By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a major (read: very expensive) New York–based PR firm announcing an upcoming event in L.A. This is a several-times-a-day occurrence in the life of a music editor, but what made this e-mail odd was that the publicist had not sent the name of the musician in question, or of any particular album or gig.
Instead, all the e-mail had was a drawing of a wall with a long, not particularly memorable quote by Dwight Eisenhower about how excessive military spending takes resources away from social spending. The publicist also directed me to an address in downtown L.A. between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
I wrote back to him pointing out that to send a reporter to cover whatever that was, I would need more details. "Sorry to be so cryptic," the publicist e-mailed back. "We're working a viral marketing campaign for Roger Waters, but we promised we wouldn't drop his name/Pink Floyd right off the bat. We're broadcasting this quote around L.A./NYC this weekend between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. each day Thur/Fri/Sat, so you'll have some time to check it out, and we'll be servicing pictures as well. If you feel inclined to write anything, do a favor and [don't] explicitly drop his name?"
As I was pondering how best to cover this and what exactly he meant by "broadcasting this quote," the following day I received another message from the same publicist saying they didn't have the L.A. shots yet, but now "they've decided that we're going to make a formal announcement." The word "they" presumably referred to Waters' people. "Things are moving so, so quickly!," the publicist added.
I was aware that Waters was about to embark on another, typically oversize extravaganza, once again trotting out his heavy-handed 1979 rock opera, The Wall. However, nothing in the initial communication pegged this self-described "viral marketing" campaign to the upcoming tour.
Later that afternoon, the publicist e-mailed me some photos of a couple of downtown L.A. buildings with enormous light projections of the quote on their sides, according to the instructions the millionaire U.K. bassist had given his pricey New York team of marketing geniuses and PR experts.
This was street art for the global village, a monstrous takeover of an organic, popular, sometimes subversive art form by the kinds of faceless corporate entities that Waters lambasts again and again in his work. So we wrote a little Web post about it, gently mocking the endeavor and expressing puzzlement at the choice of Eisenhower as a pacifist sage, and that was that.
Except it wasn't. A few days later I happened to be walking on Sunset Boulevard past the wall between Solutions Audio-Video Repair and hip cantina Malo, the one with the swirling red, white and blue design immortalized by Los Feliz/Silver Lake rock photographer Autumn De Wilde as the background to an iconic image of Elliott Smith. The image gained worldwide renown as the cover of Smith's last completed album, Figure 8, in 2000.
After the singer's tragic death three years later, the wall became a popular, moving memorial for his fans, who would scribble heartfelt messages about the way Smith's music had touched their lives. It also became a popular photo spot for rock-inclined visitors to Los Angeles.
Much like that other impromptu rock memorial, Jim Morrison's tomb in Paris, "the Elliott Smith wall" (as it is known in the neighborhood) has been repeatedly covered by less whimsical taggers, a reminder that the stretch between Los Feliz and Silver Lake was not and still might not be as gentrified as the hype would have it. Smith's friends and fans have occasionally led campaigns to "restore" the original design, but large graffiti pieces can be seen co-existing with the ballpoint I miss you Elliotts more often than not.
That evening, however, I noticed that a third form of message had joined the other two: a glued poster bearing the Eisenhower quote in the distinctive Pink Floyd: The Wall font, together with a pseudo-stencilled image of a soldier cradling a child. Clearly, Waters' marketing team had moved on from humongous projections to strategically placed "street art."
I snapped a photo with my cell phone and the next day, May 4, wrote on the Weekly's West Coast Sound blog a post titled, "Roger Waters Paid Street Artists to Deface Elliott Smith Memorial Mural." (Granted, while 100 percent accurate, the headline was not very subtle. After the blog post went genuinely viral — without the help of an expensive PR team — fans of the former Pink Floyd frontman pointed this out. To be called unsubtle by Roger Waters' fans is a bit rich.)
"Elliott Smith's moving memorial," I wrote, "is now part of Waters' 'guerrilla' marketing campaign for expensive tickets to a nostalgia gig aimed at wealthy boomers."
The post spread throughout the Internet in a matter of hours, garnering attention from Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, NME, Entertainment Weekly and other national and international publications. Word got to Waters, who was busy preparing the "official" announcement of his The Wall Live tour, and he promptly called the L.A. Times to set the record straight.
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