A LOVELETTER TO JEFF GROSSO

A Gifted Person Who Would Rather Give than Take.

JEFF GROSSO | HOUSE OF VANS, BROOKLYN, NY 2012

On March 14, 2019, the spirit of Thrasher Magazine passed away. Jake Phelps (RIP) embodied the duality of skateboarding and because of that, he was a conflicted character but a historian like no other with a photographic memory for skate minutia. Phelps might have had his baggage but the hell ride he packed for connected people.

It’s March 31, 2020, as I type this in minutes after learning that Jeff Grosso has passed, I felt immediate devastation for his family, followed by the realization that skateboarding and the world at large have lost another impassioned storyteller whose care, knowledge, humor, and wit cannot be replaced.

Like Phelps, Grosso had his struggles including his documented drug addictions. Thankfully he was able to face and manage his disease and his wiring to live a colorful life that exuded positivity. Instead of flexing his “legend” status, Grosso used his platform to create a video series titled “Loveletters to Skateboarding” in conjunction with Vans. The Letters were Grosso’s time to not only be encyclopedic about skateboarding but extend his curiosity to others and give them an equal opportunity to share their experiences. Grosso cared about who did the first eggplant. That shit is important. In a sport where documentation is sparse, flawed, and often viewed as irrelevant, Jeff Grosso acted as if he had a late-night show, hosting his series with charisma, charm, and an intense interest in people. He made you care about stories, not just the flashy ones.

In the age of social media and the instant digital homage to those who have passed, it’s common to share an anecdote about the person being mourned. It can come off as self-serving but the reality is that there is no “correct” way to grieve. I’m guilty of judging these types of posts without realizing the comfort or the authenticity they have to the creators and audience. In fact, I blame skateboarding for making me so fucking critical.

Think about it.

Your average baseball fan doesn’t care what someone’s shoelaces looked like when they threw the final pitch in the World Series but skateboarders find fault in the inconceivable and champion the overlooked. For example, a clip of Chris Joslin attempting to 360 El Toro can quickly erode into talk about how it would look better if he wasn’t wearing Rockstar® headwear or jabs about him being an anti-vaxxer. We also discuss clothing or hand formations ad nauseam. How you do something matters and sometimes, that thing isn’t even skateboarding. It’s both weird and awesome.

The greatest synergy between “real” sports and skateboarding is the NBA, where how you do something is as important as the points on the board. Even King James—a player you who can be argued as the greatest of all time or at least, his generation—has fans and even commentators clowning his hairline.

The importance isn’t the critique itself but rather, the love of detail.

Jeff Grosso loved the cracks, folds, hidden history, flair, and personality of skateboarding and I offered the “personal anecdote disclaimer” as this was apparent to me when I met him in 2012 at the House of Vans in Brooklyn, New York.

“Hey man, what the fuck is that T-Shirt?” he said to me. “Is that a real Black Flag shirt?”

Grosso was referencing the “Wonders of Black Flag” Grateful Dead mashup shirt created by designer Jeremy Dean. At the time, Dean’s design had yet to evolve past a black-and-white one-color print and was still in its hobby phase. I gave Grosso the back story and as I was telling him he grabbed Tony Alva and told him to check out the shirt. We talked a bit about music. Being a nerd, I nerded out with him about Orange County hardcore and he quickly reminded me that while he wasn’t straight edge, “Uniform Choice was fuckin’ badass.”

I exchanged emails with him and promised to link him with Dean who sent shirts for both Grosso and Alva, with Grosso later wearing one on an episode of Loveletters. He was a very polite and humorous emailer.

The average skateboarder is more concerned with learning a kickflip rather than who invented the kickflip. I understand this as when I started skating in the ‘80s, I wasn’t immediately on a quest to find old issues of Skateboarder to “learn.” I was in the moment but as the adrenaline turned into repetition, I wanted more and digging back was not only a great way to kill time when the weather didn’t allow skateboarding, it informed the greater world of what skateboarding was to me. Going backward gave me an appreciation for not only the present but what’s ahead. It gave me opinions that I could back up with “fact,” or at least, informed observations that had enough weight to voice and influence my own skateboarding.

In a sense, Jeff Grosso’s contributions to the world aren’t singular but part of an entire point of view—one that could reflect how ridiculous life is while also hugging what he viewed as important tightly in secret. That’s an art. The ability to make things like skateboarding that feel so disposable yet life-changing—tricks that last seconds, yet feel immortal.

Jeff Grosso could do that and add his intrinsic comedic timing, making the heavy feel light.

Now enjoy Jeff Grosso’s part in Santa Cruz Speed Wheels’ Speed Freaks, where he chose to riff and rant for roughly one minute and 37 seconds of his two minute and 21 second part.

Even as a street obsessed grom in 1989, I never gave Grosso the fast forward treatment because Jeff Grosso was fucking cool, so fucking cool.

Rest In Peace.

THE CHALLENGER

Luck Is Stupid and Nothing about Skateboarding.

“I don’t understand how they did it though,” I said. 

Sister Anne wasn’t amused or equipped to answer this query. I was 8 or possibly 9-years-old, attending the parochial school chosen by my parents as the public system in our city was being dismantled and discredited or so I was told—these are difficult things to parse as a child but the simple reality is that Lawrence, Massachusetts public schools were in disarray during a decade many referred to it as the “City of the Damned.” 

What this meant for me was that every morning I was dropped off at the blacktop in front of Saint Michaels’ School in North Andover, Massachusetts before most children arrived and was usually the last picked up from the same paved area. My mother was always, “running late,” which filled me with tension as a boy. I’d wander the small wooded path between the school and the convent where many of the nuns lived, knowing I’d have at least 30 minutes to burn before my mother arrived but it was usually closer to an hour.

My mother was an instructor at a community college and her schedule rarely allowed her to leave in time for my dismissal but I was never privy to that. Instead, I made up things to do: pitching rocks at trees, reading comic books until I was banned from bringing the “devil’s texts” to school, pretending the icy snow banks were the Planet Hoth from Star Wars and acting out my own imaginary sequel. It sucked.

I don’t recall what I actually learned in elementary school—the standouts were getting kicked in the balls by a young girl for what I have no idea, being put on “probation” for writing “KISS” on a brick using a piece of chalk, and throwing up on my teacher’s desk in second grade because we had to ask to use the bathroom.

“Ms. Cochrane, may I…” followed by a rainbow of bile adjacent to her coffee mug—St. Michael’s was one of the few schools that employed non-Sisters of the Cloth. But I do recall “learning” about the Apollo landing because it was one of the few times where we watched a film, rather than listening to a teacher speak about math or science or Christ. Sister Anne wheeled out the projector and showed us an antiquated short about the landing. I asked in earnest how they got there and was immediately lambasted for the remark not realizing that it was a direct show of my lack of faith. 

“Did you pay attention to the film? That’s the entire point,” she replied before deciding I was trying to “sass” her and administering a punishment for my disobedience. “Two days,” she said, walking to the supply closet in the classroom. “Two days to think about how to be a polite young man.” 

I knew what was coming, I got out of my seat as she propped a refrigerator box around my desk with the top cut out and a “window” that would fold down so that work could be placed in my new cubicle. Because I was disruptive, I would now spend two days in the box but I didn’t really give a shit. I could sit there and draw and would have enough time to hide the sketches as she fumbled with the window. The only drawback was the lighting hurt my eyes and made me dizzy but everything makes you feel off when you’re a kid in a room with no air and fluorescent lighting. 

As an avid comic book reader—even at a young age—I was used to explanations. Superman was an alien orphan with powers gifted to him from his parents. Batman and Iron Man had the bankroll to be strong and brave. Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive insect, and the X-Men were born with mutations that gave them powers but space travel was just rockets and shit? I didn’t get it because we had previously been taught about gravity and sure, rockets could maybe get a large missile-shaped thing out of our atmosphere but how the fuck could that little satellite on top thrust its way back to Earth or even know where to land?

What this did teach me was to not ask questions in parochial school as they rarely were met with any positive dialog. The lunar landing was a miracle much like any of Jesus Christ’s during his time on Earth and believing such was the fastest route to favorable grades and comments on my report card—done and done. 

NASA made sure that space was a thing during the 1980s, leveraging the movies, general outer space oeuvre and interest in science fiction of the time. “If you like Star Trek, you’ll love NASA” or whatever the fuck and there were a new crop of National Heroes waiting to emerge, flying space shuttles to uncharted territories. And there were robots, and E.T., and Spacecamp, Buck Rogers, a movie about people dying in a black hole, Battlestar Galactica, Flash Gordon, and really anything not happening on Planet Earth was really cool.

It was now 1986. My family had moved seven miles north from Lawrence to Salem, New Hampshire, a whiter, “safer,” uniform town devoid of anything other than consumer culture, an amusement park, and a pond that some people lived around. They had what was considered good public schools so I was allowed to attend them. Coming from the strict environment prior it was a blessing and a new start. The year began with the New England Patriots suffering a 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX in Louisiana. The sting was lessened by another Boston Celtics NBA Championship in May but bookended by a Red Sox defeat in October that was cataclysmic to the region. 

The two sports franchise losses were devastating but not life-changing to a young person. I may have lost a few trading cards in a bet or felt the same disappointment of getting a telescope instead of a new BMX for Christmas but it didn’t have any lasting trauma other than feeding the loser mentality of a then Boston sports fan. But on January 28—two days after the Patriots noncompetitive ass-kicking—something much more surreal and impactful occurred that still feels like a fever dream, partially because I had one at the time it occurred.

In 1985, NASA put out a call to teachers to become the first educator in space. Yes, this sounds like a bizarre reality TV plot cooked up by Elon Musk but this was real. Over 11,000 teachers applied and out of the fray, A Boston-born woman named Sharon Christa Corrigan—Christa McAuliffe—teaching 38 miles away from my home in Concord, New Hampshire was selected to join the crew on The Challenger. Being from New Hampshire this not only made her a rockstar, but it also made the entire state champion this milestone in space travel.

Christa McAuliffe was an icon before takeoff. On that day in January, 73-seconds after launch, the first teacher in space failed to earn her title as the shuttle broke apart, exploded and landed in the Atlantic Ocean. It was later revealed that they were possibly conscious during their descent. 

That Tuesday was supposed to be a celebration—redemption from a Super Bowl loss. I was a perpetually sick child and stayed home with some type of cold or flu. I slept through the launch only to turn on the TV and see the intestine shaped explosion loop as the tragedy was detailed. I learned what an O-Ring was. I threw up. I heated up the chicken noodle soup left for me in a ceramic pot by my mother. My relationship with the stars was effectively ended—space is not the place. When I returned to school later that week no one was wearing NASA or New England Patriots T-Shirts. Van Halen would release 5150 that springtheir first album with Sammy Hagar which also felt like an L.

Shortly after I decided I didn’t enjoy pop music or pop culture as it felt like math—charts and formulas that people quantify as taste. Rather than live in a spreadsheet, I decided the fringes had an unpredictable charm. No matter what anyone thought about your interests—music, culture, fashion, literature—they were choices that were emblematic of what you liked, not what you needed to quantify. Life isn’t a commodity so if you only like penny stocks you can only profit. Unfortunately, an affinity for the undervalued makes you a target but it’s also not that big of a deal. Predictive or volatile are the same thing when you don’t give a shit. 

——————————————————————————————————————

In 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during atmospheric entry. The Red Sox won 95 games, eventually losing to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship series via a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone on the first pitch he saw from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the eleventh inning. New Yorkers and bandwagon fans were ecstatic, Bostonians were shattered once again. Now living in Brooklyn, New York, a friend asked me the following day what I thought of the game. 

“It only takes one bad pitch,” I replied. What a stupid fucking question but rather than spew anger or “what if” scenarios, I chose to just shut it down. I don’t play for the Red Sox. I don’t bet on sports. I am not invested in outcomes. What did I think about being kicked in the balls or when the local dirt stole my bike, spray painted the entire thing, including the tires white, and refused to admit it was mine and then beat me up? Life sucks. Stupid questions never cease. Whatever.

Numbers are powerful as they are finite. It’s difficult to explain to someone why a piece of art is great or even effective but games are won by numbers. Elections are won by numbers—even if they are confusing or crooked. Being poor or wealthy is simple math—I have X you have Y; if X > Y, I lose. The end. This is the simple line between schools of thought—what you can quantify and what you can glean. Between that is a swamp filled with numbers that have no bottom or top, where some try to connect the crisis of drowning to different digits, patterns, and meanings. Any conspiracy theorist will explain to you the numerology behind our world as if it’s an exact science or code that anyone enlightened can crack. It’s tedious thinking, almost designed to distract people from doing real work or having meaningful interactions with others. I never wanted to see patterns, just outcomes. 

——————————————————————————————————————

We met at the edge of the East River on the Brooklyn side. It was what I would call “Old Fall,” when October felt crisp, not sticky. It was 2005. It was not yet East River Park, a place for Condo Conservatives and faux-Liberals to see live music or eat ramen burgers. The waterfront was filled with rusty things, broken things, and rocks, where you could drink… or smoke rocks. 

“I guess I’m lucky,” she said. “I was supposed to meet my brother at his job on Wall Street to get the key to his apartment but he wasn’t feeling well, so I went straight to his place in Kips Bay. Could you imagine if he went to work?”

I didn’t bring up 9/11. I didn’t want to talk or think about 9/11. And I really disliked these types of “what if” lowkey brags. It’s really odd to turn a tragedy into your good fortune. I immediately picked up that she was into astrology, lucky numbers, lucky T-Shirts, superstitions, palm readers, maybe even energy healing—basically all the shit I avoided. Despite being a judgemental twenty-something, instead of answering back, I lit a joint and asked what time she had to work tomorrow. I proceeded to get way too high and forgot how much I didn’t want to be sitting on this boulder with Aimee—yes, she used the alt spelling—for another minute but didn’t want to be a complete asshole despite at least being half an asshole. 

As we walked down Kent Street towards South Williamsburg, my paranoid brain began rewinding little comments I had tossed out, mentally debating if I sounded too harsh. I decided that the pivot was to get us out of what I call the “two people in a room” dynamic, even if we were on an empty street lined with brick factory buildings and construction sites. We made a left and bounded towards Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern which was technically in Williamsburg but more importantly, sold cheap beer in large styrofoam cups and was usually bustling on weeknights due to said affordable beverages.

We got drunk and laughed at the last Electroclash couple standing in the corner of the bar. I had forgotten that what I liked about Aimee was that she was also kind of an asshole and we enjoyed ripping on the same things, perhaps out of the fear that we were the tropes we feared as cuspy Gen Xers living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early-2000s. 

After hearing two AC/DC songs in a row we decided GPT was too aggressive and opted for her apartment on North 7th street which didn’t really have a living room and lacked a sink in the bathroom. Having reached my yellow beer tipping point, I asked to use the lavatory but neglected to knock first, opening the door on her roommate Claire who was taking an actual shit. Claire had a Motörhead, Brooklyn—not England—tattoo on her thigh with the skull eating a slice of pepperoni pizza. She was the kind of loud person who overemphasized taking a well shot when she got a combo special and said fuck a lot, so it wasn’t surprising when she just laughed and said, “Can’t a girl shit in peace,” instead of freaking out as I stared mortified. 

Aimee grabbed my arm and instructed me to just piss in a bottle in her room, facing the wall of course, which reminded me of nothing cool. I did. We listened to Leonard Cohen as she chain-smoked out the window next to her bed and made plans to spend Thanksgiving Day together, “no matter what” as she had to bartend and baited me with a Friendsgiving potluck that promised a lot of food and weed brownies. Even though this was still a single-digit hangout, I was impressed by her forecasting and the sting of my projection that she was “luck obsessed” dulled. Sure, Aimee potentially believed that every human born on the same day had the same personality traits but I liked her personality traits and she hadn’t done my chart yet so it was fine. 

The next morning I popped out to a bodega to get coffee and a Diet Coke for her. The idea of drinking soda before noon was strongly against my DNA but I didn’t want to be a killjoy and I enjoyed the way she said “thaaaaaank youuuu,” very slowly when she was impressed by my budget acts of chivalry. I slyly grabbed the piss bottle on the way out and headed home, purposely walking under a construction ladder out of defiance, only to have a pigeon shit on my shoulder. It would have been whichever misused adjective you’re thinking of but I didn’t notice the thick white streak until I put the jacket back on that afternoon. 

I never spent Thanksgiving with Aimee. Her boss lost a noise complaint battle with the neighbors, resulting in the city shutting down her place of employment unbeknownst to any of its employees. Of course, it was Aimee who showed up to the bolted and gated storefront, keys in hand, only to read the neon closure proclamation as she fired off unanswered call after call from a flip phone to her boss. “As luck would have it,” I liked her and she was now moving back to suburban Illinois at the behest of her father who had grown tired of her “New York lifestyle,” Aimee informed me over two-for-one happy hour beers that she was going to move home to be the bookkeeper for dad’s construction business—a position that sounded imaginary. 

I left the bar with a buzz and a bit of garish lipstick on my face. Eyes fixated on the ground, I scanned the bricks of the sidewalk until a white envelope that read “Apt. 3R November” broke the grid. I picked it up and found $800 cash. Like any decent human, I faux-looked for clues as to whose money this was. There we none. I realized it was mine and promptly headed into Manhattan to buy weed. 

GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE

A Conversation with an Unparalleled Creative.

Photo by Drew Weidemann

This interview originally ran February 7, 2014 on BEDFORD+BOWERY

With the recent passing of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (1950 - 2020) I wanted to share the conversation we shared in 2014 as homage and inspiration. P-Orridge’s work spans mediums, genres, practices, and ideas, coalescing under the concept and mantra of pushing what art can be. At times it was quite literal—reimagining the idea of music and how it can impact an audience—and other times it drew and encapsulated complex themes that seemed deceptively simple, even playful at times, in order to continually expand an inner vision.

While the only “skate content” in this entry is buried at the end by way of Justin Henry’s part In Quasi’s Mother full-length (2018), in which he skates to Psychic TV’s most iconic track, “Godstar,” the conversation below speaks to art, not one style or focus. In that sense, the influence of P-Orridge’s ideas is as infinite as they are boundless and agnostic of medium.

To get more granular, the focus of our conversation was P-Orridge’s photographic autobiography which in many ways has direct ties to skateboarding. Bluntly stated, the documentation of skateboarding could be as literal and precise as a Primitive edit or as loose and ethereal as Memory Screen but neither is better as both are personal and reflect different intentions.

What is universal is a specific P-Orridge quote from our phone call:

Live a life that’s equal to the work you make, and what you make doesn’t matter.

With the utmost respect, admiration, and appreciation, I send my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Throughout h/er entire career in art, music, film, and writing, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has constantly evolved — no matter how non-linear that path may seem to outsiders. That life and journey have now been crystallized in a photographic autobiography, featuring over 350 candid and often previous unseen images from the artist’s personal archives.

With the help of New York artist Leigha Mason and music journalist Mark Paytress, the East Villager’s namesake book chronicles h/er often controversial output — with subversive art collective Coum Transmissions, Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle, acid-house and psych-rock innovators Psychic TV — as well as a life’s journey from birth as Neil Andrew Megson in 1950, into pandrogyny with h/er partner, the late Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge.

“It’s a mini-retrospective exhibition of my life,” P-Orridge said of the book, released in both standard and deluxe editions by boutique press First Third.

What made you decide to not only do an autobiography but give such a personal view into your life?

Embossed in the cover it says “Genesis Breyer P-Orridge” in my special writing that I developed over the years, but it’s got a nickname through people who’ve reviewed it: “Intimate.” That’s how it’s coming across. People — at least how it seems to me in our society and culture — are really starting to seek some spiritual, positive healing and a new way of looking at this ever more complicated world that we live in. We’ve noticed that from lectures we do. We gave one at Yale and there were over 300 people there, people were actually standing outside the doorway to listen. The talks are like the book: a non-linear telling and description of a life spent seeking creativity and trying to find wisdom if that’s feasible, if at all. And looking to find the gifts that others may have.

I think that touched Fabrice, the publisher at First Third. He said, “You’ve never done an autobiography and no one’s ever written a biography. Why is that?” We said, “Well, it might sound a bit eccentric, but Brian Dyson said to me, “Don’t try to write a serious book about your life until you’re 60 years old, because you haven’t lived yet.” So, it came that we’ve reached 60 and Fabrice said he wanted to do a book — a photographic journey — from this eccentric schoolboy in Birmingham, England, to New York’s Lower East Side and retrospectives at the Andy Warhol Museum, and how it happened and all the things in between that effected that.

We’ve always believed that art and life are truly inseparable. Just as being a priest or a doctor or brain surgeon, or even a farmer… anything of that nature that’s a calling. It’s something that forces your heart and mind to go in a particular direction. We feel that art is a calling, it’s a divine activity. When people say, “What do you mean?” we usually say, “What’s the first book of the Bible?” and they say, Genesis. And what does God do before anything else? Create. It’s the book of creation. It’s the first dynamic of our universe, and to me, that makes it special and precious.

There’s so much cynicism in the last couple of decades of contemporary art, that it’s been a struggle for us to re-authenticate the artists’ existence the in world. It doesn’t end at the frame, it doesn’t end at the end of the sculpture, it has to be coming from experiences that are entering the artist’s life. The things that are created are almost evidence — anthropological talismans that sort of go in sync with the life and help explain it, without actually giving a single answer. It’s a constantly flowing, fluid experience, so the work should also be the same.

Lady Jaye used to say, “When you wake up in the morning, why be the same person you were yesterday? Why not try being someone else?” That’s profound to me. She’s saying there are so many options, so many narratives you can create that is your life: your life is your narrative. You are the creating author of that work and to me its the only way to work. The book had to reflect that.

How did it make you feel, seeing all these different days and moments mapped out photographically in the book?

It was very emotional for so many reasons. We knew right from the beginning that we couldn’t do the edit. We couldn’t choose one image over another, because they’re all equally part of life. They’re all friends, I love every picture of my children, I love the dog pictures, all the Jaye pictures, but thankfully an artist and good friend, Leigha Mason, agreed to take on the burden of going through 20-30,000 photographs and slides that we located. She had to narrow that down to a book and the first version was about 600 pages, and then Fabrice, Mark Paytress, Leigha, and myself would vote.

They’d send a PDF and give a yes or no. If it got three nos it was out. Sometimes, pictures we really wanted in didn’t make it, but what matters most from the response we’ve had is how many people thankfully saw it as a love story and full of love. And being intimate, sometimes playfully and other times blatantly. That’s us. It’s a portrait and a portrait shouldn’t have censorship.

If you’re talking about looking for truth and honesty, you have to include all the different aspects of what you’ve done, even if later on they seem immature and embarrassing. You can’t start editing the past, otherwise, it becomes fiction. We wanted it to be as close to the truth as we could get.

Looking at it now, the first thing that goes through my head is: How the hell did we get all of this done? When did we sleep? Not just life, but performance art, inventing industrial music, acid house, switching to psychedelic rock, going back to poetry, and of course going back into the art world. In ’76, we decided to quit the art gallery world, just as we were starting to get respect for art. We wanted to do things independently, which became Throbbing Gristle and music.

I’ve always seen your music as just one component of your bigger art and vision. Is that part of your idea of giving your body to art?

From the very beginning, it was always clear in my immediate art heroes when we read about them — the Dadaists, Surrealists, and later the Fluxists; and we were fortunate enough to be involved at the tail end of Fluxism, we were fascinated with the Beatniks — it was because their biographies were as fascinating and potent, powerful, and stimulating, in terms of ideas and aesthetics. It seemed to me that that was the key: live a life that’s equal to the work you make, and what you make doesn’t matter. That’s one reason we’ve always worked the way we have.

In 1976 we did a farewell to Coum Transmissions, the performance art group, as a retrospective at the ICA in London and we called it “Prostitution.” It was just meant to mean, everybody sells a skill, no matter what it is, so we’re all equal. But it was, of course, completely sensationalized by the yellow press, and that’s how we ended up being called “Wreckers of Civilization.” And when everybody stripped away the hysteria, the items that caused questions in Parliament and threats from the Foreign Office to revoke my passport, because we would shame Great Britain abroad — which was a weird conversation — were these four little sculptures.

There was a wall left in the gallery with nothing to go on it, so we had one of our quirky thoughts and we got these used tampons and make these little sculptures. One of them was this old Art Deco clock that we emptied out and removed the mechanisms, and replaced them with used tampons and called it “It’s That Time of The Month.” Silly jokes, almost schoolboy jokes! There were four of them all together called “Tampax Romana.” That was freaking them out. According to the press and certain right-wing MPs, this was going to wreck British civilization.

In a turn of irony, about two years ago the Tate Britain bought the four sculptures and they are now in the National Collection of Fine Art in Great Britain. That’s a bit of a turnaround! Obviously it’s very vindicating to have people finally go, “You know what? What you’re doing might have been confusing to us at the time, but looking back at the ’70s, they were real instigators of change, and were important, no matter what was being made.”

I wouldn’t make those now, but we’re proud of them because it took 40 years for them to become significant. Art works that way, you don’t always know how something will be received or how it’s going to change other people’s perceptions. The general way that art succeeds in the art world as it is now, which is basically run as an investment business, is that you come up with a formula that’s recognizably yours. With Damien Hirst it was sharks cut in pieces and then later dots, with Bridget Riley it’s stripes, Salvador Dali, it was just the way they were painted, and that’s — to the art world — really, really, important, so collectors can say, “Oh, you have a Dali! You have a Hirst!”

So, if you keep changing and have no interest in a continual style, you’re not just fighting to be heard or seen, but to be given equality in terms of the actual creative act.

When the artwork isn’t “branded” or easily commodified, it’s not always easily contextualized — especially when it presents new ideas.

It’s the reason why looking for instant gratification in the art world is often a negative in the long term. We’ve always felt that all the work we do — whether it’s art, music, writing, or poetry — we imagine it from our deathbed looking back, and would we still be satisfied with what we’ve tried to do?

There’s an old Sufi saying, which is ‘Live every day as if it’s your last and what you do that day is what your whole life will be judged on.” That’s how we’ve tried to live our life, though some days we wouldn’t be sure what the judgment was!

You worked with Leigha Mason, who’s a young New York artist. Are there other artists out there that you see pushing the envelope as you once did, or doing things you really appreciate?

Apart from Leigha, who we met because we really liked her work, she introduced me to a photographer named Emily Kinni, who did this incredible project where she traveled around the United States to different states where the death penalty had been rescinded and then either took photos of the redundant, no longer functioning death chamber or whatever was there now. Sometimes it was a supermarket or a room in a school. There was something about that attitude about her traveling all over, negotiating with bureaucracy, having to have respect for the horror that it really represents, and also how life demolishes what was there before, only to become something mundane or totally different. That’s the kind of attitude that we’re always looking for in an artist.

In music, we like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and became good friends with them and we like Starred, whenever we get to see them. I love their music, and we’ve played with them a few times. In all honestly, there’s so little time in my life to look, that we rarely get to go out and take everything in. Having said that, we’re often disappointed. At one point, one of the bigger art magazines invited us to Chelsea to review all the art shows that were up and we hated them all. It was depressing. The problem was that it was like “Oh, there’s a really bad version of a Duchamp. There’s one hoping to sneak in as Damien Hirst again. Now they’re doing abstract impressionism again.”

Too much was recycled. In my opinion, it’s something coming partly from art colleges, where they’re trying to teach you how to be an artist as a business. Of course, it’s like that. But where’s the search for the holy grail of revelation? Where’s that gone? That’s how art started, with the mystical and mysterious in prehistoric times. We didn’t know when the sun would come back, or if at all, so every day was a miracle. Art was made — talismans, drawings — to have some sort of controlling relationship with the environment. Shamanism grew into religions, the patrons of art became Popes and rich families, which sewed the seeds of what we have now, which is a banking system.

But the source of all art is that mystical moment of fully aware empathy, wondering how does the universe work and does it really exist? Are we dreaming or are we asleep, where does it begin and end? Those are the things that should concern us, because we need to know as a species, more than ever, what are the dynamics of a universe? Is there a way around this trap? And is the only way around to change how we perceive? Change human nature by changing how we perceive. And that’s going up against thousands of years of dogmatism, bigotry, and intimidation, enforced by violence, primarily to control societies. It’s become much more fluid and fragmented because our culture is so huge. Pinpointing the issue becomes more difficult. It’s what Jaye used to call “dazzle camouflage.” There’s so much culture, you can’t see. But that’s the job of the artist, to isolate one or two things that truly could make a difference and a happy future for the species. To isolate them and make them pristine, and share that moment of revelation. That’s what we hope happens with the book.

Are there any images that you came across while assembling the book that really stood out to you?

One of my favorite photographs in the book is one where we’re grinning and holding my young daughter Genesse — she was only a year or so old — and she’s laughing her head off in my face. It’s a double-page spread, but it was only recently that we noticed that we had a 12-foot boa constrictor around my neck [laughs]. That just sort of sums it up, we didn’t even notice, because there’s so much going on. The kids are the same way, they used to call William Burroughs “Granddad William.” He took my daughter Caresse on stage when she was three weeks old and blessed her in London. They grew up with Derek Jarman and all these people and they always tell me those are the bits of their childhood that they treasure, traveling in a school bus all over America, meeting these unusual, but inspiring people. Hopefully, that’s a tradition that we can maintain and amplify in some way.

The book is partly that: This is a life. You can have a life, one that’s exciting, edgy, banal and mundane, or as financially successful as you wish, but make sure it’s the one you’ve chosen.

With Sunday really being a celebration of this book and your life, does it have a different weight to it than other performances and events you’ve done?

It does, it really does. Someone recently said, “Do you realize you’ve become one of the old ones now?” In 1971, at 21 years old, we were thrilled to bits when we finally met William Burroughs and we became friends until his death, and we sometimes think when we look at this book, these are the friends that are going to look back at it and say, “I remember the first time I met Gen… and it wasn’t how I expected it to be at all!’

Hopefully, it inspires people. That’s the point, and hopefully, its cement is the love story and the constant search for a soulmate: another half. That to me symbolizes the ultimate question and answer of the universe, that that which exploded in a “big bang,” to use a metaphor, somehow one day must re-coalesce. And perhaps all that we experience, or feel we do, is just the universal mind reassembling itself. We can either encourage that assembly and that evermore amazing revelation, or we can squabble and fight over dogma and details and wreck it and delay it.

We’re responsible for the future… people forget that.

UGLY FINDINGS IN AN OLD THRASHER

The March 1995 Issue of the "Bible" Had Problems Then and Now.

One of the best things about #skatetwitter is digging and fact-checking the cloudy past of skateboarding. While it can lead to complicated tweets, it also yields gold, best evidenced by this Guy Mariano photograph. Recently, Lucas Wisenthal posted a Stereo Skateboards advertisement of “The Gun,” which lead to a quick dive into what year and magazine it appeared in. Said photo ran in the June issue of Thrasher Magazine in 1995, making its potency 25 years later even more explosive.

In scanning Thrasher’s archives, I was less taken by nostalgia and more compelled by what skating looked like a quarter-century ago. For comparison, if you got into skating in the year 2000, skateboarding in 1975 would seem akin to looking at photos of the Great Depression or something. This gave me the spark to hop in the time machine and dissect the March 1995 issue of Thrasher. Of course in the world of publishing, the March issue doesn’t actually come out in March much less contain content culled from the month but it felt “right,” since it was Mike Carroll’s “Skater of the Year” cover.

Along with the actual skating, what stood out is the number of people from this issue who are playing a key role in skating, starting with Mr. Carroll himself. The other thing that stood out were those who are part of the conversation in skating for much less positive reasons, in some cases, completely vile and reprehensible ones. The issue is rife with language that shouldn’t have flown then and is completely inappropriate now and as you’ll see during this breakdown, pulling out the biggest offenders really looks… bad. I didn’t even note everything that was a head-scratcher, so if you take the time to read through the full issue, I’m sure other things will pop out—mostly the negative bits.

Let’s start a bit lighter though. From the cover jump, we notice that MC is riding wheels much larger than you’d expect and if you creep down to the corner, you see the word “Donger.” That is, of course, Kien Lieu’s nickname and because of its origins in Asian American stereotypes via-the John Hughes (RIP) movie Sixteen Candles, one that feels absolutely problematic in 2020. Lieu has said it never bothered him. We’ll get into Lieu’s interview later but it should be mentioned upfront that his long braids were a curious choice for #hairsupervision for the time period, only to be resurrected by Alex Olson in c.2013/2014. 

Scrolling through, we notice defunct companies and pros such as Channel One and Mike Judd, a Street Cab ad for Vans, a tiny, dark ad for Quicksand’s influential second album, Manic Compression, before we get to a two-page spread for the recently resuscitated New Deal. The skaters featured are Jordan Richter, John Montesi, Ron Knigge, Rob Carlyon, Matt Milligan, Dave Duren, Kenny Hughes, Rene Matthyssen, and Neal Hendrix.

Surprisingly, many of the riders have roles in skateboarding today, including Montesi and Milligan. Richter—who was brought up as an Ashkenazi Jew—famously converted to Islam and was featured on The Oprah Show. He still teaches skate lessons in Southern California. Hendrix is the most prominent name featured due to the string of accusations brought up against him, detailed here by Jenkem Magazine. He’s featured in two ads in the issue. The New Deal team seemed so vanilla—who knew that it would splinter into such divergent lanes?

The next two pages begin with a confusing Consolidated ad that tries to make some murky points about the “industry” and a Venture ad showing Wade Speyer as an “ATV.” With the brand’s strong resurgence, it’s worth noting that Venture wasn’t always the tech truck of choice and was closely aligned with Think (Speyer’s then sponsor) due to Greg Carroll who later appears in the issue offering an amazing proto-inspirational Instagram quote. Foreshadowing at its best. 

We “flip” again only to be greeted by Bevis and Butthead, along with a second butthead in Flavor Flav, who at the time of publishing this piece has been jettisoned from Public Enemy due to a clash with Chuck D over endorsing Presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders.

This is an interesting tidbit because, unlike Mr. Sanders, Public Enemy does not have a very consistent track record with political issues, rendering them a very odd choice for Sanders’ rally in Los Angeles.

In 1989, following the release of Fear of a Black Planet, the group parted ways with member Professor Griff after his incessant homophobic and antisemitic comments. What were some of those comments?

Richard Griffin, formerly Public Enemy's minister of information, said in an interview with The Washington Times: ''The Jews are wicked. And we can prove this.'' Mr. Griffin, who was known in the group as Professor Griff, also said that Jews are responsible for ''the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.''

Wow. Kind of odd since Def Jam was then co-owned and operated by Lyor Cohen, the son of Israeli immigrants. Even more perplexing is Supreme choosing imagery and messaging from Fear of a Black Planet for their collaboration with PE in 2018, but hey, no one in Streetwear media is going to call that out. Anyway, there’s a pre-Reality TV Flav hanging out on the “Subscribe” page with his name misspelled next to Tom Boyle (RIP). While Flav himself might not have been as controversial in 1995 as he is now, I also wouldn’t have thought that PE would remain relevant in 2020, let alone playing rallies for a 78-year-old Jewish running for the highest office in the USA.

On to the “Pajamas” spread featuring Jimmy “The Mantis” Chung, Jason Strubing, and Steve “Pigpen” Spear. Chung was out of skateboarding a few years later but has had a mini-renaissance recently, looking as if he never stepped off his board. In an interview with Bob Shirt in 2015, he details his zig-zagging journey to the United States as his family fled Vietnam in 1978, before heading with a family of nine to the Philippines where they were denied entry, living for several months on a boat until they received refuge, eventually ending up in Philadelphia, PA where he still resides.

Jason Strubing isn’t Justin Strubing, and Pigpen… that’s a lot to unpack. 

Spear’s check out was written by Neil Heddings (the fuck is up with people named Neal/Neil?) who was sentenced in 2006 to six years in state prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter of his 2-year-old son. Heddings’ girlfriend was given 25 to life for the death of the boy.  In 2005, Spear commented on the thorny and horrific accusations against Heddings saying, ‘I know he would never do anything like that. I have a feeling Neil is protecting someone.’

Since being released, Heddings has supported the Neo-Nazi band Highway Murderers, started several GoFundMes, and posts things on Instagram that I’m not linking to, ever.

Unfortunately, the mag doesn’t get any less heavy as we view it through the lens of 2020. There’s a full-page Adrenaline ad with Jaya Bonderov (RIP), next to a full-page “How to Get All the Girls You Want,” ad from something called Party Heartythat maybe was real? I dunno, the ad’s last line states: “P.P.S. Any girls reading this? We have a guide about getting guys for $12. See we’re not sexist, we’ll take your money too!”

You’ll think I’m fucking with you but the following four pages are devoted to Jason Jessee’s piece “People I Have Known,” where he lists someone’s name and along with a blurb about them.

Here are some excerpts:

Thomas Campbell: Bullied me around in seventh grade… he always sucked.

Joe & John Lloyd: … we all skated. It was the best. John was older. Next thing you know he’s staying at my house, giving me scabies and stealing my bearings.

Gator: (anecdote about how cool he was) I guess he had his life cut out for himself. He had everything then got thrown in the joint for life.

Ben Schroeder: He seemed as smart as a bologna sandwich.

Jay Adams: I was at Del Mar once and this crazy drunk girl showed up and we got in this argument and the next thing I know we’re fist-fighting. I was so happy I’m fighting with a rough girl. So after all the biting, name-calling, hair-pulling, and her face in the back of a truck bumper, I find out it’s Jay Adams’ girlfriend. I was so scared waiting for him to come to the park and kill me. He shows up and says, ‘No big deal. Sometimes she needs that. It keeps her in line.’ Jay’s my all-time skating, surfing, and anarchy hero.

Mark Gonzales: We were skating Skilly’s ramp and Skilly came out saying Mark didn’t call or something and just starts hitting him. It was so retarded. What a fucking retard.

Sure, I cherry-picked these quotes but I think it’s obvious that the “JJ was always a sweetheart” narrative is complete bullshit. 

The next spread features a Nicotine Ad with Andy Stone, Chris Hall, and Pepe Martinez (RIP), followed by Simon Woodstock doing a grind in a dress for CCS.

My key observation about Kien Lieu’s interview is simple: most of these tricks hold up 25 years later. He speaks about Taoism and writes poetry. He can probably still ollie higher than you and his interview sets up Carroll’s SoTY feature which is mainly photographs, including one where he’s wearing a Cream “CRM” logo sweatshirt that possibly was a nod to SS Decontrol’s famous logo—I didn’t have time to email Peter Huynh, sorry.

There’s a contest report from the Newburgh, New York skatepark. All I can add is that I went there a year or two prior and bought all the copies of Big Brother they had, including the one with the “free deck with subscription” offer. I subscribed three times, got three boards, and was receiving three copies a month until the early 2000s… for $20 dollars each. 

OK, get ready for the unexpected. There’s a spread called “More Girls Who Skate” that contains the line “Whoever said there aren’t enough girls out there who deserve coverage is nothing but a fool.” How’s that for a tap on the glass? Van Nguyen had a mean backside 180 flip.

The real outlier in this issue is a guest article about billiards written by Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac, and producer extraordinaire).

Albini once said that “skateboarding had nothing to do with punk,” but here he is in the pages of Thrasher talking about… pool. Albini is a provocateur and while he’s devoted many years to local charities in the Chicago area, he also has said and done some really inexcusable things that can’t be passed off as, “Oh, you know, the ‘80s were different” or whatever.

Here are a few low-lights from his career:

In 1985 he had a project band called Run N*gg*r Run who released the track “Pray I Don’t Kill You F*gg*t.”

He was quoted in the August 1986 issue of Spin as saying he wanted to call d Big Black’s second EP “Hey N*gg*r.” He also ranted against “beatbox disco rap” as an “aesthetically empty music buoyed by white guilt.”

Also in a 1986 issue of Forced Exposure, he said, “I don’t give two splats of an old negro junkie’s vomit for your politico-philosophical treatises, kiddies.”

And more recently, he posted the most insanely offensive and tone-deaf rant about Odd Future on his studio’s message board that there is no way I’m even going to quote. It was widely reported and almost shocking that he didn’t catch more heat as it’s really… something.

But yeah, if you want to be really blown away, read the entry at the above link written by “steve on Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:02 am”

It’s a rough read. Really rough. His “Billiards” thing sucks too. Here are some of his musings from the “Vocabulary” section:

SHIT: When an Asian Billiardist shits one in, he apologizes by bowing slightly towards the opponent. Americans usually say, ‘Well, get up and fuck me then’ or ‘Of course I played it that way cocksucker.’

BELGIAN: Someone from Belgium. In billiards (and only in billiards) this is not an insult. The most common insult in billiards is “Canadian.”

He also uses the word “poontang” and challenges any “sidewalk surfing, hat backwards motherfuckers” if you “get the nuts.”

There are ads and a snowboarding section. One of the ads is for Sub Zero and features a young Fred Gall, another has many ugly Airwalks, and yet another features Matt Willigan (Not Milligan) doing an excellent front noseslide, and we’ll skip over the New Deal rider we mentioned before, as well as the Speed Inc. ad that features Eric Villalobos ollieing over a girl’s arm who also has flowers for nipples.

I dunno, I’m not trying to make 1995 look like a shitshow as there are plenty of great photos and whatnot in the “bible” but it’s a good exercise to take inventory of the past. Maybe? Having grown up in skateboarding, it’s a bummer to flip through a magazine that doesn’t seem “that old,” only to realize it is and that many of the people on the pages are no longer with us. Jesus Christ, Thrasher is pushing me towards an existential crisis or something.

Perhaps the big “takeaway” is that most of this shouldn’t have been published and skateboarding’s issues have never been hidden—it’s all right there and now in jpeg / PDF format to peruse if you choose. With Santa Cruz owning a monopoly on the back cover for a good chunk of the ‘90s—prior to that it was Vision/Sims and briefly the vegan shoe company Zero Two—there’s a fairly whatever ad with Ron Whaley with the “clever” copy, “Ron Whaley grabbing a couple of melons” but the last two pages are noteworthy as they contain the second of two ads of a “post-faux retirement” Sal Barbier and an iconic Menace ad of the team standing there throwing signs, in mostly non-skate gear.

That’s kind of it but here’s one more hit. The “Randy on Randy” line is rough and while no one really likes cops, Mr. Colvin might have better expressed himself without using homophobic language. Randy did have some serious run-ins with the “pigs,” and has struggled with personal issues—that’s not anything to mock. He’s home, happy, and Prime has been reissuing his boards.

Read at your own risk.

IS SKATEBOARDING A RELIGION?

Discourse on Why It Is for Some and Its Ties to Conservatism

Published in 2019, author Paul O’Connor details in his book Skateboarding and Religion the parallels between organized worship and the practice of skateboarding. In a snackable piece for Jenkem Magazine (2019), O’Connor offers a primer to his theory, laying out skateboarding as a bit of cult, where pros become deities, where ritual is key to its existence, the myth-making throughout its history and other weighty, yet conversational points. Originally from the UK and having lived for many years in Hong Kong and now Prague, his view of skateboarding is global and he frames skateboarding as a religion in an extremely convincing and engaging way throughout the text.

O’Connor’s work came to mind when I was listening to a recent episode of a Vox podcast with conservative author Tim Carney titled “What Trump Got Right about White America.” Since I’m sure none of the readers who haven’t heard The Ezra Klein Show—this particular episode was hosted by Jane Coaston—will be compelled to click and listen, I wanted to extract a few points from the show that were insightful and compelling. 

Before I get into this, I’d like to mention that my interest in listening to Carney was because of the research he did for his own book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, was out of my wheelhouse and as he describes, very reflective of why certain people—especially Christian Evangelicals—were drawn to Trump. Furthermore, Carney himself is a registered Republican and Catholic but didn’t vote for Trump in the primary and cast a protest vote in the general election. 

Carney appears to be who liberals believe who a Trump supporter is but through his book and the character studies within it, he clearly delineates between his beliefs and the perspective of those who embrace Trump. One of his key observations in the battleground states of the 2016 election was that the average white working-class voter who Trump appealed too isn’t actually that religious in that they don’t really attend church. They consider themselves conservatives and identify with religion because of their values but what’s informing those values has more to do with perception rather than reality.

Carney breaks it down this way: Yes, many old whites believe things were “better back then,” as far as their wages or the states of their neighborhoods but that’s a mirage. “Better” was mostly because of workplace inequality, pay gaps, oppressed immigration, and a lack of diversity. In other words, the jobs and wages were there for white men without much competition. 

OK, fuck, how can we turn this back to skateboarding or whatever this “blog” is about? Give me a minute. Thank you.

I want to throw out one more point that Carney makes about the role of religion in modern society. In the past, going to a place of worship was as much about community as it was about the morals preached within it and that does exist today but in a much different form. Community has actually fragmented due to the digital world we live in. We curate our communities based on global access to what we feel we are and those who embody that. For example, if you are a Flat Earther who thinks birds aren’t real, you don’t have to find like minds at the mall, at church, or at school, you simply follow different communities online, on social media, or on apps and boom, you’re connected.

Also, in theory, these places are “free” (guess what? They aren’t) whereas in many organized religions there’s constant fundraising pressure. Most importantly, the “religions” we create on social media are exact mirrors of what we want them to be—in theory, you can find a home with little compromise if any.

Carney’s appearance on the podcast was interesting to me because his take as a Catholic is that he embraces religion for community and even agreed with Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a village to raise a child,” statement. He’s a 42-year-old married, conservative journalist and a pretty regular dude as far as interests and profile. Church is where he feels like he’s part of some social good that ties in with his morals. Look, I don’t care if he’s full of shit, I’m just getting inside his head.

So what was compelling to me was how his experience directly related to me because I’m quick to admit I can be selfish. I thought back to why I hated my few years at parochial school, attending church every weekday and then having to go back on Sundays with my parents. I hated having the weird-ass head priest or whatever the fuck, named Father Terranova over for dinner wearing his brown padre outfit (not the professional baseball team, mind you). I really disliked the nuns who taught me and how they directly told me heavy metal was devil music and that comic books were the tools of Satan because they depicted men and women as Gods. 

As a kid and later a teenager, religion didn’t offer me anything, especially community. I wanted nothing to do with helping wash dishes at a ham and bean supper in the basement of a church or selling stale chocolates to raise money to repair stained glass. It wasn’t that the idea of charity work was a turnoff, just that I was young, selfish, and wanted to ride a skateboard and go see bands play music. That would later change as everything does as you get older my aversion to organized religion has yet to waver.

Skating and hardcore were the community I wanted and sought out and it was never one community. The friends I made skating were different sects as much as those I met going to different independent music shows. In the ‘90s, the indie rock community was much different than the crust punk community or underground hip-hop or art-rock or noise in a way that doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, those scenes all operate now but you can also meet a 27-year-old that has a band or project for each of those scenes—few people really feel defined by one thing. It’s all so much bigger—not better or worse, just bigger.

Finding those communities that many mislabel as “tribes” is a form of religion. That got me thinking back to the Trump supporters Carney details. Perhaps some of them have a community that exists online but what they wanted badly was someone to say, “Everything is wrong and I’m going to make it right–I’ll make it the 20s or 30s or 50s or whatever again.” That’s actually what Make America Great Again means to so many and that’s… gross. In a sense, they wanted Trump to change their physical communities without making them actually engage with it.

The comparison in skateboarding is direct. As I introduced in “Skateboarding Is Not Progressive,” there are some in skateboarding who not only feel it was “better” at some point but wish to tune out what they perceive as its push to be more political or at the least, to address inequalities, completely ignoring that as a system and “religion,” it was always quite conservative.

In thinking back to O’Connor’s text, I wanted to get his thoughts on the idea of “religion” in skateboarding directly speaking to community since his work did such a fantastic job of connecting the idea of framing the devotion aspects of skateboarding.

“I mainly have looked at the way people derive meaning out of skateboarding and the ritual elements or even how it can be used politically and strategically,” O’Connor said via email. “I like the community and ritual aspect as this is in my mind part of what transforms philosophy to religion. But the connection to sects and the little different affiliations is a ripe subject that I didn't develop very much. It is probably most evident in the ritual chapter where I talk about diacritic marks...

Micro rituals are similar to what anthropologist John Bowen (2012, p. 54) describes as diacritic actions, particular performances used to communicate with, and understood by, only a select group. For Bowen these actions and motifs are like indexes by which others can infer a wealth of codified information. We learn through this chapter that skateboarders have a ritual life that is layered with such symbolic meaning. (p 181)

But the more straightforward analogous relationship between skateboarders and sects has actually been discussed by Scott Bourne (yes he of Consolidated) in a short story in the collection Life and Limb... he goes on to refer to denominations. I took a quick photo of one page and it is attached e.g. Pool denomination, rail denomination... etc. I loved this passage and I always planned to use it in the book. I think the reason I omitted it was because it is a very binary way to think about religion and skateboarding, like for like, trying to make it fit tidily.”

O’Connor’s analysis, as well as Bourne’s observations, hit on something interesting—the idea that each “type” of skateboarding was its own micro-religion. 

It made me think back to my initial introduction to skateboarding and hardcore punk in the ‘80s and how they both seemed to be fully cohesive subcultures with some variance within them. In skating, you had freestyle, pools, vert, street, and to a much lesser degree at that time, slalom/downhill skating. In punk, the scene I was exposed to a mix of UK punk fans still dressing as if it were the ‘70s, faux-working class Oi! enthusiasts, heavy metal crossover kids, straight edge people, and miscellaneous individuals.

Both seemed united under the blanket of skating or punk but the longer you were immersed in these worlds, the divisions and differences became apparent. Like myself, many of my peers would gravitate towards a smaller part of the whole based on our interests only to slowly begin the cycle of disillusionment again. Despite realizing that there was no utopian subculture, you could filter it down to where you felt the most comfortable, understanding that no matter where you land it’s a place navigated and orchestrated by other humans who are equally as fucked up or motivated by things other than fostering community.

“The axe I often grind in my work on skate academia is that skateboarding is conservative,” O’Connor says. “It was conservative and exclusive when we had our little cliques. Like you say the punk rock mentality was a nice exclusive club. Subculture is cozy and comfortable for those in it, exclusive for those outside. However, as skateboarding has become a culture it has lost its niche feel and has become more bland and generic to some of the old guard. The truth, however, is that culture is brutal and it always demands people conform to some sorts of ideals. In skateboarding right now there seems to be a move towards ethics of social justice and also the ardent belief that skateboarding is a tool to save the world. While I am much more aligned with these views than the Surf Nazi doctrine of old SoCal skateboarding, it is a top-down doctrine from the broader society, 'this is how to behave now'... I think in the subcultural phase we were more tolerant of differences within skateboarding, and now we are more tolerant of everything outside of skateboarding, the stuff that in truth isn't about skateboarding at all. It has kind of flipped. But in my mind skateboarding is still conservative, it is no longer radical to be pro-LGBTQ and anti-racist—sure many people are opposed to these views but they are part of our vernacular. Skateboarding is still conservative, it is just following the pack.’

O’Connor’s comments offer many talking points in a few sentences—sweeping ideas and analysis that’s only begun to be dissected in academia and small circles in skateboarding. I understand that this has little value to those only interested in the “act” of skateboarding but there is worth in understanding the ways people embrace skateboarding as their personal religion because it offers insight into how we can collectively and individually address what “it” is.  

Like O’Connor, my views lean toward the progressive side of things, much more so than the “SoCal” culture he mentions—that’s a key delineation. At one point I thought everyone in skating or punk shared a world view. Wrong. We see it in current culture, that everyone in punk, skating, hip-hop, right or left, and basically any faction we find lacks a unified view, simply because all these things have grown to be so massive. Because of this, there should be no expectation that just because you ride a skateboard you subscribe to an ideology.

Do you think the Southern Californian men in their 50s riding a bowl, who have families, are Christian, and own business vote the same way the inner-city raised people and transplants that traverse LES Coleman Park in New York City day-in and day-out? You’re joking, right? In New York, many of the skaters aren’t voting age and you could surmise that many don’t—not by any fault of their own—know the importance of engaging in the political process. And yes, you have plenty of people of all ages that believe it’s all rigged so they’re agnostic to it all. Even that’s a belief though. 

I often catch myself in odd exchanges with people I’m friendly with or in work situations where I’m asked how I know someone and answer is often: Oh, yeah, I’ve known them for years through skating and or music. That’s really odd to what we’ll call “civilians.” Most people, even those who have strong interests from recreational sports to video games, rarely engage and befriend people the way you do in skateboarding. We can think of their communities as “passive” in that they have an internal belief structure that rarely is outward-facing, save if they share something political on social media. Most “civilians” would rather keep their politics personal and use their free time for actual recreation but when presented with an option that speaks to those politics, they can feel energized by the potential of the passive becoming active.

Unlike punk, skateboarding is a thing built on activity not sound. You don’t need to play music to be punk but to identify as a skateboarder, you had to have rolled for some portion of your life. Punk is also mostly a non-profit world, which makes its structure much more akin to religion, whereas the moment skateboards became mass-produced, it shifted to a profit model. Yes, DIY has always been a component of skateboarding but if the average person had to 3D print trucks in their living room because the industry died and there were no corporations or larger core companies to fund it, we’d obviously see skating shrink to a fraction of its current size. 

If we removed all the factions of skateboarding and simply looked at it as one ideology, we can use the post-X-Games boom up to the American Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 as a major learning of skateboarding’s leanings. During that period—when outside money was flowing, video games were selling, television coverage was booming, and anyone thought they could be the next Jackass—skateboarding wasn’t building community or looking internally. In fact, it was operating as typical capitalism—conservative capitalism. Outside investors were brought in, production moved to places with cheaper labor, unions were shunned, and the industry as a whole was privatized. Edgy graphics gave way to ones that leaned towards tweens or type-based motifs that looked sterile on sporting goods store racks. Of course, these trends weren’t absolute but they were the larger model. In a sense, skateboarding became a Mega Church… until it wasn’t.

Once the money dried up, ideology and to a degree, philanthropy was introduced back into skateboarding in the late-2000s, not prior. That’s because progressivism was never a part of the larger religion and as O’Connor surmises, evidence of it being conservative. 

This recent timeline introduces and emboldens two things: 1.) Skateboarding is not a religion. 2.) Skateboarding is not progressive.

Therefore, those who opine for the “better” time in skateboarding or culture at large are relying on perception more than reality. Skateboarding’s money boom of the ‘90s-2000s mirrored the US Housing Bubble—it was never real and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than market manipulation. The “good old days” of the ‘80s or ‘90s may have been the entry point and salad days for some but we cannot forget the flaws and warts that still linger. 

Hearing people talk about how “they wish skating could go back to how it was” is as cringy as Democrats who want the United States to go “back to normal.” Sorry, “normal” sucked and also, what “normal” are we referring to? The “normal” of the AIDS epidemic, Rodney King beating and riots, bombings on US soil by its citizens, the false invasion of Iraq, the taunting of Al Gore’s call for attention to climate change that actually lost him votes, the ongoing school shootings and antiquated gun laws, the opioid crisis, the struggle for same-sex marriage to be legal, gender inequality, the “War on Drugs” or allowing tech companies to exploit personal data? 

“Normal” is never enough and turning back the clock, especially during the Trump Presidency has proven to do nothing for progress but damage the advances prior to it. Looking backward can provide a path to move forward but living in the past is pretty much terrifying and counter to productivity. Understanding the mindset of those who wish to time travel may not do much other than highlight their stance as obsolete and jaded.

At the least, it allows anyone who is moving to challenge the power structure a window into the roadblocks and, hopefully, offers some tools to build an off-ramp. Skateboarding is a religion to some, one that can be meditative, one that can be fanatical, and in the case of Christian Skate Ministries and Ponzi Scheme YouTube companies, one that’s terrifying. It’s also deeply personal and complex in that anyone who identifies as a “skateboarder” is acknowledging something greater.

Skateboarding is neither a singular religion or a two-party system, therefore, there’s nothing to worship or win. O’Connor’s book description sums this up:

Drawing on scholarship from the sociology of religion and the cultural politics of lifestyle sports, this work combines ethnographic research with media analysis to argue that the rituals of skateboarding provide participants with a rich cultural canvas for emotional and spiritual engagement. Paul O’Connor contends that religious identification in skateboarding is set to increase as participants pursue ways to both control and engage meaningfully with an activity that has become an increasingly mainstream and institutionalized sport. Religion is explored through the themes of myth, celebrity, iconography, pilgrimage, evangelism, cults, and self-help.

To be honest, I’ve always been fine with just being a person that rides one. 

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