What happens when good Burners go bad? Everyone has their spaz moments. Everyone falls from grace from time to time. Often these betrayals and social faux pas go unnoticed. We take a nap, have a cup of coffee, smoke something and achieve the attitude adjustment that we needed. Sometimes we need to quit our jobs or go take a long walk in the woods to simmer down for a bit. Sometimes, something will just grind your gears so badly that you need to act out, throw a temper tantrum, or smash a watermelon with a rubber mallet to see clearly again.
Lee Mayjahs?, local Philly DJ and member of the PEX Crew who BARmag, has been receiving an onslaught of media attention after he admitted to defacing a much loved, city-funded Kurt Vile mural in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia. The good people of Philly are literally up in arms over the buffing out of the beloved mural “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze” that depicted musician Kurt Vile’s cover art from his recent 2013 LP.
I recently reached out to DJ Lee Mayjahs? to ask him a few questions about his status as a veteran Burner and recent and frivolous decision to take it upon himself to rid his neighborhood of unwanted graffiti by defacing someone else’s artwork. Read on to hear about his momentary lack of reasoning, which led to his sincerest regrets.
BAR Mag: Give me a brief overview of your relationship with Burning Man and the PEX crew community, as a DJ and and artist.
Lee Mayjahs?: I first attended Burning Man in 1999 and ever since then it has become an integral part of my life. The people and community that I have become involved with since then are made up of some of the most talented, interesting and forward thinking individuals I will ever have the opportunity to meet. This community has also helped support and nourish my artistic endeavors and for that I am eternally grateful.
BAR Mag: Burning Man values principles such as radical self expression, communal effort, and civic responsibility. How do those ideals play a part in your recent actions of “defacing” the Kurt Vile mural in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia?
Lee Mayjahs?: They really played no role whatsoever. I did a stupid, foolish thing based on some misguided sense of neighborhood self preservation. In my own limited perspective I saw someone else’s Marketing Art as affecting my neighborhood in a negative way and took matters into my own hands.
BAR Mag: Philadelphia is known throughout the country for its impressive Mural Arts Program and boasts more murals on its city walls than any where else in our nation. You claim that this city commissioned mural, painted by artist Steve “ESPO” Powers, seemed to be attracting more unwanted graffiti in your neighborhood. Can you explain how and why you decided to take matters into your own hands and paint over the mural?
Lee Mayjahs?: I really had a momentary lapse of reason. I have no right to destroy anyone’s art regardless of my personal opinion of it. The sad and ironic thing of the whole situation is that I know who Powers is but did not know it was his art. If I did there is no way I would have done what I did. But even that logic is flawed because it should not make any difference wether the mural was by a well known or obscure artist it should not affect the perceived value of it or whether it should be protected or not. There are beautiful murals by lesser known artists in our city that get painted over every day and no one ever says a word. And that is a shame too. I have contacted the Philadelphia Mural Arts program and am somehow hoping that we can develop a better rapport and that something positive will develop as a result of the tragic and senseless incident.
BAR Mag: You’ve been receiving a lot of really harsh feedback from the media, the city, and local Philly residents about this course of action. Vice’s music blog Noisy referred to you as “some asshole” and various other outlets have called you an “ignorant piece of shit.” This is all very perplexing, as prior to this incident, you were recognized as being a popular local DJ and artist. You’ve sent out apology letters and seem to deeply regret your actions, claiming that this was the “stupidest thing you’ve done in your life.” Tell me a bit about how you think you’d feel, as an artist, to have some stranger deface your own art that you’ve created. Vandalism of any sort is a sad and cowardly act.
Lee Mayjahs?: Of course I agree that vandalism of any type is immature and senseless. We all should respect each other. The individual that called me those names was the man who first tried to stop me from doing what I did. He was correct in his evaluation of who I was at that moment. Since then he and I have talked and there is no anger from either side.
BAR Mag: It appears that Kurt Vile has been pretty laid back and forgiving about the whole matter. Do you think there’s an underlying lesson hidden behind all of this?
Lee Mayjahs?: Yes ironically, both Kurt Vile and Powers have been the most forgiving individuals in this whole situation. It has been everyone else that is standing outside my door with pitchforks.
BAR Mag: Anything you want to say to the people of Philly and the Burner community about the incident, going forward? Forgive and forget?
Lee Mayjahs?: I posted a public apology in Philly Mag immediately after the incident but this is what I posted to my closer network on Facebook last night.
“As probably all of you have heard I did a really stupid thing last weekend. I took my anger towards vandalism and became a vandal myself. I painted over a commissioned piece of art on a wall in my neighborhood without thinking of the consequences or wishes of anyone but myself. In my anger twisted mind I saw that art as being responsible for other problems I was battling with. I have no right destroy anyone’s art without their permission. After coming to my senses I sent humble apologies to both the artist and the individual who commissioned it. I felt like I had done an irrevocable horrible act and I had. I sincerely apologize to the rest of the community and am sorry for the negative impact this has had on you and hope that this has not embarrassed anyone but myself. I can truly say that i have invested my entire life and every resource I have available to me to try and make my neighborhood and community a better place. Sometime’s when we believe in something that passionately we act in extreme ways. And that is what i did. I have been a resident of Philadelphia for 23 years and I am here for a reason, I believe that our city is one of the greatest in the world and the connections, people and diversity of this great city are irreplaceable. I know that there is nothing i can do to correct the wrong i have done. The Artist has agreed to come down to Philly and replace/repair the art on my dime next week. I know that this is just the beginning of the healing that will have to take place and only the first of many steps I will need to make to regain the trust of the Philadelphia Artist community. I truly pray that somehow we can turn this unnecessary and frustrating incident into something positive. For those of you that I have angered I hope one day you can see it your heart to forgive me. For those of you who have stood up for me and supported me through this diversity I thank you. Again, I am sorry.”
Check out our interview with Lee Mayjahs? back in 202 to read more about his art and his contributions to Burning Man and the Philadelphia burner community.