Nostalgia Trip: American Graffiti, 1979

Trash and Vaudeville, New York

American Graffiti

Before heading further afield in the USA, I’ll sign off from New York with the story of how I inadvertently photographed an early example of Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s artwork.

Trash & Vaudeville

During our time in New York in September 1979, several people recommended a trip to Trash and Vaudeville – New York’s ‘go-to’ rock and roll boutique. Walking down St. Mark’s Place, I spotted the famous neon Trash sign in a basement shop window on the other side of the street. I set about taking a photo.

Trash and Vaudeville
St. Mark’s Place, New York (Photo © John Maher)

Seeing my camera, a kid in a red T-shirt, who was hanging out on the steps next door to the shop, shouted across the street: “Hey, take our picture!” (or words to that effect). Take note of that purple graffiti near the bottom of the door on the left…

4 St. Mark's Place, New York
4 St. Mark’s Place, next door to Trash & Vaudeville (Photo © John Maher)

I took one picture of the kids on the steps and another, making sure I got the large neon ‘TRASH’ sign in the shot. These particular photos have always been among my favourites from the 1979/80 US tours. Recently, I discovered something else of interest in these photos.


Earlier this year I shared the ‘kids on the steps’ pic on instagram. Someone commented: “Basquiat tag right there”. Curiosity aroused, I did some research. That’s when I learned the significance of that purple SAMO© graffiti on the door of 4 St. Mark’s Place.

SAMO© was a collaboration between two friends, Al Diaz and Jean-Michel Basquiat. SAMO© tags were usually accompanied by a short statement – often taking a swipe at the NY art establishment – which was concentrated in this area of the city.

Armed with this new found knowledge, I shared my Trash and Vaudeville photos on the Manhattan Before 1990 facebook page. In response to one of those photos (the one at the top of this page), none other than Al Diaz himself chimed in…

Henry Flynt

Disappointed to discover JMB’s message wasn’t decipherable in my photo, I searched some more. Cue Henry Flynt. Henry had been intrigued by the SAMO© phenomenon from the time the messages first started appearing in the East Village in 1978. He photographed all the examples he could find. Fortunately, the one outside Trash and Vaudeville was one of them…

SAMO© AN END 2 VINYL PUNKERY (Photo by Henry Flynt)

More examples of Henry Flynt’s SAMO© documentation here.


The choice of Trash and Vaudeville seems an appropriate location for Al and Jean-Michel’s observations on what they saw as the commercialisation of punk and betrayal of its so-called ideals. Also, Trash and Vaudeville was on the same street as Club 57 – a favourite hangout at the time for artists and musicians, including the SAMO© crew. Club 57 was the venue for our two NY shows (Aug 31st and Sept 1st 1979), and hanging around there for a couple of days accounts for many of my New York pictures featuring this apart of town.

For the record, I discussed the second of our two Club 57 shows in my previous post.

“Same Old Shit”

As for the origins of SAMO©, who better to hear it from than one of the people who invented it. I found this great explanation by Al Diaz, which he gave at an exhibition opening in 2018. If you’re into this kind of thing, I recommend checking out Al’s current ‘Wet Paint’ work, which clearly has a connection to his former collaboration with Basquiat.

Al Diaz explains the origins of SAMO©

$110.5 million

In 2017, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting ‘Untitled’ sold for $110.5 million (£85m) at Sotheby’s in New York, making it the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.

Untitled (1982) sold for $110.5

Basquiat’s star burned bright, but not for long. He died in 1988 of a heroin overdose. He was only 27; the same age Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all checked out.

I’m writing this on what would have been Basquiat’s 59th birthday (December 22nd 2019).

The Elephant Man on Broadway

I’ve got one more New York/Nostalgia Trip story featuring a talented person who is no longer with us.

Buzzcocks returned to the US in 1980. We had a day off in New York on November 20th. I’ve still got my original tour itinerary.

Buzzcocks 1980 USA Tour itinerary

Our record company got us theatre tickets for The Elephant Man. David Bowie played the lead role. I’ve still got my copy of the theatre programme.

The Elephant Man, starring David Bowie. New York, November 1980 – my original programme

I’d never seen David Bowie on stage before. He was brilliant.


The last words go to Al Diaz

©Al Diaz #WetPaintSignArt
© Al Diaz

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Nostalgia Trip – a teenage Buzzcock in New York
Part 2: Nostalgia Trip – a teenage Buzzcock in New York

One thought on “Nostalgia Trip: American Graffiti, 1979”

  1. What a wonderful post. I was the biggest fan back then and was fortunate enough to see you at The Ritz on the 1980 tour. I copied and elaborated on a great article from back then in an IG post
    (turn_it_down_so_i_can_see )
    If you care to see.

    Appreciate revisiting JMB stories as well.

    And I too still have my David Bowie Elephant Man program.

    Great memories.

    Thank you!

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