Austin, TX is home to a great deal of interesting street art, but there are a few murals that are deeply ingrained in the city’s story and culture. Like musician Daniel Johnston’s Hi How Are You Frog on Guadalupe, Jo’s Coffee on South Congress features a similar mural with a sweet, simple message. It says in red, handwritten scrawl “i love you so much.”
This short little message speaks to almost everyone who sees it. It inspires speculation and countless selfies riddled with sincere expressions of affection. It can almost seem as if the building itself is just trying to send positives vibes, to make us feel loved by someone or something no matter what. As for the story behind it, people often wonder if it was part of a proposal stunt, or if it’s just proclaiming devotion to the sacred caffeinated bean the shop it’s connected to serves up.
It turns out the real story behind the mural is a little hazy. The story that’s usually told that local musician Amy Cook wrote it on the wall of Jo’s Coffee after she and then girlfriend Liz Lambert, principal owner of the shop, had a fight. However, in a video filmed for the Austin Statesman last year, Amy says that she can’t remember if inspired by a fight, or if she was just being randomly sweet that day. She didn’t make up the idea of this particular style of graffiti out of the blue, either: it was a reference to a moment the couple shared together several years before in New York.
During their visit to the Big Apple they’d ventured down a random alleyway and found “I love you so much” spray-painted in yellow. Whether or not it was an attempt to make up or a spontaneous romantic gesture, it was more importantly a talisman calling for their shared past. It’s a personal moment spreading through time, through consciousness. The details are blurred, but the connection is clear. Sometimes it feels like there are invisible wires connecting us to other people, and when someone references a shared experience, it’s like a little tug on the wire – remember when we shared that time and place?
This particular little personal tug has itself become a frame of reference for so many others, a symbol rippling out on a sea of shared snaps full of goofy poses. Or maybe it’s just a glance up as you walk past. The next time you see it, you remember the arm of the person who was with you. You try to recall exactly the way they used to laugh, but it may be easier to smell the street misters mingling with the baked heat and the twangsweet voice of a street musician defiantly decked out in cowboy boots despite the relentless Texas summer. The past melts and drifts forming something just as true as what seems to happen in the moment.