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.