Rock/Don’t Rock

Photo: Noah Sheldon

On the WALK/DON’T WALK sign outside CBGB on the Bowery, the orange DON’T WALK hand has had its middle two fingers and thumb obliterated with black tape, turning it into a devil’s horns—the universal hand signal for “Rock!” The white walking man is now wearing sideburns, a skull-and-bones T-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of Converse. Across the street, the walking man has become a woman, with spiky hairdo, miniskirt, and high-heeled ankle boots. Nearby, at the intersection of Allen and Rivington, the man wears an Adidas tracksuit and Kangol hat, and carries a boom box. In all three cases, holes have been carefully punched in the pasted-on “clothing” (made from vinyl), so that the LED light still shines through.

Who is altering the WALK signs of downtown New York? A young couple from Brooklyn who go by the name Thundercut. One’s a graphic designer, the other makes legit signs by day. Their nocturnal work requires a steady hand with the X-Acto blade and sturdy shoulders to sit on. One half of Thundercut recalls the inspiration for the project: “One day I noticed a crosswalk sign which had broken off and was hanging at eye level. I started thinking about the really generic, masculine ‘walker,’ and thought it would be funny if at least one of these clunky pictos was wearing a skirt.”

Thundercut are not the first to tamper with the city’s crosswalk signs. In 1993, an artist called True replaced the WALK and DON’T WALK commands with his own messages. Among them: CONSUME/CONFORM, outside a midtown Gap, and REPENT/SIN, in front of St. John the Divine. “It took me two minutes to shin up the poles and switch the stencils,” True recalls. “The grates were only held on with two wing nuts.”

The Department of Transportation had no comment about Thundercut’s recent interventions, but the Brooklyn duo say they’ve been noticing more and more protective grilles placed over signs.

Other observers are more appreciative. After installing the signs outside CBGB, Thundercut returned to document their work and noticed a homeless man watching them. “He looked knowingly at us and said, ‘Ohhhh, the CBGBs guy!’—as if the sign had been there as long as the club. We gave him some change.”

Rock/Don’t Rock