Short Cuts: Tracing the Line, Radio 4, Tuesday
Walter Kershaw: The UK's First Street Artist?, Radio 4, Thursday
Confessions of Rochdale's street art pioneer
David Weinberg was a pizza delivery boy in Colorado. With aspirations to be a radio journalist, he bought himself a tape recorder. Trouble was, he found he was too shy to interview people. No problem; he simply wired himself up and recorded everything clandestinely – 500 hours over five years: intimate confessions, his court appearances (we weren't told what for, though invasion of privacy comes to mind), showdowns with bosses, even his sex life. Then he rang up his friends to confess (with the tape running, of course).
He was in one of the mini-documentaries in a terrific series, Short Cuts, presented by Nina Garthwaite. Six in 27 minutes, each punching above its weight, the beauty of the programme is that, like a Ramones album, if you don't like what's playing, there'll be something else along very shortly.
The Weinberg piece consisted of one of his confessions to a friend, who was a bit freaked out, but could see an upside: the occasion he had recorded was the last time she'd seen one of their mutual friends before he died.
In fact, the said friend, named Mark, gave Weinberg much pause for thought. It wasn't that he disapproved (he was one of the few who knew what Weinberg was up to), but he liked that life is fleeting: "Posterity is only good in small doses." In hindsight, Weinberg thought, Mark was right: none of his recordings of great moments lived up to the memories; in fact, they somehow diminished them. Now, he felt, he'd almost robbed them of their magic.
The BBC economics man, Paul Mason – a former composer – also had a slot. He had converted Britain's GDP graph from the past few years into music (John Cage, whose centenary is currently being celebrated by the Beeb, would surely have approved). It sounded remarkably like church music, which, given the number of prayers that must have been said about our economy lately, was entirely appropriate. Mason sang bits of it himself, pre-crash, then post-crash. "I can't even sing that low," he muttered wryly.
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Rochdale was enlivened by the murals that appeared overnight on derelict mills, chimneys and public loos. In Walter Kershaw: The UK's First Street Artist?, Mark Hodkinson met the man responsible. He's still there, and still somewhat eccentric, living and working in an old Co-op store, though he soon gave up his public works for a more conventional approach (George Best bought some of his canvases).
He got some media attention in the Seventies: he was interviewed by Melvyn Bragg, and he also caught the eye of The Guardian, which described some of his pictures of women as "hideous" (he sounded rather proud of that).
It wasn't overtly political, unlike some of what appeared in Northern Ireland around the same time (a huge Alvin Stardust on a gable end seemed typical): he just wanted to brighten the place up. He likes the work of Banksy and his ilk, though he acknowledged that he could never create that kind of stuff. But the very act of doing it was political – there was a delightfully stiff letter from the council: "I ask that the bridges be returned to their original condition."
Hodkinson asked him if he ever felt the urge to return to his guerilla art roots and decorate contemporary buildings. "I don't want to prettify them," he said, "I want to blow them up." Fair enough, I suppose.
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