getting Up by SD Thorpe covers a momentous week in the life of Paul aka Roket, a sixteen year old ‘Toy’ or burgeoning graffiti writer.
Bored, lonely, horny and pissed off, Roket has dropped out of school and is largely left to fend for himself by his messed up mother. He subsists on Maccas and whatever he can manage to scrape together at home. ‘Getting up’ — creating graffiti — with his crew is the only thing that gives structure to his days. And even the cops Roket encounters grudgingly admit he’s got talent. But when a battle between two graf crews turns deadly, the fall out could make or break him.
The target audience might be young adults, but there is much for not-so-young adults to enjoy. As well as a good yarn, getting Up offers insight into Melbourne’s social history in the late-1980, specifically its graffiti history.
Melbourne through Roket’s eyes is a landscape of tags, burners, throwups and pieces (check the glossary for definitions). The action often takes place in the city’s hidden parts: laneways, billboard sidings, train carriage roofs, abandoned abattoirs.
Keith Haring’s visit to Collingwood Tech in 1984 gets a mention, as does the ‘wicked’ graf he created. ‘Old school, but cool,’ as Roket puts it.
There are references to the ‘real old school’ political graffiti of the 1960s and early 1970s, when ‘graffiti used to say something’, as one of the older characters laments.
And in the background of the story, the Berlin Wall is coming down, news reports noting that parts of the wall with good graffiti are in hot demand.
A couple of minor niggles notwithstanding (e.g. reference to Centrelink eight years before it was established), getting Up ticks all the boxes as a highly entertaining read that places credible, sympathetic characters in a fascinating context.
I’d hazard that even readers who view graffiti as visual pollution rather than art will come away from reading getting Up with new insight into what motivates this form of self-expression — be it boredom, passion, bravado or the desire to belong.
getting Up is published by Momentum Books in electronic format. Available here.