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Diary of a Billsticker – Lambertville, New Jersey, USA

Woke Up This Morning and Got Myself a Broom

It is true that putting up posters will shift the dirty water off one’s chest. I have never come back from a poster run feeling worse (I’ve said this before), not even when my posters have been immediately covered by another posterer. This used to happen all the time in old Christchurch (and elsewhere) when sometimes twenty different people would go out pasting up for twenty different gigs on the same night. It’s a nice and interesting idea that people should ‘share’, but I always think their egos involved and sometimes egos can’t grasp even very simple concepts. Then, it’s not as if every ego in the world is working for a bank or finance company or even in politics. No, there are egos everywhere. Sometimes there are even egos in reverse.

Talking of egos, the most disturbing thing about America right now is the Oil Spill (yes, I meant to capitalise that because it is a huge disaster) in the Gulf. I hear there is another panel of ‘experts’ who are going to meet and discuss the matter later on in the week. The panel consists of Bono, Sting, Sean Penn and Elton John and their discussion will be screened on Entertainment Tonight. That’s how sad it all is. If only they would completely give away their fortunes to make it better. But they’ll never do that. The head guy from BP looks stunned and ineffectual and Mr Obama should front up and start cane-ing people. That’s the view of my ego.

So that’s why I like postering, because when you are putting up posters everything becomes perfectly clear and truthful (“The only thing that matters is the clear and simple truth” – Ernest Hemingway). It’s the activity of postering that unclogs the system and gets me moving and doing something that I enjoy a hell of a lot: putting up simple street posters for poets. That’s about the easiest thing to do and I do not like the theorising before and after the fact that one sees on television these days. Lewis Lapham once said something about television front people being the new car sales people of the media set and he’s right. So the Gulf Oil Spill is a tragedy on a number of fronts. The animals (human and otherwise) will suffer the most. I feel for them.

I did this run in Lambertville over three days and I put up posters by Jeffery McCaleb, Roy Smith, Brian Turner, Gerald Stern, Chris Knox, Robert Creeley, Michael Palma, Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire and Michele Leggott. Some of these are my favourites of course. I can stand back and look at them on a lamp-post and I feel good. I’m ‘put together’ again.

I tried to mix in the different sentiments with these posters too; some go really well in couplings with another poet. Sam is good with anyone. Robert Creeley is the man and will bring light to any lamp-post. Michael Palma goes really well with Chris Knox (he the musician and Michael the dude talking about Ray Charles). Roy Smith’s poem is just funky and smells of sand and diesel and Jeffery McCaleb just has this big heart, which I hope continues to serve him well.

And so on and so forth.

So you can see it’s not just about stapling a few posters to lampposts, it’s about ‘feeling’ and ‘being’ and it beats talking to lawyers and accountants and watching that Oil Spill. It also whips the endless and vapid smiles of television presenters. I’m sure all this is the cause of obesity.

You can quite easily see why people wake up and get themselves a broom. A broom is the best friend of a billsticker. A broom is what a billsticker usually uses to put up posters. Billsticking happens in every major city in the world. People will go out and express themselves. They’ve done this since before the beginning of recorded time. We’ve got a guy at Phantom Billstickers in Christchurch right now who is the fastest guy I have ever seen with a broom. I won’t mention his name because that may cause embarrassment.

I have learnt the noble art of billsticking from some of New Zealand’s best ever promoters. Here I am going to mention some names: Hugh Lynn, Robert Raymond, Harry M. Miller, Joe Brown, Oz Armstrong, Mark Cassin and Benny Levin.

We used to do ‘airport runs’ and this is where a billsticker would go out and poster the road in from the airport just before the date and time of the arrival of the ‘star’ or ‘stars’. Then you’d poster all around the hotel at which the promoter would tell you the act was staying. To use a sentence from “The Thin Red Line” this ‘bucks the men up’. The stars feel better and spirits are lifted. 90% of the value of a concert of any kind is that everyone arrives and leaves happy. The stars included.

Benny Levin would always ‘walk the town’ and ‘talk the act up’. I am privileged enough to be able to say that I did this with him a few times. He’d snaffle down a couple of ginseng and we’d put some posters under our wings and go from shop to shop putting up posters for the gig. This would be a few days before the play date and the important thing wasn’t so much the putting up the posters (although this was still critically important), but the talking to the shopkeepers and getting a gauge of how the concert would sell… Getting people interested.  If two hundred people told you in one day that they loved the act and were going to be at the gig, then this gave you a really good indication of how that concert would go. I don’t like to disparage anyone or anything really, but this kind of thing will still give you a better indicator of the popularity of an act than Facebook or the internet will ever be able to do. This is real people talking to real people. So, even though we may want to freshen up the simple street poster with technology, there is no doubt that it (the simple street poster) is a very powerful instrument and it feels real. I’ve said it.

Real is what the world needs of course. Getting face to face with people and making contact is the most powerful force in the world.

I was going to write about Eddie Chin on this posting. In my opinion, Eddie was one of New Zealand’s finest ever promoters and did one hellacious amount for the NZ music industry. I actually had some intake from people who played for Eddie back in the 1970s to write something, but this will have to wait.

I grew up watching how Eddie’s clubs bought Dunedin alive and I was very much influenced by what he did. I’m going to write about him on my next posting, because right now I hear a lamppost and a broom calling to me.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

31a 31b

Diary of a Billsticker – Chicago, USA

There’s lots of things to think about with a head full of the Blues in the Windy City: The failed Volstead Act and how that applies in this day and age with drugs; ‘Hinky Dick’ Kenna; ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin and other crooked Politicians (“Vote early…and Vote often); Abbie Hoffman; Bobby Seale and the 1968 Democrat Party Convention along with its subsequent riots; Oprah and the failure of television; Nelson Algren; Saul Bellow; Robert Johnson; Tom Petty’s excellent album “Live in Chicago”; the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; John Belushi and the Blues Brothers; John Dillinger and the Biograph Theatre; Al Capone; Barack Obama; Eliot Ness; The Tommy Gun; Carl Sandburg (“Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders”); the Rolling Stones and 2120 South Michigan Avenue; the stock yards; the freight yards; the trains; the 1893 World’s Fair… To name just a few topics of thought.

These are all the images that come to me of Chicago. New Zealand television played the original series of the Untouchables in the early 60s as I was growing up in Dunedin. I was left with wonderful and wild imagery. That’s what television can do. For better or for worse.

Now with all of that it’s probably better to do a simple poster run. I did. A poster run always clears the head and gets the blood flowing. It was very wet and windy on both days as we went out to tape NZ poetry posters to lampposts around Chicago. It was kind of like postering in Wellington with the weather against you. Still, as I’ve often said, nothing beats a good, simple poster run and the knowledge that one is making a difference. I am enormously proud of NZ poets as I go about this. There seems to be a limited system of framed off poster sites in Chicago just as Phantom operates in New Zealand. But there are also lots of lamp-post posters in the Windy City. Going by the posters, Chicago has a lot of very creative people about. That’s how I judge creativity in a new city, by the style and number of street posters I see about. A creative city always has lots of street posters. What craven-hearted type of person would want to stamp this out? To stop people expressing themselves. That’s not good.

Chicago is an exciting city and does not disappoint. For all its crime and bad times, it is a wonderfully vital city. It is obviously very alive. Chicago (say the name over a few times… What a great name) is kind of like the McLaggan Street area of Dunedin in the 1950s and 1960s blown up and maximised to a 10,000% image. In McLaggan Street at the time, almost anything went and most of it twice: the crime, the violence, the Opium houses, the great music in the local pub, the Kiwis just doing their best and working every day. Some of those Kiwis were getting over the experience of the Second World War. They were all good blokes. I remember that. They had a dignity in bad times.

In Dunedin, the wind even came blowing in off the harbour and up the hill just like the wind blows in off the lake in Chicago. I don’t know if either wind actually cleanses, but a bit of bad weather always makes for an interesting city. It certainly did (and does) in Dunedin. Dunedin is a similarly creative city. Obviously, lots of great NZ music has come from Dunedin. It’s the atmosphere of the place. It’s a mixture.

I’ll finish this by saying there is a new Untouchables movie in the making called ‘Capone Rising’. I long for the day when someone makes a movie about McLaggan Street. Janet Frame touched on the area in some of her writing, but there’s more work to be done. New Zealand has just as rich a culture as Chicago and there’s more to be said. Lots more to be said.


Thank you, friends.


Jim Wilson