On this Day in SF History...
On November 11, 1987, 20,000 people gathered in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza for a free U2 concert called "Save the Yuppies." During the performance, lead singer Bono pulled out a can of red spray paint, climbed on top of the Vaillancourt Fountain and sprayed the phrases: “Stop the Traffic” and “Rock and Roll.”
At that time, Mayor Dianne Feinstein was cracking down on graffiti and vandalism in the city, and she expressed her disappointment that Bono had defaced another artist’s work. Since other graffitiers were being arrested, fined, ordered to clean up their graffiti and serving time, Feinstein suggested that Bono be treated no differently. Bono was quick to issue an apology, stating: “The act of spraying “Rock and Roll Stops the Traffic” was done out of respect for and in the spirit of the artist’s work.” Bono was referencing an incident at the unveiling of the Vaillancourt Fountain in 1971, when the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt defaced his own fountain by painting the slogan “Québec Libre” (“Free Québec”) all over it. Nevertheless, Bono was issued a misdemeanor citation for “malicious mischief.”
At a U2 concert in Oakland a few days later, Bono introduced Armand Vaillancourt. The French-Canadian artist had flown in from Toronto for the appearance. Speaking to the crowd, Vaillancourt said “Bono does not have to apologize to me.” Together, Bono and Vaillancourt grabbed buckets of paint and rollers and graffitied the stage.
In the end, the SF District Attorney announced that he would not file charges, as Bono had offered to pay for the fountain to be cleaned, and also issued a formal letter of apology: “I am sincerely sorry if my actions caused any inconvenience to the citizens or law enforcement forces in the city. I think San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities U2 has ever been asked to play. I would never want to deface it. Spraying Vaillancourt sculpture was a mistake. I regret that, but it was not meant as a malicious act. I would also hope that the real street artists of San Francisco will not suffer because of a scrawler like me.”
You can watch the "Save the Yuppies" concert here: