Hey Vern! It’s Graffiti!

It’s been a long time since I spotted any local graffiti, much less any that was worth stopping and looking at, since circumstances have mostly kept me at home. That’s only part of what made this particular piece so special, though, but before I get to that let me describe a bit of where it is: it’s on a wall next to an interstate. The berm in front of the wall is fenced in which I suspect is designed specifically to keep out the sort of person responsible for the graffiti. There’s a gate in the fence with a loose chain and a padlock which are clearly there to say, “You can’t come in here unless you push a little bit.” I don’t know when it was done but it’s big and pretty impressive so I suspect it was done at night, which makes the way the sunlight highlights the silver, which in turn stands out so well against the red, even more impressive.
Then there’s the name. If you’re of a certain age and grew up with U.S. pop culture the name Vern probably makes you think of a very specific character: Ernest P. Worrell. You probably even know the actor behind Ernest, Jim Varney, from his Saturday morning TV show Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! which I loved, in spite of the fact that I was already getting too old for Saturday cartoons–or maybe because I was getting too old for Saturday cartoons. It could be described as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with a Southern accent, but it was so much more than that; Varney put on other characters, including my personal favorite the supervillain mad scientist Doctor Otto.
The cliche of the sad comedian is, of course, a cliche because it’s so often true. In a November 1999 issue of the Nashville Scene titled, appropriately, “The Importance Of Being Ernest”, Varney talked about having depression and his cancer diagnosis. At the time of the profile his prognosis seemed good and doctors thought the lung cancer which had spread to his heart and brain was in remission. Unfortunately it came back and he’d pass away just four months later.
In that same profile for The Scene Varney reflected on how good the character of Ernest had been for him, making him financially successful, and he enjoyed meeting kids as Ernest, including hundreds of terminally ill children, and he was glad he could brighten their lives. 
He was also, he hoped,on the verge of a creative breakthrough, having gotten good reviews for his portrayal of Jed Clampett and his role in the indie film Daddy And Them. He said, ” I would like to do some new techniques, stories that haven’t been done before. I want to be artsy-craftsy and get into my Orson Welles stage.”
He never got to that stage. He’ll forever be Ernest or, occasionally, Slinky-Dog from the first two Toy Story movies.
Was the artist responsible for the graffiti also thinking of that? To me it represents another cliche: the artist who can’t break through, held back by circumstances, bad luck, who needs to break in just to be seen, and who’ll get painted over, forgotten.
That’s a lot to read into something that was probably just done by some guy named Vern.

 

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4 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    That’s definitely one impressively large piece of graffiti! I hadn’t thought about Ernest in years—thanks for the reminder 😊

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It was extremely impressive and I’ve now seen another VERN in another part of Nashville, so whoever they are they seem to be an emerging talent, which is an interesting contrast with the established talent of the late Jim Varney. And I was glad for the excuse to write a tribute to him. He got treated as a cheap punchline in some places but he was a really talented and interesting guy.

      Reply
  2. ANN J KOPLOW

    Hey Chris! It’s Ann. I loved this post and learned so much from it. Many thanks for appreciating others’ artistry so movingly and so well.
    ANN J KOPLOW recently posted…Day 3265: What’s a great title?My Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Hey Ann! I appreciate you coming here. It’s nice to know I can pass on my enjoyment of art to others.

      Reply

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