I intended to start this post with a reflection on the song “Words” by the Bee Gees. I had several of the lines running through my head. They worked as I remembered them.
Good thing I listened to the song though. For me, it does not survive the test of time. Popular romantic ballads might not hold up well.
My friend listened to “Words” with me. He was less charitable. “The Bee Gees are sleazy, slick and phoney, but they compensate for it with incredibly catchy melodies and a great entertaining instincts.” Well, okay. I wouldn’t go that far, but he did. And then there’s that little disco transgression hanging over them. But “sleazy, sick and phony?” I’m not seeing the need for this strong language. Let Big Love prevail! Besides – the group sold 250,000,000 records.
So – I won’t start with the Bee Gees.
But – there is always the book Words by Paul Dickson.
In the 1980s I started to collect books about language, mostly slang. I bought and read Words by Paul Dickson. Loved it!
I wrote him and told him about my interest in slang. We became friends.
He became my publishing/slang mentor. In 1994 I had an idea for a slang book. I wrote Paul and suggested that we collaborate on it.He wrote back, saying he was too busy, but he’d get me a contract with Merriam Webster for the book.
It came to pass. Flappers 2 Rappers was my first book. There have been many since then. All thanks to Paul and Words.
Great story Tom! It’s all about you!
Here I present photographs of words presented to the street. They are words as graphics and words as meaning and words as material culture.
Before I get to the words that I found and photographed, will you indulge me and let me start with some words that I didn’t find?
John Storey and I went to 1879 San Juan to photograph something that I had seen a few years ago when first I walked San Juan.
A man asked what we were looking for. Words. He got cheerful – “Are you Quirky Berkeley?”
He is a big QB fan. He places pennies on fence railings.
I have published photos of the pennies. But he didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I was looking for words.
And then later in the day he remembered!
Hi Tom and John,
It was the highlight of my day to accidentally meet the two of you. Upon further scratching my head, I finally remembered the information given to you. Years ago, I began posting poems on the telephone pole. Raymond Holbert then began posting photographs of his 1879 side of the pole. The pole was recently replaced. I’ll talk to him about starting up again. Best to John and you.
Jerry Chin @ 1885
And then I found my original photos from when I walked San Juan!
If this is not the perfect Quirky Berkeley Big Love Express I don’t know what is.
There were more words in 2013:
There was a fire in 2011. Here is an early Berkeleyside story about the fire.
Yay – a Monty Pyton allusion – the Holy Grail.
Confession: I have not done that which I ought to have done. I don’t know the story of the words in the windows here. Any help??????
Jane Jacobs is a bright star in the constellation of People Who Get It and Did Something About it.
Her 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities argued that urban renewal does not respect the needs of most people in the city being renewed. In that book, she coined the phrase “eyes of the street” which is a big term in Berkeley these days. She was a leader in the opposition to plans by Robert Moses for the Lower Manhattan Expressway that would “renew” Greenwich Village.
This photo – demonstrators protest charges against Jane Jacobs in New York, The then 51-year-old Jacobs had been arrested and charged with inciting riot at a protest of the propsed Lower Manhattan Expressway.
She spoke truth to power. She won! All hail to People Who Care and Do Something About it!
The Cathaus on Ashby – which is all about words – has its own website.
The original vision for the house: “The purpose of purchasing the Property is so that the Communists can have a beautiful, safe, supportive, inexpensive, politically radical, ecologically minimalist place to live.”
The original group has dispersed, and today’s vision is slightly different: “A place where we can plan to be the way we want it to be rather than something that just happens; a beautiful, safe, supportive, inexpensive, politically radical, ecologically minimalist place to live. A different kind of collective. Most of all I want to start living intentionally–to have meetings and discuss how things are going and figure out–collectively and democratically–how to proceed from there.”
Malvina in 1958!
In the table of contents to her songbook Song in My Pocket, Malvina dedicated this song: “…to the modest heroes of the people’s struggles for a good, decent and peaceful life.” THAT’S IT! The modest heroes. I love “modest heroes” and modest heroes.
Gary Turchin is a writer, big emphasis on poetry. He publishes his poetry many ways, including as a gift to the street:
Last and not least for quirk through words is the fence surrounding 1034 Pardee. I call it the Wall of Democracy.
Boy, if our bulletin boards could talk! All the years of fliers and causes and events and people.
My friend had a good time with these photos. He asked, “What about the blackboard on Spruce?”
Good point. But it’s not there anymore. Loved it – the home owner would pose a question and people walking by would answer. But it’s gone. My favorite question posed was “Who loves you?” The answers ranged from Kojak to theological to romantic.
What about the other photos? He flipped to the garage door on Watkins. “Love that little street and Tevlin that it runs into. Quiet. A Berkeley from another day.” I sensed an untold story about the street. I never press.
What about the rest?