Thursday, June 26, 2008
Bill Devine was already a good guitar player when I met him upon my return from Germany in 1980. Pat Wilson and I had been messing around with guitars prior to my departure, and during the year that I was away he had obtained a drum set by way of a cadet who needed a place to keep it. It was a Sonor kit, which was cool because Phil Rudd from AC/DC played Sonor drums. The music thing had developed into a more actual deal while I was away, and when I got back, I did my best to jump right in. I remember learning "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" with Pat from Jamie ‘Hey Hey’ Lagasse in somebody's attic, possibly Pat's. It was only natural that a band formed. Pat Phillips and some of the skate crew had been assembling a band, Head, and we were struck with idea of doing the same.
Bill and Jamie played guitar. Bill had just gotten his Silverburst Les Paul, which is still his main guitar 28 years on, and Jamie had a D'Agostino Les Paul that was a brilliant piece of work. It was wine red, and played just like a Gibson. Pat played the Sonor drum kit previously mentioned. Bob Gosiki was the only bass player in town, so he was in. Bob was the son of a West Point Band member, and he had gear. He had a Gibson Grabber bass, a Kustom bass amp (that quilted sparkly blue plastic upholstered beast). Bob also had an amp he built, which was like twelve watts or something. We used it as the PA for my vocals. I remember two things about that amp: it had an AC/DC sticker on it, and it was so weak that you couldn't hear me above the band. I look back on the latter fact as a fortunate circumstance.
I was bloody horrible. I could neither sing, nor remember the lyrics to the various Deep Purple and AC/DC songs we were doing. The distance I have from those days, and the things I have done since leads me to believe that I simply had no idea what I was doing, but at the same time I knew that cover tunes were not my bag. I didn’t know what my bag was yet, but I was looking for it.
Although I wasn't interested in covers, they were, and are, where it starts. I ended up extemporizing, improvising, and fucking about over top of whatever song was being played. I didn't know it then and neither did anybody else, but what I was doing was writing songs. Bill had a riff that he called 'Center Of The Universe' which was an ode to another local guitar player and son of a West Point Band member, Bubba Dixon. Bubba was a natural musician, he could play, and he knew it. I gave the tune a rebirth under the more direct moniker, 'Bubba Is a Cock'. 'Bubba Is a Cock’ was quickly followed by 'Jill's A Bitch', and 'Donny Go Home' (to the tune of ‘Cocaine’), the subject matter of which, respectively, were the Teen Center manager/supervisor, and my neighbor, the late Donald Tillar.
We played two gigs, I think. I remember one at the Teen Club, where ‘Jill’s a Bitch’ was born, and thanks to Sam Saldivar’s recent YouTube post, I was reminded of a show at the Golf Club House. The lack of sound on the 8mm footage was a blessing for me, but it would have been cool to hear the band. Mostly I got a kick from the milk crate light show, and Billy’s Molson t-shirt.
Songs about people that I didn’t like couldn’t keep me in the line-up of Platinum Dragon for very long. Soon came the fateful night at the West Point Elementary School playground where I was relieved of my front man duties in favor of Sam Saldivar, who had bailed on NYMA, came to O’Neil, and got cool quick. I'm sure I wasn't happy about it, but I think I was relieved. I knew I wasn’t holding up my end. I was still enthusiastic about the band. I liked them, they were my friends. Very shortly after my dismissal, Platinum Dragon was transformed into Nightwolf.
Jamie moved to Colorado. Rob ‘Savage’ Simpson, and his cool-ass siverburst Gibson Flying V replaced him. Bob Gosiki was sacked in favor of Chris Dice. I guess everybody had enough gear by then.
I don’t remember a whole lot about Nightwolf. I remember a show at the Golf Club House. I remember the lyric:
“I don’t really know nuthin’ about ya”
They wrote songs. That was way ahead of the curve. A lot of the creativity must have come from Sam, who was certainly the most creative person we knew.
At any rate, Nightwolf lacked legs. It ended all too soon.
I think, at this point Rob Simpson joined Head. Bret Baugh, guitarist for Head, must have moved on as well. Bret was the most gifted musician in town. He had that ease of play, that effortless vibe that you see in guys like Hendrix or Clapton.
Head, to my poor memory, at that point, consisted of Pat Phillips (vox), Dave Palmer (guitar), Savage (guitar), Hutch (drums). Did Dice play bass at this point?
Head gigs were fairly memorable.
The North Pool gig stands out. My mother, Peg, whose chocolate chip cookies were renown, loaded up the Wilson family Malibu Station Wagon with band gear for the event.
There was something about the sound reverberating off the cement; it worked for War Pigs at least.
Palmer doing ‘FX’ with the Memory Man. A proper show with lights………and a church…..
How does that happen? Who let’s a bunch of teenagers loose in the basement of a church overnight, largely unsupervised, with sound gear, video gear, light gear, other gear…..?
I remember spinning the first Schenker record before the show, and Chris Phillips suggested ‘Victim of Illusion’. The night ended with watching Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon?) on a big screen as the sun came up.
Then they all graduated, but they weren’t done yet.
Before all that though, we need to revisit our friends Pat Wilson and Billy ‘Guitar’ Devine. After Nightwolf they went underground for a bit, jamming in my basement, and Bill’s. Bill had moved next door to me in a weird magical confluence of circumstance. Pat played bass for a bit, but soon succumbed to the gravitational pull of the guitar.
Around the same time a friendship had developed between our immediate crew and Brian Spears who was succumbing to the gravitational force of the drums.
The base of operations moved to Brian’s basement in Highland Falls, and Talon was born.
I suppose Diceman had been playing with Head, because initially there was no bass.
I don’t think there was bass at the Talon gig when they played at the school rally for financial aid. I do remember the set. Okay, I remember two songs. An instrumental called ‘Backseat Overture’ featuring Pat’s phase pedal, and a cover of ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ featuring Lynn Maloney. Lynn could sing, and she had the Benetar look well in hand. I leant her my silver spandex pants, y’know, as you do. I got them back soiled. Sorry, Lynn, if this public outing upsets you, but posterity must be observed. Lynn decided panty lines could not be tolerated, and so she went commando in my spandex as she menstruated all up inside them shits.
Eventually Chris Dice joined Talon and brought his singular showmanship to the band as well as the sorely needed bass. Chris was great to have in the band. His good nature and work ethic were commendable.
Talon gigged a few times, at the obligatory Golf Club House, the 49er Lodge, and most notably a major show at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School. We pulled out all the stops for that one, which basically means me lighting off flash pots manually behind Brian. There was another female guest appearance. I forget her name. She was okay, she sang Frida’s ‘I Know What’s Going On’ while Pat hid behind his Carvin stack clearly wanting no part of it.
Like most local bands at the time, Talon played mostly cover material, but there were some original compositions. The most memorable was, of course, ‘Take Up the Cross’, which featured a Brian penned lyric about the Children’s Crusade. Everybody was excited about the new tune, and when a chance to record it came up, the opportunity was leapt upon.
Bill Walsh is a legend. He is a musical genius. He was also, at the time, a serious party machine. Bill was a West Point Band member as well as an audio engineer. He had the keys to West Point’s very sophisticated recording studio. Who knew?
Bill took us in, skillfully ushered the band through the process, and produced a nice little demo featuring ‘Take Up the Cross’, a cover of Judas Priest’s ‘You Got Another Thing Coming’, and probably Sweet’s ‘Action’. I’m not sure if the band paid Bill for the session, but I do know Lagasse dropped by.
At the end of that school year, ‘82/83, Talon played an outdoor show at the O’Neill High School Graduation where Bill and Brian received their diplomas. It was off to college for half of Talon, and thus, the end, almost……
The Death of Talon was the title given by Pat of the video of their farewell gig. Bill and Brian came back for winter break, and we decorated the Ace in the Ground – Brian’s basement, and invited a bunch of friends.
Talon went all out in preparation. Costumes, make-up, set design, oh yeah, and everybody took acid about an hour before the show. The latter was regrettable, especially considering the costumes, make-up, and set design. Hey, we didn’t know, really, we had no idea.
The first few songs went well, then a fuse blew and all the power went out as they began ‘Mr. Crowley’. As unsettling as that was, by the time we got things running again, the effects of the LSD had begun to undermine the bands ability to perform. Brian, in his own words, got lost in his cymbals, and Pat seemed to have forgotten how to play. Thankfully somebody gave their guitar to Dave Palmer, and Talon officially died as a loose jam session evolved in the wake. I think the lawn doctor practiced his lurid craft on Brian’s front lawn that night. Pat and I giggled a lot.
Back to Head. I know a few of them went out to LA for a stint, Palmer staying longer and coming back a shred-god. Before long they obtained the residence that gave them their name. The House In Newburg. Pat, Hutch, Palmer, Savage……who played bass? Diceman?
It was a great house. The basement housed the rehearsal space as well as at least one bedroom. There was pinball, booze, and mayhem. That house prepared me for college much more than O’Neill did.
Head wasn’t Head any more, but I don’t think they ever landed on another name, nor do I think they ever played out. They were The Band at the House, and they practiced Metal tunes, many of which were unsuitable for Pat’s bluesy gravel pit voice.
In 1984 Metal cover bands could get paying gigs, and I guess that was the idea. I always thought they should have been writing their own material.
Neither the band nor the house lasted very long as they began to be interested in their lives and soon went their separate ways. It turns out there wasn’t a surplus of dudes who could sing Maiden or Dio.
Savage went to California to be an actor. Palmer went down south into academia. Hutch moved to San Francisco. Pat enrolled at the local Community College. I don’t know what Dice did, or if he was even a part of the scene at that point.
1984 saw the end of the West Point Skateboard Gang bands in the proper sense. Many of us stayed involved with music, however. During breaks from school music was still being made.
The Ace in the Hole gave us Danger Penguin. Ostensibly, at its inception, the Danger Penguin line-up was Brian (drums), Pat Wilson (guitar) and Mitch Turner (guitar). Soon Pat Phillips was showing up as well. The band never gigged, but it served as the spring board into the next era, the studio years.
Pat Wilson obtained a multi-track console and tape machine. We all caught the bug. By 1986 Pat Phillips and Brian had converted Pat’s parent’s basement into the Coal Mine Studio.
We recorded every chance we got. Mitch would come up from Georgia. Whoever was at the University of Maryland at the time would make the trip. We learned a craft.
Eventually the Coal Mine closed its doors, and we all went off to our lives, but those of us who came out of the Coal Mine are all still involved with making music today. Pat Phillips has a studio in Atlanta. I have mine in Brooklyn. Mitch is a Doctor of Tunes at LaGrange College in Georgia. Pat Wilson still plays his white Les Paul, and Brian plays drums with Jesus.
Now, everybody please fill in the blanks and correct my incorrect notions.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I went to see Iron Maiden last weekend, not for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but because those first four or five records were GREAT and I STILL listen to them today. Iron Maiden were fantastic! (see Ted's blog for a run down). Ted and I played cuts (all on vinyl of course) from Nugent's 'Free For All' record before heading out to MSG and we were jumping around playing air guitar like maniacs. Racked up some UFO 'Obsession' (arguably one of the greatest records ever made) and cranked it up so loud we chased Ted's gal out of the apartment. All of these acts have become a study in not knowing when to quit to be sure, but the early catalog undeniably stands the test of time IMHO. Why fucking deny it? Why not groove to it instead?
Shit yeah Lee, I just spun 'Gimme Back My Bullets' last week. 'I'm on the Hunt' another great Skynyrd track from the era, and there are many more. I wouldn't go near a Skynyrd concert (or one of their post plane crash records for that matter) nowadays, but man that early shit cooks.
It's a little like this skate blog my bro has fired up. Our youth was a bit unique. Strange time, strange place. For me, it had it's ups and downs. There are things that I did then that I'm embarrassed to even think about now, but overall I had a blast as a kid. Would I go back given the chance? Like Lee, hell fucking no. I'm having a much better time now, but I've come to accept all that teenage stupidity and after years of guilt, have certainly come to have a good laugh at it (God we were so serious, weren't we?).
I was a bit ambivalent about the Skate blog myself when Chris first mentioned it, like I was about attending my O'Neill reunion years ago, thought it might be nostalgia for nostalgia's sake trip, but like the musical denial thing, I've decided to say fuck it, I'm in. You guys make me laugh when we get together. Not just our stories of yore, but what you're doing now, so why the fuck not?
BTW, all new music sucks!!! I STILL GOT IT!!!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Bad Motor Scooter---Montrose (back before Sammy Hagar sucked)
Stranglehold (back before Ted Nugent sucked)
Toys in the Attic (back before Aerosmith sucked)
.....sensing a theme here?????
I have a feeling there could be some 'spirited' discussion about music then and now on the blog. I have kinda wondered about what you fellas are listening to these days and what made the cut as far as holding up over time from our high school days. Just to put out one of my opinions (Pat P. can tell you that I have a few opinions from time to time) Ted Nugent did not stand up to the test of time. A few songs make the cut but....'Intensities in Ten Cities'??? More like "Milktoastities in Ten Cities'. Everything after the Double LIve Gonzo is crap.
I would be truly interested to hear what is on people's current playlists. If you haven't moved beyond the 70s or 80s as far as music goes please also include a photo of your mullet.
Please feel free to call me an asshole but I won't change my mind.
I would also be interested to hear what everyone is up to these days. Pat P is the only guy (My brother excluded) that I know anything recent about. That sort of thing is probably a blog entry but I thought I would put the question out on email. Jobs, hobbies, kids etc.I will put up a post about my sometimes other than glorious (beer truck driver and 3 years in the army) and fairly glorious (going to Antarctica for 4 months and getting a PhD) past 25 or so years.
Hope you are all well
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The rest of the world will never fully understand what it was like to grow up on a national landmark. That coupled with the insular environment provided by the military made West Point a singularly unique and fantastic setting for one’s youth.
West Point is a campus first and foremost. That fact makes for a lot of buildings, facilities, and other apparatus. Those structures, the academic and athletic, the historic and the commercial, were our playground.
Breaking and entering is a serious crime, and though our activities bore resemblance to criminality, in actuality they weren’t malicious in any way. We simply had an undeniable urge to explore. Of course any clandestine venture taken by teen-agers after dark is logically suspect, a fact we understood, so it was with the greatest of care, indeed sobriety, that we undertook our mission.
Our mission was to find our way to the roof of every bit of brick and stone assembled by man within walking/running/skating distance from our homes.
There were many favorites: the Cadet Chapel, Washington Hall, Egbert.
Finding your way into buildings was key to accessing roofs, and was equally part of the kick. Eventually we ran out off roof tops, so we diversified. It became simply a matter of gaining access to places were not supposed to be.
Again, the term ‘trespassing’ is a bit past the mark. We weren’t vandals. We weren’t there to drink beer or make out. Our motives were much more laudable. We were marking our territory, but in the harmless Zen-like fashion of simply being there.
After a few years, just as we were starting to shift focus to women and beer, we did develop a ritual that although still harmless, it was certainly less than nice. Of course the victims of pride, the intended targets of our mischief, was the Military Police, the sworn enemy.
Fort Putnam had long been a feature in our nocturnal activities. It was, in fact, part of the trifecta of mischief. A night swim at Delafield, a romp through Fort Putnam, and a stroll through Michie Stadium. By this time the route into Fort Putnam had been well established. The giant wooden double door was locked promptly at 4:30, but we rarely used doors. A brief walk around the exterior wall to the left brought you, after about 100 yards and some narrow footing, to a spot in the wall that features an inward right angle as well as the lowest part of the wall. It was like they were asking us to climb up and over.
At some point somebody got wise to our shenanigans, and a security system was installed. This security system consisted of a cable that ran around the outside of the wall at about a foot and a half from the top. The cable incorporated a series of phono jacks, which when pulled upon would disconnect, breaking a circuit, and triggering an alarm somewhere at MP HQ.
The effectiveness of this system was laughable, as were far too nimble and easily climbed over it.
I guess we got bored. One night, on the way out, somebody yanked the cable behind them. We thought we might hear an alarm, but there was nothing. We didn’t stick around though, and we made our way down through a wooded incline, across the road that leads to Delafield, and into the woods where we hid behind a boulder and waited.
We didn’t have to wait long before a MP car showed up. There was a lengthy display of spotlights and fumbling around in the woods on the part of the MPs. We were delighted.
We began to yank the cable regularly. Then they stopped showing up.
It was a hollow victory. We moved on to women and beer.
Ed note: The following story is true and the facts are accurate to the best of my knowledge. NO names have been changed to protect the innocent since nobody I knew back then ever remotely fit that description.
While reading Jackson's blog this past week, a commenter using an alias let it be known through the use of cryptic clues that he grew up with us at West Point, and had known some of the same folks I hung out with. He asked a couple of specific questions regarding the skateboard ramp in the background of my profile photo and alluded to another that myself and my gang of skate rats built. Jackson recommended that perhaps it was time for a post on the subject, and I couldn't agree more if for no other reason than to coax our mystery blog commenter out of anonymity.
If you’ve seen either of the Dogtown movies: “Dogtown and Z Boys” (most excellent documentary), or the drama enhanced “Lords Of Dogtown” (as the Outback Steakhouse dude says, "not as good...") you know that skateboarding’s first big quantum leap occurred when the street skaters of Venice and Santa Monica discovered a practical use for all the swimming pools left empty due to the severe drought Southern California was grappling with in the late seventies. This gave birth to the art of vertical skating and all it’s popular offshoots so common place nowadays (snowboarding halfpipe being at the top the list). Street skating was cool and any teenage male growing up in 1976 could certainly find plenty enough mischief by doing that, but vertical skating took real balls. The consequence factor went up ten fold when one went from doing kick flips in the street to sailing up the 12’ vertical concrete wall of an empty swimming pool. Naturally, once me and my gang saw pictures of guys skating pools it was a foregone conclusion that we had to have us some of that!
The problem we confronted was that unlike drought laden Southern California, where I was living in the spring of 1977 (Newport News, Virginia), there weren’t an abundance of available empty backyard pools to do this activity in, and neither was this the case at West Point NY where I, along with my family, would be moving to in a few short months. Back in Virginia after school let out for the summer, my skating friends and I put together a poorly constructed two transition ramp and began shredding it. It was by far the most fun we’d ever had in our lives up to that point at least, and I was genuinely sad to leave it behind when my Dad packed my brother and I into the car for the long drive and our new life in NY. Oh, what was in store for me I had not a clue…
On my second day as a New Yorker, while at the local swimming facility, I met West Point’s lone resident skateboarder at the time. His name was Chris Lagasse and by the time we headed home for supper, me and my new found friend had plotted an after dark plywood stealing raid for that same evening. As planned, my new friend showed up at the predetermined rendezvous point, but he had some new intel to divulge: on his way home for dinner, he had met a couple of guys who, that same day, had moved in down the road. The Rogers brothers, John and Dave, had skated on a team over in Europe and had just begun skating ramps before their family had to pack it up and move (for those unfamiliar, this is the life of a career service family). The Roger’s Bros. were definitely interested in helping the ramp cause. We met them over at their house and after introductions and helping their older brother set up his killer stereo, we spun the first side of "Aerosmth “Rocks”, and then set out for the historical post cemetery, the final resting place for many of our nations finest, to commandeer our needed building materials. This began a long legacy of night time dark ops style missions in search of materials for skateboard ramps. It’s worthy of note that this inaugural mission to the cemetery was also the first time we were detained by the Military Police (they let us go with the plywood intact after hearing our hastily put together bullshit story. That would be the LAST time they did that). This first ramp went in against the side of the hill where our house shared the parking lot with the Catholic Chapel. It was a crude two transition job much like the one I left behind in VA, but it was a little bigger and better built thanks to the improved quality of pilfered material. It was also closer to true vertical at its peak.
The West Point winter took its toll on that ramp and by the time the spring of 78’rolled around, we had a chance to study some pictures of what other swimming pool deficient skaters were doing to satisfy their jones for anything vertical. We carefully analyzed each and every photo in Skateboarder Magazine throughout the entire winter (nothing cured the winter doldrums like coming home from school and finding your issue of Skateboarder Magazine in the mailbox). The typical solution was a quarter pipe to vertical 10’-12’ tall ramp. This required a higher level of engineering and more complex bill of materials than either of the first models we’d built.
By the time our second summer was upon us in NY, we’d all become proficient at sneaking out of our houses in the wee hours and it was almost a nightly thing. The time was spent either taking these gorgeous downhill speed runs on West Points’ mountainous Hudson Valley terrain, and/or swimming under the stars at Delafield Pond. We took a night or two off from the usual routine to scout and abscond with our needed material from any of the academies bazillion construction sites. We were so familiar with every rock and tree on post by then that it was like taking candy from a baby. It’s funny, my folks rarely asked where all the lumber came from and accepted the lamest of responses whenever they did. Maybe they just didn’t want to know. We’d even use the yellow saw horses that the MP’s would use to close roads and redirect traffic for these ramps with the words “Military Police: Do Not Cross” stenciled across them ("...Oh, these are the ones they didn’t want and were getting rid of anyway. They said we could have them…”)
The plywood surface for this next project would come thanks to Matt Beall and the use of his VW van. Matt wasn’t a skater, but some in our group were his soccer teammates and somehow convinced him that loading up his parents van with stolen plywood in the middle of the night from the roofing jobsite at the cadet Field House was something he wanted to do (If I never told you Matt and if you’re out there, thanks dude!).
The ten foot tall quarter pipe we built as a result of all this hard work was magnificent. The run up to it was down grade so getting speed was easy and it allowed us the opportunity to focus on developing and setting up moves instead of pumping the ground for speed. I remember a few local publications coming up to shoot pictures of us ripping that ramp, but can find none of the resulting photos anywhere. I also don’t remember when that ramp came down or recall for what reason.
I do remember the details of next one though. We had befriended a couple of guys in the housing area across the reservoir from the football stadium by the fall of our second year at West Point and it was decided that it was time to build another ¼ pipe. The location we decided on was a lightly traveled road that ran along the back of Lusk Reservoir and happens to be one of the worlds most beautiful and picturesque backdrops. This location was ideal for three reasons: it provided a close location to steal lumber from (the stadium was under construction yet again), it provided the most excellent wooded groves for sneaking off and smoking cigarettes and other things, and it also had a good hill to run down to so we again didn’t have to worry about pumping for speed much like it’s predecessor.
Unfortunately, the stadium lumber raid netted us only the two by four materials we required and we had to come up with another location and plan to jack the six sheets of exterior grade 5/8’’ plywood required to complete the job. On my way home from my dishwashing job one night, I was delighted to discover a road work project that was underway on Wilson Road. The post engineers were replacing all the manholes along the length of the entire street. It was a long ways down the hill from the tentative location of the new ramp, but was off the beaten path a little bit providing very favorable conditions to ply our well honed lumber thieving tactics. It would definitely be a haul to get the plywood up to our ramp location, but they were using brand new sheets of 5/8” exterior grade and after conferring with my esteemed colleagues we quickly determined that it would be well worth the extra effort. Hell, if the Druids hauled all those boulders over those long distances to Stonehenge, carrying six sheets of plywood a mile or so up a hill wouldn’t be all that bad, right?
On the night of the operation, my friends hooked up with me after work and we set about on our mission. We made our way to an unlit spot off into the woods close to the Wilson Road jobsite where we passed around a joint, and plotted the final details of the caper together. The plan was to break up into two man teams. Each team would approach a sheet of plywood laying on the ground, one person in front, one in back, toss their skateboard on top of said plywood, pick it up, and as quickly and quietly as possible, make their way into the woods and up the hill.
One day during that same fall, my brother and I came home from school and was informed by our mother, who bore this look on her face as if someone had died, that our ramp had been hauled to the dump and burned by the Military Police. Apparently, some desk Sergeant, without consulting with his commander, had taken this action base on a single complaint from some nanny officer’s wife who rang the station up the prior day to complain about hooligans hanging around her house skateboarding and terrorizing HER neighborhood. The Post Provost Marshall who had been out of town at the time found out about this serious(?) error in judgment by one of his men and in fear of the potential major retribution campaign he assumed would follow shortly as a result of this mistake(?) wanted to call my folks and offer a plan to smooth it over (imagine THEM being afraid of US, it just doesn’t get any better than this!). Before my brother and I could utter a single word, she told us that the Provost Marshall had directed the Army Corp of Engineers to build us a replacement ramp ASAP and put it right back where the original was. Here I thought we were about to face the music for stealing lumber, and now I’m hearing this story of contrition from our arch nemesis, AND we’re going to get a new ramp built out of it!
An awesome ramp it was too. We all took the ride with the newly completed ramp on the back of a flatbed truck upon it’s completion from the carpenters shop located down on the banks of the mighty Hudson River. As the tractor trailer made it’s way through the housing area, I was hoping in all my glee that the harpy who had called in that original complaint was looking out her window as we drove by. The Army Corp guys dropped our ramp on the spot we designated and left us with the instructions that the monstrosity had to be painted (green of course), but other than the skate punk spray paint graffiti we applied, the green paint they left for us got tossed in the woods. We were quite the popular attraction that football season and we drank up all the attention thrown our way, not to mention the free beers compliments of the most impressed tailgaters.
The winter that followed, boredom, and some asshole who drove his car onto it spelled the death of that ramp and we were again left with no vertical surface to skate. During the snowy months though, our collective and insatiable need for vertical drove an attempt at an off season solution. Again, we “procured” lumber in the usual manner and build a small half pipe in our empty garage up by the chapel. Much to our dismay, it was a disappointing and failed project on many levels. The garage was WAY too cold to skate in during the winter, it was insufficiently lit, and it never dried out enough to skate not even once.
When the spring finally arrived, we decided to pull the halfpipe out of the garage and move it parallel to the side of our house. This took some serious effort since it was built beyond the size of the garage opening, but we managed to make it happen nonetheless. It was a very tight ½ pipe, perhaps 13’ in diameter. For those familiar, you know this is a very hard pipe to skate, certainly difficult to learn the basics on. Didn’t matter, it took no time to get good at it and we were again impressing passersby with our acrobatics, this time church attendees coming and going to mass and no serious objections from my parents or the priests from the church for that matter. I guess my folks were happy to have us within sight, although all the extra curricular activities were still going on as usual. They even somehow managed to ignore the constant whooshing sound of the ramp and the blaring rock and roll music that was a constant backdrop. They didn’t ask my friends to stop while we ate dinner even after John Rogers skateboard came crashing through the window as we ate one time. We cut our teeth on that little halfpipe and it took us to a new level of skating. Yet, it’s meager diameter was extremely limiting. We had to now set our sights on something major, something more like what the guys in Skateboarder Magazine were skating. This would be the projects of all projects. It would require material thievery on a scale not previously imagined. Some thought it was almost too big. We also knew that the halfpipe we wanted to build would not be one that West Point was going to just let us plop down anywhere without a battle. We spent a lot of our smoking time talking about possible locations and material pilfering plans. What and where was it going to be? I don’t know if it was attempt to coop us, or simply legitimize our plight, but our parents began simultaneously coaxing us to petition West Point’s Youth Activities Division to provide us with a facility to skate. You have to understand that skateboarding was all but illegal by now after many regular trips to the Military Police station by all of us. Our parents put together some kind of informal proposal and submitted it to the powers that be on our behalf. The “powers” couldn’t bring themselves to reward us hooligans for all of our misdeeds, nor did they want to endorse or otherwise spend money on such a non-cadet type activity, but they did concede to allowing us to build a ½ pipe ramp using our own funds adjacent to a playground located in one of the more popular housing areas.
That’s all we wanted and needed. We took a chance and broke with all our previous outlaw conventions and determined that with a contribution of just $20 a piece from each of us, we could build a 10’ tall, full 20’ in diameter state of the art halfpipe. Once the funds were collected my wonderfully understanding, if not a bit naïve, mother drove our family station wagon piled with a bunch of longhaired miscreants up to Newburgh’s Myron’s Lumber and we loaded that thing up until the leaf springs sagged so low we almost didn’t make it back over the mountain (Thanks Mom, after that token deed all my friends thought you were cool. At least cooler than their moms). We put together the project over the course of a week and the result was a sight to see.
It was conveniently located close to the perimeter woods which were more than sufficient to camouflage our extra curricular activities, but visible enough to attract a goodly amount of spectators. At first, the “civilians” were afraid to come close to take a look. This was due to our well established and notorious reputations, but in time it was normal to see a handful of parents and kids standing around watching us skate this ramp with our Aerosmith and Ted Nugent blaring from boom boxes. This halfpipe was constructed in the spring, so we had unfettered use of it all summer. MANY girls came to hang with us here and for a longtime it was THE place to be. This also happens to be the ramp featured in the background of my blogger profile.
Alas, like most all good things, they don’t last and we all grow up. I can’t tell you when I stopped skating that ramp or when I stopped skateboarding period. Thinking back on it, I’d say a change of focus to music (I started singing in a band), fellow skate friends moving away, too much partying, girls, or a combination of all of them put skating further and further down my priority list as time wore on. I can say with absolute certainty that there is no way anyone had more fun than I did when I was an out of control teenager and have the residual scars and guilt to prove it. West Point, in its own hyper conservative and strangely paternalistic way, was a perfect place to grow up despite the oil and vinegar existence we lived as outlaw skateboarders amongst the pinnacle of institutional military indoctrination. There had been nobody like us before we all arrived with our families back in the summer of 1977, and I’d say without a doubt in my mind that there’s been nobody like us there since. All someone has to do is mention skateboarding and ramps and a smile will instantly appear across my face.
The Other "Tony Alva"
UPDATE: I completely forgot that Mike Blackburn, an OG Skateboard Gang member, had given me a copy of a local newspaper that printed a picture of us. This photographer came up and took pictures of us shredding the hell out of the Chapel 1/4 pipe for the enite day. I remember going down to the publishing office and looking at a hundred photos from the shoot. The guy got some great shots as a result of his efforts. I seem to remember him being concerned about the fact that we weren't wearing any safety gear and that his editor may not let him use some of the cooler shots as a result. We were deflated when they went to press with this lame photo:
Also, by request, here's a link to the Flickr page with the above photos along with attributes. Please forward to me any corrections that I need to make.
We had the advantage. We were faster than they were, and we knew the terrain better than they did.
Often we had a plan, though usually the plan was to sit on the wall of the graveyard across the road from the Teen Club, and when we saw the distinct shape of MP headlights, we’d jump over the wall and haul ass into the cemetery as if we had been engaging in some sort of bad behavior.
That always worked.
Other times we were not looking to scare up a chase, and actually were involved in some sort of bad behavior, and they’d suddenly appear. Bad behavior is distracting; it can be very easy to let your guard down.
Those were the times when you actually might get nabbed.
I got nabbed more than once, but not a lot. The most memorable incident that resulted in getting caught happened at Delafield, as did many memorable events.
A good sized crowd had descended upon our favorite nocturnal destination of a summer evening. Delafield, for those who don’t know, is a swimming area located in a somewhat isolated (much more so back then) wooded area just below Fort Putnam, and just above the residence of Tony Alva and Mathdude. After hours, our favorite time for a swim, you had to clamber around the side of the building that housed the changing rooms on a narrow path between the wall and a steep drop into the woods. Once past the building, one could jump up on a small wall and hop the fence.
As I said, there was a fair amount of people there that night, too many. I guess we got loud.
Some folks were swimming, other chatting, I’m sure there must have been other activities going on.
I was on the 36 with Hutch talking about Motorhead when the MPs showed up.
The 36, for those same people who don’t know, is a 36 foot diving platform. Diving off the 36 was a rite of passage for a teen-age male at West Point. Diving off the 36 at night put you into a select club. Hutch and I were shooting the shit about Philthy Animal Taylor or some shit, when BAM, the spotlight was upon us.
Did I mention we were naked?
Night swimming was clothing optional. I always enjoyed the no clothing option. It was dark, no big deal; that is until the MPs threw that spotlight on us.
We were nabbed. Nabbed naked.
Now, Hutch and I kinda figured that what would work best was that we dive off, swim ashore, and give ourselves up. They had us; we knew it, game over.
Well, the MPs didn’t like our idea. What they wanted was to have us climb back down the ladder, naked, with their damned spotlight on our asses.
And that, dear readers, is what happened.
After that is was simply a matter of getting back into our clothes and getting a ride home in the back of a MP car complete with a waking up of the parents to let them know what bad boys we were.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I'm just as honored now as I was back in the day to be considered a member of "the skateboard gang".
You see, I never owned a skateboard. (gasp!, shriek!, no!) Much less rode one. I was allowed in by some loophole in the bylaws that granted membership if you had a Les Paul and could pull off at least three songs from any of the following groups: AC DC, Black Sabbath, Maiden/Priest, or Zeppelin. I believe it may have been my stirring rendition of "Breaking the Law" that sealed my approval.
In any event, what a get-out-of-jail-free card this association turned out to be!
As an entering freshman to James I. Oneill I had instant street cred. I was about to get "into it" with this guy from Garrison. And when I say, "guy" I mean neanderthal and when I say "into it" I mean my ass kicked. When Pat Phillips walked up and said "what's up Devine!" and asked the neanderthal if he had a smoke. The dude gave Pat a smoke, shook my trembling hand and walked off!
That was the beauty of the skateboard gang. A bunch of non-violent really cool dudes, that people thought were dangerous!
I remember the first time this kid asked me if I was in the skateboard gang. I just kind of shrugged and said no, I don't think so. But that only made it seem more so! Awesome!
But then I'd be out at the halfpipe crankin' some UFO on one of those crisp fall days. Doing absolutely nothing but enjoying life when who should pull up... but an MP. and we'd let him park, get out of his car, do his hard-guy stance while talking into the radio and, if it was a really nice day, we'd let him take 10 steps towards us... then we'd all ditch over the fence and down the hill (let's face it this was pretty much a cliff) all the way to soldier field. If this fool decided to drive all the way down to get us, we'd end up climbing painted rock.
Always a win-win situation.
While attending the local community college one year, I worked at the Bear Mountain Inn in the Overlook Lodge. It had about 30 rooms on three floors and a reception room in the basement for banquets and whatnot. I "worked" there because a few of my friends did also and because I only had to do about 45 minutes of "work" for each 8 hours I got paid. On the weekends of the home Army football games, the "Inn" filled up on Friday night and became a ghost town on Saturday when every guest went to the football game.