Some places keep drawing me back, mostly because they’re convenient, but also because I know I’m likely to find interesting graffiti there. And it also fascinates me that some places seem to attract repeat offenders, if you consider them offenders. In my mind the jury’s still out, but that’s another story. That brings me back to the old Madison Mill industrial complex on Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue which I thought was slated for total demolition and urban renewal six months ago, and which had been scrubbed of all its graffiti.
Now it’s started to return. It appears to be different artists, but they’re presumably drawn to the place for the same reason others were: it’s a large and largely unguarded canvas. What really fascinates me, though, is the compulsion some people have to decorate. That’s what I think produces a lot of graffiti: there are people who have a desperate need to create and no other outlet. It’s like the moment in Spinal Tap when Viv Savage is asked what he’d do if there were no rock’n’roll, and he said, “I’d probably get a bit stupid and start to make a fool of myself in public, ’cause there wouldn’t be a stage to go on.” And, yes, I know Spinal Tap is not a real band and that Viv Savage was actually the musician Dave Kaffinetti, but stick with me here.
Forcing some people to stop creating would be like forcing them to stop breathing—and the effect would be the same. They need a space, and there should be spaces for artists. They shouldn’t have to find illicit places. This was already in my mind when I read a great review of the new film Wild Nights With Emily over at Assholes Watching Movies. The film is about the largely unknown life of Emily Dickinson; she was apparently not the demure recluse whose poems can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas we all learned about in English class.
What I’m really stuck on, though, is how Dickinson wrote compulsively, and her family allowed her the freedom to do so. She did publish a few poems in her lifetime but mostly she just wrote, filling up private books but certain there was a receptive audience out there. As she says in #162, titled “The Outlet”,
My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!
I’ll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks,—
And I also think about when I was taking pictures of that graffiti. It was a really nice day and there were a lot of people sitting out on the patio of a restaurant that’s right next to the Madison Mill. People probably noticed me and wondered what I was doing. No one asked, though. If they had I would have said, “I can’t help it.”