Who is Bozo Texino? More importantly what is a Bozo Texino and to further extend this line of questioning why, Bozo Texino?
I’ll get to that.
We as graffiti writers often talk about the golden age of graffiti. After speaking with D at length whilst I was living in London in 2011, I can’t help but agree with him that everyone’s definition of the so-called ‘golden age or era’ of graff is different and unique to them and so I’ll be specific – the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s is what I’m referring to here.
It’s during this time that things seemed to have a purity, a time whereby people with next to little life opportunities to pursue dreams of establishing themselves (in a career or educational sense), sought to create alternate names or alter egos so that the work they would go on to put in and produce would make them infamous in their neighbourhoods and thus by default give them an everlasting presence within a subculture, the world of graffiti writing but now the wider art world. All of this by simply writing your name multiple times in multiple locations with spray paint. (Unrelated side note: Imagine a point at the beginning of the scene when for what probably seemed like years, the terms King or Toy were unheard of and hadn’t been coined, it was just about getting up, no bullshit?!)
Philly native Cornbread & NY native Taki 183 are two of the first names we learn about whilst earning our initial stripes. Neither of these however were renowned for painting trains. It’s the streets where their reps were established and where things would grow from into the yards and across the cities and scenes they were a part of.
We see graff stepping beyond the realms of having only a light shone upon it to being almost floodlit in films such as Beat Street, Wildstyle and Style Wars throughout the 80’s. Commonly prior to these its presence is merely the backdrop for films such as in Taxi Driver and on the subway trains in The Warriors. The tags are sprawling and in these films relatively unreadable due to the screen time they have.
When it comes to painted trains, there are far too many names that people can chalk up as to having the most ups on steel. The list is vast and if you ask different people, you’ll always get different answers. However in an attempt to understand who in history has marked the most panels and hit the most rolling stock we have to look at a wider historical period and go back a lot further than the late ‘70’s. Infact we have to look at a somewhat separate subculture that although is intrinsically parallel to the one we know and love, it’s entirely different in its origin.
To avoid becoming a history teacher here I’ll attempt to be as concise as possible (as we all have access to Google so you can do your own research on this) – it’s important to look at the beginning of the industrial revolution a little. Why is graff on trains at all?
Mass migration was made much easier due to the invention of the railways. Steam locomotives that would serve these railways were invented here in the UK. Many argue as to who the true father of the railway was however it can’t be disputed that based on the early works of Newcomen, then Scottish engineer James Watt in 1769, Richard Trevithick and finally the technical advancements of George Stephenson with the first steam loco Rocket in 1829 things were set to permanently change and how we navigate through the spaces we inhabit. Beyond the obvious benefits of leisure, the growth of industry, food and distribution of wares would reach new corners of the world that we’d never ventured into.
For each of these growth factors (but certainly not limited to them) mentioned above, we, the people are the important links. The lengths people have gone to enhance change and grow our standard of living has meant that as previously mentioned, mass migration and global travel has increased exponentially in the past 200 years. We only have to look at the American gold rush of the mid 1800’s for an example of incredible nationally-internationally economic growth and the patterns of people in the pursuit of monetary gain and social change. The important point to highlight here is our need to constantly move to prosper (usually due to work) and the increase of people using the railways/roads once established to do so.
“Like it says in the bible, to be absent from the body is to be present with god… to be absent from society is be on a higher plane’
– Hobo, Who is Bozo Texino?
Enter the age of the travelling worker and in turn, over time the hobo.
The book, Mostly true (2nd edition/Twist front cover in the case of the copy I’m referring to) by Bill Daniel is a follow up publication to the film by the same author/director, Who is Bozo Texino?
The official films blurb from Bill Daniel is as follows –
Beginning work around 1982, Bill Daniel set out to explain travelling hobo culture and the origins of the mysterious freight train tag of “Bozo Texino”, a person wearing a cowboy hat with a pipe. “Who is Bozo Texino?” is a film study on the 100-year-old tradition of hobo and rail worker graffiti. Mostly shot on freight trips across the western US, the film includes interviews with some of the railroad’s greatest graffiti legends: Colossus of Roads, The Rambler, Herby (RIP) and the granddaddy of them all, Bozo Texino. The film also catches some of the socio-economic history of hobo subculture from its roots after the Civil War to the present day. Included are interviews with tramps that Daniel encountered in his travels. The range of the interviews, and the film’s style deal with both the clichés and the harsh realities of tramp life. In researching hobo culture Daniel found the written histories fraught with myth, and was initially frustrated by the apparent lack of verifiable truth to much of the lore. What we are left with is a fascinating little window capturing a slim view of the lifestyle, the nature of tagging, and the mysterious long standing tradition of the seemingly larger-than-life Bozo Texino.
Both the film and the book explore the world of hobo life and moniker graffiti that’s been established over the years. By focusing on a central character, that of Bozo Texino we are educated on the complete subculture. Filmed via a super-8 camera, Bill Daniel manages to capture what I’d refer to as a middle American / 1950’s Americana aesthetic. The shots are quick, fleeting and are formed of a mix of freight hopping, yard frames and blurred scenic views all from a spectator’s perspective. With the occasional voice over or interaction with a Hobo.
The truth is that until I watched and read this book I knew very very little about this subculture. I’m sure you’ll share in the fact that I always thought a hobo was the same as a bum, tramp or vagabond. The lesson learnt here is that the latter terms are associated with people who you’ll see lost to the ways of conventional societal practices whereas a hobo would be someone who is both practically minded and who is seeking out work in the new places they arrive in via the railroads. Meaning that the age old tradition of travelling for work as previously noted still exists nearly 200 years later.
What we’d refer to as tags in the graff scene, hobo’s refer to as monikers. These monikers have their own incredible terminology and systems in place, similar to those found in the LA native ‘Cholo’ gang handstyles. There are signifiers and flourishes such as the infinite loop that appear often within these monikers; these typically are utilised within a hat or similar (especially within the Bozo Texino moniker). This particular representation seems to be adjoined to the constant movement relating to the lifestyle choices of hobos and rail riders.
Other hobos sign off with other beautifully charming script work or embellishments.
In the film we are introduced to multiple characters from the hobo scene. From Herby to Coaltrain, Nosey 42, Oldbroads, Whistleblower too name but a few, many seem eccentric, battle scared and have amusing tales. Most whilst travelling tag the freight box cars with paint sticks with their monikers and offer their two-penneth on who Bozo Texino was, and where in the country they’ve seen his markings. Others offer wise words and insights to how they perceive the treacherous world of rail hopping from state to state.
“They say this country was based on hard work and integrity and worshipping God. That’s a lie, this motherfucker was built on murder man … mayhem, slavery, oppression, lies, stealing and killing – that’s what it’s based on!
You can’t change it after it started, just stay away from it, or try to get away from it. Be independent of it. Cos’ if you try to deal in it, you become part of it. If you stay away from it, you diminish it by one…
– Hobo, Who is Bozo Texino?
A brilliant insight to the cousin of modern day rail graff and the freedom of man through travel. One that I’m only just getting into but have completely grown more and more fascinated with.
It’s noted that Bozo Texino in a single year marked over 30,000 freight trains (that’s both sides but counted as one train FYI).
So who is Bozo Texino you ask?
Quite possibly the most up rail graffiti writer of all time.