The Stay High 149 Controversy
It’s the most famous tag in graffiti history and also one of the oldest. Yet it’s creator remained a mystery for decades. I searched for Stay High in the early 1980s when I was writing the first history of hip hop, but could never locate him. Later, after I became editor of High Times, Stay High actually reappeared for a brief time and I invited him to the office, where I did a video interview with him and discovered his real name was Wayne.
Several years later, however, I was contacted by a graffiti artist named Luis who told me that he was the original Stay High and that Wayne had actually bitten his tag. Apparently this all started down in Florida, where Luis had an exhibit and told a bunch of local writers he was Stay High 149. Soon, there was an outcry against him for trying to steal Wayne’s legacy.
Luis came to High Times and tried to explain the situation. He claimed that Phase 2 would back up his story that there were two Stay Highs around 1969, both writing the same tag? I asked Phase and he strongly denied that. But I have to admit, I was taken in by all the evidence Luis had marshaled to his cause. He had photos of himself standing in front of faded tags in the Bronx. He had a story about the Junior Latin Lords, who supposedly had a clubhouse on 149th Street.
Although a lot of old school writers were really pissed at Luis, I went ahead and posted my video interview with him, hoping that people would step forward to either confirm or deny what he was saying. I just couldn’t understand why Luis would make up this story as he seemed to be a serious artist. Meanwhile, while he was at the office, I asked him to write “Stay High 149” on my eraseboard. He did, but the signature was a bit clumsy, with none of the flow you’d expect. Luis said his cousin and others would come forward to support his story. But to tell the truth, no one has ever come forward to back up Luis and that video has been up for years now. You can watch him tag my eraseboard and make up your own mind just based on that.
I should have listened to Freedom when he first contacted me to say Luis’s story was absurd. According to Luis, he invented the tag in in 1966, which would have easily made him the most advanced graffiti writer in New York history?
A few days ago, I asked Luis to come in and take a lie detector test to see if he was actually telling the truth. This was his reply:
“Hey, Steve, when we first met you was convinced that I was the real deal, now you ask if I’m willing to take a test. I know I’ll pass with flying colors but what will that prove, there are people that would probably say it was rig. Take yourself for example, you have your doubts because of what you have heard. I believe that is the reason you changed your mind about me on the Cannabis event. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, haters will always be haters no matter what…Peace!”
Meanwhile, I’ve got a new controversy as someone is claiming to have invented 420 and is saying the Waldo’s are liars. I’ll be posting on this very soon, but felt I needed to clear this up first.