Legendary D.C. graffiti artist Cool ‘Disco’ Dan — and a big chance to get a pet

Columnist October 16, 2013

One man was conspicuous at the opening night party for “Pump Me Up,” a show at the Corcoran this year about the District’s go-go and punk subcultures in the 1980s. Dressed in a sport coat and slacks, he stood to the side, his back to the wall, surveying the crowd.

It was not Cool “Disco” Dan, the graffiti artist whose tag was ubiquitous around the District 30 years ago and whose work formed the centerpiece of the exhibit. It was a former D.C. police officer named Donald Gossage. If he was uncomfortable seeing a guy who wielded a spray can be celebrated, he didn’t show it.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“Graffiti wasn’t really investigated that much as a criminal offense back then,” Donald told me when I spoke to him on the phone Wednesday. With the crack epidemic in full swing and the murder rate skyrocketing, the police had bigger fish to fry.

Donald — who was an officer for 25 years before his retirement in 1996 — appears in “The Legend of Cool ‘Disco’ Dan,” a documentary being shown this weekend at the AFI Silver. Does it bother him, I asked, that Dan is seen as a folk hero?

“I really don’t have any feelings in regard to how ‘Disco’ Dan is looked at, back then or now,” he said. “Back then, when his name was popping up everywhere, I was wondering all the time who this guy is.”

Graffiti artist Cool Disco Dan with some of his handiwork. (ANDRE CHUNG/TWP)

So were we all.

“It didn’t matter where you went in the city, just about every corner you’re gonna see ‘Cool “Disco” Dan,’ ” Donald said. His interest was in whether Dan was connected with the violent D.C. gangs known as crews. Donald quickly learned he was not.

Donald didn’t actually meet the tagger — whose real name is Dan Hogg — until they were interviewed for the film, which was made by Joseph Pattisall and Roger Gastman.

What I took away from the movie after seeing it this year was this: Cool “Disco” Dan became ubiquitous because he wasn’t cool. He didn’t run with the cool kids who did drugs, and he didn’t run with the corner kids who sold drugs. When those kids started getting locked up or killed, it left the District’s streets empty for his tagging.

Dan’s had a tough life, burdened by mental illness and stints of homelessness, but he’s scheduled to be at two of the AFI screenings. A once-secret celebrity can finally appear on stage. Visit afi.com/silver for details. If you can’t make it to AFI, you can rent the film online at cooldiscodan.com.

Another movie with a local angle: “Led Zeppelin Played Here,” Jeff Krulik’s documentary about the mythical — and perhaps even actual — 1969 Wheaton Youth Center performance by the British band, screens at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Greenbelt Theatre as part of the Utopia Film Festival. There will be a Q&A with Jeff and local music history omnivore Mark Opsasnick. For info go to utopiafilmfestival.org.

Going to the dogs

A Mega Match-a-Thon sounds like something the Rev. Sun Myung Moon would have cooked up: a thousand couples getting hitched in a huge ceremony. In fact, it’s an event sponsored by three area animal shelters to adopt out as many dogs and cats as possible on a single day.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, the Washington Humane Society and the Montgomery County Humane Society are filling vans with adoptable animals and bringing them to the Washington Animal Rescue League at 71 Oglethorpe St. NW.

It’s like an incredible overstock sale at a car dealership. We’re talking close to 300 dogs and cats, some showroom fresh, some previously owned.

“There’s an embarrassment of riches right now,” said WARL CEO Bob Ramin when I toured their location the other day.

While it normally costs from $150 to $300 to adopt a dog, they will be available on Saturday for $50. The adoption fee for cats and kittens will be slashed to $25. And that includes spaying or neutering and microchipping.

This is all part of an effort to get pets out of shelters and into homes. In partnership with the AARP, WARL will soon be launching a program called Boomers’ Buddies. If you’re 50 or older, you can adopt a dog or cat that’s 5 or older for free.

How do they do it? Volume!

There’s more info at megamatchdc.com.

Canal route

In my Wednesday column, a Germantown reader was amused and saddened by a porta-potty and a public well shut down at the C&O Canal. Turns out it was a safety issue, said Mike Nardolilli, president of the C&O Canal Trust.

Wrote Mike: “Without anyone to clean the bathrooms or pump out the portable toilets, these facilities were closed to protect public health. Similarly, Maryland requires that the 40 public wells in the park be monitored every two weeks for contamination. With no one to test the water, these wells would now have been out of compliance with state water quality standards had the pump handles not been removed. In short, these actions were taken in order to protect the public health.”

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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