“Cool Disco Dan is part of the story [of D.C.] as much as the Lincoln Memorial,” Mark Anderson, Positive Force D.C. and Author
Though few Washingtonians ever saw his face, the legendary tag of graffiti artist Danny Hogg, known high and low across the city as “Cool Disco Dan,” is as recognizable as the Washington Monument. Hogg, who passed away, July 26, from diabetic complications, was fondly remembered August 4, at a documentary screening of his life at Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, and celebrated by participants, including community activist Ron Moten, as a D.C. icon.
The documentary, The Legend of Cool Disco Dan (2012), was produced and directed by Joseph Pattisall, and shows how Hogg became firmly entrenched in D.C.’s 80s street culture, which included the trifecta: go-go music, neighborhood crews, and tagging. It also documents how mental health challenges and family crises, transformed an introverted and shy Black kid into a household name.
Former D.C. Police officer Donald Gossage claimed in the documentary that at the height of his tagging, the average person could not go more than 25 or 50 feet without seeing Disco Dan tagged somewhere. That somewhere seemed to be everywhere, including the most unlikely places, including highway overpasses, bridges, manholes, and utility paths.
“It’s true that those who met Dan, often saw a young Black man who was almost painfully shy – so much so that he would look at the ground when he shook your hand, or kind of mumble through his conversations with you,” Lolita Brown, an audience member, who said she knew Hogg as a teen told ACUMEN. “It was such a striking difference between him as a person and the larger-than-life graffiti he created all over the city.”
Notables like Ben Ali, Marion Barry, and Chuck Brown feature prominently in the documentary, alongside members of Hogg’s friends, family – and the artist himself. And according the friends, like Moten, it was important for young people growing up the city to see Hogg’s life unfold before them – and in his own words, so that stereotypes and rumors could be set aside.
“When we came up, we were in crews, but we were also nurtured at home. We were competing against each other, but there was not a lot of people getting killed like it is today,” Moten told the crowd. “This documentary is important because Dan was important and the music and culture of tagging is drowned out sometimes by talk of drug and violence.”
Moten added that many young people are unaware of D.C. history beyond the negative headlines of mainstream newspapers and television networks, which often vilify Black communities without a clear understanding of the people or events shaping them.
“If young people don’t claim their history, someone else will pick it up and make up all types of things about their experiences or cut them out,” Moten said. “Dan made himself known and in this city, that’s a great thing.”