Painted on the corner of 21st and
Guadalupe, a frog mural decorates white
brick wall, greeting all that pass by, “Hi, How Are You?”
There’s nothing outstanding about technique, nor the muted
black-and-white color scheme, that draws pedestrians’ gazes
to this mural. But the simple smile — the wild eyes wide
with something genuine and friendly — are enough to capture
the attention of tourists and locals alike.
Unlike many of Austin’s other photo-worthy locations, such
as the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue or Mount Bonnell, no plaque
accompanies this mural. Consequently, no one thinks of the
work as more than just another piece of quirky Austin street
art. Although we’re quick to take pictures and ask the frog
“How are you,” most people don’t really stop to ask “What
A long history surrounds the
street art, and the friendly face is just a fraction of it
all. The frog was commissioned in
1993 by the Sound Exchange record store that once operated
out of the building. This amicable amphibian’s name is
Jeremiah the Innocent, and he is the album art on a record
called 'Hi, How Are You?' Texas-based
artist and musician Daniel Johnston.
Johnston, similarly to his friend
Jeremiah, is mostly unrecognized by name. But his influence
on both Austin and national music cultures runs deep. His
clunky yet endearing lo-fi recordings inspired artists from
Kurt Cobain to the Flaming Lips in their deeply emotional
and illustrative songwriting. Johnston is also widely
one of the foremost artists of New Sincerity, an immensely
impactful collective of Austin musicians.
Due to various turns of events and
mental illnesses (Johnston lives with schizophrenia and
manic-depressive disorder), Johnston’s art never saw the
big-screen-and-flashing-lights recognition enjoyed by those
he later influenced. Knowledge and appreciation for his
artistry is now mostly confined to fringe groups and musical
But everyday, Jeremiah the Innocent sits and waits and
smiles at us, and everyday, people admire him and take
pictures with him. And everyday, the ‘Hi How Are You?’ mural
remains a globally recognized symbol of Austin, Texas.
Johnston deserves a plaque next to Jeremiah to summarize the
story of the mural and his music. This iconic piece
represents Austin’s unique musical landscape and its
importance for artists around the world. If people admire
Jeremiah enough to take pictures with him, our community is
doing them a disservice by not sharing more about how he
came to be.
Sitting on some of the most
coveted real estate in Austin today, Jeremiah shoulders many
burdens to continue living on Guadalupe Street and has
earned the right to recognition. When the mural’s original
owners could no longer afford rent
and Baja Fresh moved in,
it was only the innumerable calls urging management not to
paint over Jeremiah that saved the day. In 2016, a woman who
felt Jeremiah was insulting her spray-painted obscenities
across his face, warranting restoration. These efforts to
preserve the mural would be honored by a plaque.
Erecting some sort of
informational marker might be legally tricky. The mural only
still remains because the businesses that lease out the
building respect its history and decide not to paint over it
— Jeremiah is not protected by the city or state.
certain historical landmark protections would be difficult
if not impossible for this mural. But if ever a current
business owner collaborated with local government or simply
placed a plaque on the wall by themselves, I’m sure Jeremiah
would feel more at home in Austin.
Larcher is a Plan II sophomore from Austin, TX.