Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Here's a little story about the strange places the Internet can take you.
While walking in Soho a couple of weekends ago, I came across this graffiti scrawled on a wall. It sparked something in my memory -- I was pretty sure I'd seen this image before. So I took a picture of it, intending to do some research.
I eventually remembered seeing similar graffiti in a photo from the USA, taken by one of my Flickr pals, Jake Dobkin. I'd marked his photo a favorite years and years ago, and I hadn't seen it in ages, but I went searching and eventually found it.
Jake's picture is from 2005, and indeed it is a very similar image, though his frog is bigger and much more polished-looking. Someone wrote beneath it, "Daniel Johnston!" I figured that must be the artist, and I did a Flickr search for more frogs by him.
As it turns out, there are many -- but mainly all pictures of the same piece, located in Austin, Tx.
So who is this Daniel Johnston? It turns out he's a musician, and he recorded an experimental album in 1983 called "Hi, How Are You." Its cover featured a frog, known as "Jeremiah the Innocent." As Wikipedia reports, the mural in Jake's photo dates back to 1993, when a Sound Exchange record store asked Johnston to paint the frog on the outer wall. The record store is long gone, but thanks to neighborhood activism, the frog remains.
Although Johnston's album is pretty obscure, the "Hi, How Are You" frog had a surge of popularity in the early 1990s, when Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt bearing the image. Here's a photo -- the last one in this inane article on Cobain's height.
In fact, the frog is so iconic in Austin that you can still buy "Hi, How Are You" t-shirts from an online outfit called Officially Austin.
Johnston's album itself can be heard on YouTube. I gave it a listen, briefly. It sounds pretty avant-garde -- as a commenter wrote beneath the video, "I feel like this is how a mental illness sounds like." (Johnston apparently has had some mental illness.)
So, anyway, apparently some fan of Johnston -- or at least his frog -- came through Soho not too long ago and left an homage on a wall. Not a very accurate homage, artistically or linguistically, but close enough that I recognized it, and it led me to learn a whole bunch of stuff I never knew before.