We’re excited to unveil the official back cover for Mass Appeal Issue #54, designed by enigmatic artist, Futura. Editorial Director Sacha Jenkins SHR sat down with Futura as he provided an oral history of his come-up and career. Revealing details about an infamous tunnel fire back in ’73 that left one graffiti writer hospitalized, this is a Futura story unlike any other. Read an excerpt from the cover story below.
As Told To Sacha Jenkins SHR Portrait by Jonathan Mannion
Leonard “Futura 2000” McGurr started writing his name on walls in the early ‘70s. Then his best friend caught fire in a subway tunnel and things were never the same. Here’s a colorful look at what happened after the smoke cleared.
When I first got into graffiti in the early ‘70s, with a good friend Marc Edmonds, who wrote Ali, we were sort of watching the movement unfold. And going to school, being on the 1 train, the Broadway line. Initially some of the famous writers were uptown; SJK 171, Mike 171, Moses 147 and his brother Patch. Patch didn’t really have any style, I mean, who had style back then? Nobody had good style until Phase 2; I remember this crazy Phase 2 canvas that he did with UGA, I think it was in 1973.
Back then, mad kids were not graduating from high school. So I thought, “Oh, I’m doing really good, I’m trying to go to college!” But as it turns out, I was more interested in writing graffiti. But, my friend Marc, he was two years younger than me, he was on a full academic scholarship to Columbia University when the fire occurred in ’73…September last year was a weird month for me because you had the MLK 50th year, and then the Wild Style 30th year, and one week later you had the Futura/ Ali fire in the One Tunnel 40 year anniversary, which was on Labor Day weekend in 1973. So, these times have been very reflective for me.
I’m trying to figure out a way to tell the story.
The fire was a tragedy. And then, the famous story in the New York Times, which I have published in my book, was front page of the Metropolitan section; “Subway Artist Pleads from Hospital Bed, ‘Stop the Spraying.’” And, although it didn’t name me, there was a caption that said “abandoned in pain” and it went on to tell the story of how the guy he was painting with left him in the tunnel. And the crazy thing about all that was, the man who wrote that story, his name was Michael Kaufman — Michael Kaufman was Marc’s mother’s boyfriend.
I went to see Marc after the fire, a couple days after to see if he was okay. And, when I walked into the hospital, man he looked like pizza bubbles. Then the story came out, and then somebody’s like, “Yo, you see this story about this graffiti writer who got burned?” And I was like, “What!?” I confronted Marc, but he was still on meds and he was just out of it, so I was like “Alright, well, whatever.”
Shortly thereafter, the Police, Transit Authority, they knew they had an incident. They figured it out. They went to him, “Can you tell us what happened? This guy…who’s this guy?” And I was working at McDonald’s on 96th and Broadway, which was like the first McDonald’s in New York. I’d already known about the story in the paper, but I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t think that anybody was coming for me. And then boom, “Oh, excuse me, is Lenny McGurr working today?” They took me downstairs. Basically, my mom spilled the beans, but my mom said to the cops, “What you published, that’s wrong. My son got Marc out of there and took him to the hospital.” I never got the chance to really talk to Marc. I told the cops, “I’m joining the military. I’m leaving, I’m done. I’m done with graffiti. My friend almost got killed. That’s it.” And then in February ‘74, I left.
To read the full story, cop the next issue of Mass Appeal coming soon.