2013: A Year of Personal Loss



Let me start with a few of the good things about 2013: family is doing well, children continue to amaze and confound me, no problems on the job. Had a chance to get around: Santa Barbara and New Orleans to hang with old school friends, off to London to chill with Bob from Brockley, Kellie (Air Force Amazons), and other UK bloggers from our little trans-Atlantic alliance. Bob even made it out here to NYC for a few days, which was a lot of fun. I was able to show him around: Prospect Park and Brooklyn Heights, dim sum in Flushing, 5Pointz before it was buffed. Roland (But, I am a Liberal!) Dodds) was here for his honeymoon and I had the pleasure of hanging out with him and his lovely wife for an afternoon of tapas, sangria, history, and more drinks.

As all regular readers of this blog know, Norman Geras passed away in October. We never met in person—our correspondence was limited to a few emails and I occasionally commented on his Facebook posts—but he was undoubtedly a major influence on the Decent Left as well as those associated with the Euston Manifesto. His lucidity, friendliness, and insights on a variety of topics from philosophy to human behavior will be missed by many, including myself. RIP, Norm.


On a more personal level, two very close friends of mine,  SYRA-1 and HTD died this year. I am avoiding using their names and apologize in advance if anyone objects to the use of these images.


The name SYRA ONE–FSC, KTD, RF, GM5–will run forever on the great freight train in the sky, the Wall of Fame of true graff KINGS. His style will be emulated by those who aim for mastery of the art of writing. This is a miniscule selection of his pieces.

syra crate

SYRA was the first good friend I made when I moved to Oakland in 1992. Little did I know back then that he would become like a family member. We lived in the same neighborhood on the border of Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley.  He was bombing hard, still seriously into skating and spending a lot of time building his DJing skills. He had a legendary record collection. In the days before Ebay and the Internet, collectors used to travel from as far away as Japan to buy old Jazz, funk and hip-hop records from him. He turned me on to a lot of great hip-hop–especially NYC crews like DITC: Lord Finesse, Show Biz & AG, Diamon D–back when I was mostly listening to West Coast artists.

There used to be crazy skate sessions at his pad, this place called “The Dome”, a huge warehouse with ramps, rails, and other obstacles. The kids that skated there would go on to pro status for Chocolate, Menace, World Industries, and a variety of other companies that have long since disappeared. One example was Fun Skateboards. SYRA did the logo artwork on the deck on the left:


Towards the end of the 90s we were hanging out almost every evening after work. We had a small crew of people that would meet at my place, our SYRA’s or our other homeboy TH. We would make dinner, and listen to music, drink, smoke, hang out, talk about the day. When you hang with people so much, they are sharing practically every other meal with you sometimes, they become like family. And in some ways better than family because they are the family you choose, or you are lucky enough that they choose you. SYRA was one of those people for me. When I would fly back to Oakland he was first person I would call when my plane landed. He was usually picking me up. That is the sort of friend he was. If you have a SYRA in your life, count your blessings because you never know when they may be gone.


Most of my memories of SYRA are in the bay area–a lot of concerts from jazz to hip-hop, too many to remember–but he made it out here twice.  Once when we were living in Queens and another time when we were in Brooklyn. We had a lot of fun carousing and managed to fit in a couple of shows: Lou Donaldson at the Village Vanguard and Crooklyn Dodgers reunion at Prospect Park. Here is a pic of a piece he painted on the roofs off of the 7Train near 5Pointz:


SYRA was my only close friend who made it India for my wedding, which was a real blessing. It turns out he was in a lot of peeps weddings. We also met up in Barcelona after I finished my research in Mondragon. Of course he came equipped with a cache of fat markers and got up all over the city. I wasted the ink on writing corny political slogans. I was taking way too long and we ended up getting chased by the police in the Den Hague train station. Good times.


But the memory that says the most, I think, is when I was spending the Thanksgiving Holiday away from family for the first time and SYRA invited me over to eat the meal with his family. They were all so welcoming that I did not miss being away in a new place where I barely knew anyone.

Rest in Paradise KING SYRA-ONE!

HTD was an iconoclastic intellectual, psychedelic artist-entertainer and a lawyer. At his memorial service everyone who knew him, almost everyone, used the word “brilliant” to describe him. And he was. He remains one of the smartest people I have met.

HTD 005

I met H when I first moved to Marin County for university from Santa Barbara. We were both studying the political economy of what used to be called Third World development. His focus was Latin America, especially Mexico. We had a shared taste in music and beer, among other things. Turned out he grew up in Los Feliz which was right next to where I grew up, Silver Lake. We moved to San Francisco with our girlfriends, he to the Mission, me to the Lower Haight and continued our mischief throughout the Bay. We went to a lot of shows–Boogie Down Productions (twice), Public Enemy, Fishbone, George Clinton/P-Funk, among others. He ultimately grew up before me, finishing a law degree and having a child while I was still playing around at making the revolution. He moved back to L.A. and we sort of lost contact with each other, especially after I moved to NYC but I was glad to reconnect with him if only electronically in the last two years of his life.

HTD was larger than life. He really filled a room or a conversation in a good way and I will miss him immensely. He also had a way of telling people he loved them without any of the sappy hippy bullshit that was so common in the Bay. I love you too, brother.

7 responses »

  1. Wow, I didn’t know that SYRA FSC had passed away, until 5 minutes ago….so I’m kinda in shock. I didn’t know him personally, like many of the late 80’s early 90’s guys, I was much too young to link up with that generation…but I knew him through his work. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Bay Graff, especially East Bay graff…and I remember when I first started seeing the tag around Berkeley, and I remember how fresh the flow was, and that I was so sprung off how he made those letters work, because those letters, in that sequence…are tough to pull off. Anyway, I remember when the FSC guys pretty much took over Berkeley in the early 90’s…sort of taking up where TPC left off, SYRA was one of my favorite tags to see up outta FSC, along with Gigs, Vast, Awe and Clue…they had a flow, that was super fresh and very much their own. As life moved on, I grew up, started having kids, got a job blah blah blah… so I really fell off the scene after college…so I didn’t even know SYRA had piece skills like the ones I’m seeing here and on google…it’s bitter-sweet tho. Very sorry to hear about his passing, and love to any friends and family he has out here in the world. Rock In Power!!!

    Peace. MensaOne

  2. Thank you for a beautiful write-up. I am (was) Syra’s girlfriend. It is very heartwarming to hear how he always touched others. Nice to see some of his work that I haven’t seen before too…
    He did tell me the stories of his trips to New York and other places……..
    Once again THANK YOU !

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