of the rap and hip hop and watched how those early artists incorporated graffiti into their music. Blade was clearly one of the most talented musicians in New York. He recently released a CD of some of the songs we wrote in the 1970s. 

149th Street Grand Concourse was a great place to met other writers and watch some great art. It was one of the coolest places in the world. You knew you "made it" when everyone wanted YOU to sign their black books. The first time I realized we were big was when


STAFF 161 asked VAMM and I to join the Ebony Dukes. At the time, we were the only two white members. That was the thing about graffiti: the movement was color blind. Whites, blacks and Hispanics could hang out together - just as long as you didn't write over someone 's piece. I can remember racking up in the South Bronx. Think about it. Two white guys racking up in the South Bronx. But we knew the Ebony Dukes had our backs. Looking back, it was nuts. But at the time, we didn't think twice about going into any neighborhood. We were brothers. At some point, we had a falling out with the Ebony Dukes - I don't know if they were getting jealous of our success. But in the summer of 1973, they began writing over our names (Hot 110). We could sense the hostility when we showed up at the writer's bench at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse. So one night the five of us - CRACHEE, VAMM, BLADE, DEATH and TULL 13 - decided to "fuck the Ebony Dukes." DEATH suggested we form our own crew and came up with the name: The Crazy 5. We loved it. When we went hitting the next day, we wrote The Crazy 5 next

 to our names. Single hits. Elaborate pieces. Without question, The Crazy 5 become the biggest - and most famous - graffiti gang in New York's history - thanks to VAMM, BLADE and Comet, who joined a few weeks after the group was formed. joined a few weeks after the group was formed. In 1973 and '74, we mostly hit the lay-ups that stretched between Gun Hill Road and Allerton Avenue. Sometimes, we would hit the lay-ups on 223rd Street. When they got too hot, we moved to Esplanade. That was Blade's favorite spot. We avoided the yards because there were too many cameras and cops. It seemed like every time we went hitting in a yard we were chased.

I have lots of stories, but one quick note: we never got busted. We always managed to stay one step ahead of the law. We tried to be careful. I mean, we would usually go hitting under the cover of darkness - at about 1 a.m. When we first started, we never got chased.

But after months of hitting in the same location and getting careless (leaving empty spray cans behind), the cops began staking out the lay-ups. Every time we got chased, we would bolt until we found an opening above an el pillar. Then we would wiggle through the tracks and slide down the pole to the street. The "longest" and craziest chase took place in July 1973. For hours, we had been hanging out in the playground, drinking and listening to music (the Stones, Kool & the Gang, James Brown). Tull 13 was really wasted and said he wanted to go hitting. Instead of stopping Tull 13, we decided to join him. Ten of us, including our girlfriends - KIVU and Z-73 - headed to the Burke Avenue station carrying shopping bags filled with spray paint. We hopped the turnstile, ran up the stairs, jumped off the platform to the tracks and began hitting - right in front of people waiting for the Uptown 2 train. We began walking north towards Gun Hill Road, slapping up pieces, single hits, laughing and making a hell of a  lot of noise.  I remember going



inside a lay-up car to rest for a moment, when I heard a strange noise. I got up and saw three undercover cops in the next car headed in my direction. I ran in the opposite direction and jumped out between cars to warn my friends. "DT's," I yelled. Everyone knew what I meant. In a split second, the mood changed from exhilaration to panic. The girls looked

 terrified. We began running back to the Burke Avenue station, but spotted six cops waiting for us. We turned around and bolted back to Gun Hill Road. About halfway there, we saw cops walking off the platform heading toward us. We were trapped. At that point I had an idea. Everyone followed as I crawled underneath the train, then backtracked to the Gun Hill Road station. We couldn't run anymore. Everyone was tired. If they were waiting for us on the platform, so be it. We would just try to run around the cops. To our surprise. the station was empty when we got there - they were still on the tracks wondering where the hell we had disappeared. We ran full speed down a long flight of stairs leading out of the station - sometimes  jumping three or four steps at a time.


When we hit the street, we scrambled to Bronx Boulevard. What a rush! We were tired and sweaty, but everyone had gotten away. We spent the rest of the night drinking beer and recapping what happened - how we outmaneuvered the cops. I wrote about that chase in my book The Crazy 5, a novel following the exploits of five friends - VAMM, CRACHEE, DEATH, TULL 13 and MARIO - during 1973. It's a novel about graffiti and friendship, a story about hope in the face of

 despair. Currently, I'm shopping for a publisher. When I look back at those days, I can only say: "What a long strange trip it's been." I no longer live in the Parkside Projects or the Bronx. I left in  1982 when I moved to Chicago to pursue a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. I've been a journalist for more than 20 years, working for several newspapers and The Associated Press. In 2004, my colleague Mike Sallah and I won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism for writing a series about an elite Army platoon whose members killed hundreds of civilians in the Vietnam War. We recently wrote a major book about the platoon - Tiger Force - which will be published in 2006 by Little, Brown & Co. And I'm about to make another move - this time, leaving a newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, for a newspaper in North Carolina. It seems like I'm always in motion. In the end, I could move to a dozen more cities, but my heart will always be in New York. The Bronx. I often reminisce about those days. The fun. The hitting. The playground. The center of my universe.




   Pulitzer Prize winning writer Mitch Weiss brings you a book about one of the greatest writing groups in history " THE CRAZY FIVE ". Reserve your copy NOW! We would like to thank Crachee for sharing a piece of history with us all. Photo Credits go to BLADE, ROGER and CRACHEE 11. Any questions please contact us @t MESSAGE@SUBWAYOUTLAWS.COM