Monday, January 28, 2013

"Is there life before death?"

What Van Morrison lyric would make for good graffiti? I've considered this very question after seeing how deeply provocative and poignant the street scrawling can be in Belfast. Spray-painted messages on crumbling walls that read, "Give them their rights not their last rites." Or, "Is there life before death?" Yet another, a longtime favorite of mine found on the predominantly Catholic Falls Road: "To those who understand, no explanation is necessary. To those who will not understand, no explanation is possible."

In Belfast, many of those responsible for graffiti make creativity the top priority. Each side takes notice of the other's finest work. In Sally Belfrage's Living with War: A Belfast Year, one Protestant is heard to lament, "They [Catholics] have all the best songs and our graffiti is nothing against theirs."

One of my favorite scenes in Dervla Murphy's remarkable 1978 book on the Troubles, A Place Apart, is when she stumbles upon a rare bit of neutral graffiti in sectarian-obsessed Belfast:
DEAR TERRY IS DEAD. There was a mildness and tenderness about this expression of grief, in the midst of so many brutal and blasphemous slogans, that quite devastated me.
So what will it be? What Morrison lyric would make for good graffiti? "It's too late to stop now?" "You don't pull no punches but you don't push the river?" How about: "'Cos this town, they bit off more than they can chew?" Maybe this: "Did you ever see the people with the tear drops in their eyes? I just can't stand it, living in this world of lies." Or this: "And we'll walk down the avenue again; and the healing has begun." Or how about any couplet from "No Religion?"

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