Growing up in Beverly Hills in the 80s and 90s, this guy was like living landscape. I don’t honestly remember him ever not being there. In fact, I seem to inject him into other memories, onto other streets: When I look back, I’m sure I see him not only on Robertson, but on Sunset, and Santa Monica, and on Beverly Drive, too. He always rollerdanced in his signature black spandex with a boombox on his shoulder, and he always seemed to be totally in the groove. There were other homeless people in town whose mental illness was frightening, but “The Robertson Dancer” (his real name is John Wesley Jermyn) seemed totally benign. We just watched him, shook our heads in awe, and smiled. I vividly remember sitting in the back seat of my father’s car and craning my neck to watch as we drove by.
It’s been widely reported in the past week that a few Bev Hills kids have created a clothing label with designs that bear his likeness. Named after him, the label is called “The Crazy Robertson” and is only part of the package: You can also check out the MySpace page they set up to promote him, the clothing line, and the nightclub venture of the same name. And yes, there’s an “official” website, too. You can have a look at their t-shirt and hoodie designs, here. They’re being sold at Kitson.
It will come as no surprise, I’m sure, that some of his family and homeless activists are calling this exploitation. Jermyn agreed to a deal that entitles him to 5% of “net profit” from clothing sales, and he apparently gets to weigh in on design decisions. He signed the contract without consulting anyone, and prefers to be paid in food, liquor, and art supplies. The way I see it, this was bound to happen sooner or later, and not necessarily by someone willing to include Jermyn (however superficially) and offer him some of the profit. That said, I don’t really know what to make of a city in which one of the most expensive, trendy boutiques is selling shirts with the image of a homeless, schizophrenic guy on them. What do you think? Exploitation, or just LA?