Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Legacy of Warren Bolster...

Inspired by a recent conversation…

One spring morning in 1976 while our family was living in Newport News, VA, my dad stopped the fully loaded family truckster in front of the Ft. Monroe PX. We were about to embark on a family journey down to see my grandparents in Raleigh NC, and as was the routine, we each got to load up on magazines, candy, and crap to occupy ourselves with for the next six hours. It was there that I pulled the very first issue of Skateboarder Magazine out of the rack. It was not just MY first copy of the publication, but it happened to be the very first issue produced. I never missed another.

I had by then attached my sister’s roller skate wheels to a crudely crafted piece of plank, and may have already move on to a cheap K-Mart plastic skateboard with urethane open ball barring wheels. Most of what we used our primitive skateboards for at that time was to carry us to the 7-11 to steal penny candy and play pinball. Any ‘tricks’ we mastered I’d learn from friends during recess at the penitentiary like Catholic School I was attending in sixth grade which had finally let out for the summer. That issue of Skateboarder Magazine changed EVERYTHING in my life for the next seven years or so.

The medium of photography is a strange thing. Without being armed with an academic background in appreciation for the art form, photos can still leave lasting impressions without the observer even being able to fully grasp why. Like great music, great photography can satisfy and amaze you even as one matures intellectually and emotionally, you just begin to figure it out, not what you were missing necessarily, but rather the nuisance you couldn’t quite articulate previously while being so mesmerized by a particular piece of work. This is the center of my ever growing appreciation for the work Warren Bolster and the team who put together Skateboarder Magazine those few years, and why a six hour car ride in an unair-conditioned station wagon packed with six other people and a dog flew by like ten minutes.

A couple of years ago while Googling my random thoughts, I enter Warren Bolster’s name in the search box and was excited to discover a collection of his work in coffee table book form and ordered a copy immediately. It didn’t take long to discover why those photos were so appealing to me as a sixth grader, and as a teenager in high school, and as an adult years later. Every one of them is simply AMAZING! Bolster was already a master surfing photographer before being asked to start Skateboarder Magazine and his entrenched surfer style dominates the photos that filled the early issues. The colors are just unreal, but it’s his ability to capture the beauty of movement that sets him apart from anyone else. There were other staff photographers at Skateboarder that were master surf photographers in their own right as well, but Warren was the one who translated the majesty of the ocean to the world of concrete and asphalt better than anyone else by a long shot and the distinction was immediately recognizable.

As a young skater in my own right, I instinctively had an appreciation for the microsecond long pressure points being captured in those pictures, the wooden tails slapping the coping of a swimming pool, or the last remaining translucent red wheel clinging to the top edge of a vertical plywood ramp, the grinding of light alloy metal trucks against a curb. Pure crystallizing moments of intensity captured perfectly for civilian eyes to witness. It wasn’t just the then unimaginable acrobatics of prehistoric vertical skating either, because long before the boys in Santa Monica jumped into empty neighborhood swimming pools, they were honing their craft and writing their poetry on the dirty streets of drought ridden Southern California. Warren plies his skills at capturing these ‘Moments’ in these other skate disciplines equally well. When downhill skating became the next nation to conquer, Warren made guys rolling down a hill look as exciting as the first time the rear wheels of Tony Alva’s Zephyr deck lifted off the coping of a pool ushering in the age of weightless skateboarding.

As fearless (crazy?) teens, we followed these trends back east like brainwashed Al Queda members. “Did you guys see Guy Grundy on page 32 rolling down La Costa Hill standing up at 55 mph? Let’s give that a try on Stony Lonesome Mountain tonight!” And why the fuck not, right? These photos are what we hypnotized ourselves with during study hall instead of reading ‘Mrs. Mike’. They inspired us to emulate the west coast created madness the first chance we got. As an adult who has supposed to have gained my senses long ago, looking at the pictures now I wonder how these photos didn’t inspire EVERYBODY to take a skateboard down Stony Lonesome Mountain, they’re that good.

I’ll sound like old man winter grousing about how everything was better way back when, before money corrupted everything, etc… but Warren’s photos also capture what has been long lost to the sport of skateboarding today (hell, we’d get offended if they called it a ‘sport’ back then!), and that’s the violent elegance transformed into the grace of movement born from its surfing forbearance. I have a deep admiration for the contemporary purveyors of skateboarding and can’t get enough of the aerial acrobatic insanity that they pull off at such soaring heights these days, or the endless nut racking stunts the youngest of kids are performing using nothing more than an ordinary picnic bench, but it’s connection to surfing has all but faded to obscurity like Bill The Butcher’s grave. Surfing was where it all came from back then. Skateboarding is what they did on flat days. Perhaps that didn’t hold true for us Eastcoasters, but we knew the deal. Now, along with snowboarding, one can learn to skate without even having the slightest appreciation for the mystery of ocean surfing and the associated ancient rites of the culture. This is what Skateboarder Magazine was able to accomplish and package into a box for export using brilliant photography and honest creative scribe (at least for those of us who spoke and understood the language).

I remember as skateboarding became more popular and mainstream (i.e. no longer relegated to long haired teenage degenerates and suicidal rock n rollers) other publications became available. Me and my crew made no time dismissing all of them as weak ass shite. The “how to” articles, cheesy photography, the contest results, Leif Garrett doing nose wheelies, etc… Fuck off. Who gives a shit about any of that? Not us. If you are lucky enough to find an old issue of Skateboarder Magazine or ever get your hands on Warren Bolster’s book, you’ll see and know instantly exactly what I mean.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

1980 - A Unforgetable Year!

OK, I'm conceding a battle to my brother - but not the war! He claims the music we've always enjoyed is pretty much dead. I, on the other hand, believe the music's out there and that we are going though a revival of sorts, music-wise. He can cite the bands and the albums from back then, and I can counter with more recent stuff.

I will give him this, though, there has never been a year, musically, like 1980. Before or since.

Let's start with January 1, 1980. The #1 record that day? Pink Floyd's The Wall.
OK, it wasn't released in 1980, but the year started with arguably the greatest album ever made at #1. So what was released in 1980? Perhaps you remember these.

AC/DC's Back in Black

Iron Maiden's self-titled debut album.

Def Leppard's debut album, On Through The Night.

Van Halen's Women And Children First (probably my favorite of 1980).

Black Sabbath's Heaven And Hell.

Judas Priest's British Steel.

Motorhead's Ace Of Spades.

Rush's Permanent Waves.

The Ramones' End Of The Century.

The Pretenders' self-titled debut album.

UFO's No Place To RunThe Scorp's Animal Magnetism

Ted Nugent's Scream Dream (c'mon Terminus still rocks even today).

Ozzy's Blizzard of Oz.

Cheap Trick's All Shook Up (I know the rest of you probably hate this one, but I still dig it).

And some of these I may not have listened to, but I know maybe some of the rest of you have, like...Thin Lizzy's Chinatown, The Clash's London Calling, Molly Hatchet's Beating the Odds (aka Molly Fatshit's Beating Off), Springsteen's The River, Saxon's Wheels Of Steel, Genesis' Duke, and Elvis Costello's Get Happy.

No doubt about it - there was never a year like 1980!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

There's a new Jimi Hendrix album coming out March 9th, Valleys of Neptune. I'm being cautiously optimistic about it, but at least the title track is pretty decent. There are several remakes of previously released material which means probably that they are second rate versions that have been passed over several times since Jimi's death. We'll see.

I was thinking about Jimi on Martin Luther King Day. I was driving around with my ipod shuffle and Captain Coconut came on and I thought about how on my cruise the Red Hot Chili Peppers' version of "Havanna Affair" came up on my ipod as we were passing Cuba (thus making me the most rockin' dude on the cruise, but then we already knew that). See Captain Coconut (from Crash Landing) was originally called MLK, but the extremely white bread musicians called in to fix up Jimi's stuff had no idea what MLK meant. So they renamed the song Captain Coconut.

Anywho, as I was listening to Captain Coconut/MLK on Martin Luther King Day trying to figure out what the hell Hendrix was trying to do with that song, it occurred to me that times were so much simpler back then. Good and evil were so less difficult to identify. Though I'm probably viewing it through rose colored glasses. Today everything just seems infinitely more complex, and I have to admit, more wonderful in so many ways. I think Jimi would have been pleased.

Here is Valleys of Neptune (the song) as a free download if you want a taste. You can go on iTunes and pre-order the album if you'd like as I have. And in case you haven't heard the RHCP version of Havana Affair, it is awesome as well.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hey TA...I found your board!

I was clicking through ebay today and ran across one of the "holy grail" skateboards from back in the day. If you have some cash burning a hole in your pocket, the bidding on this one was up to $1600.00 the last I checked.

TA was all over the Dogtown and Alva stuff while many of us had no clue as to what was really cool. My coolest boards from back then are the ones that some dipshit ripped off from under my nose while a couple of us were jumping into those pole vault mats down at North Field. I still wonder if I knew the thief and what ever happened to those boards. One of them was my trusty old G&S Fiberflex and the other was my brand new Sims Superply with Mids and 65mm Krypto Reds.

It never crossed my mind in the late 70's that someday those pieces of wood would be worth some decent $$$$ as collector's items. Of course, I don't think I would be able to part with any of my old stuff...I'm sort of a pack rat for all things skateboard and '67 VW squareback.

It just crossed my mind that Valentine's Day is approaching...hint, hint Mrs. TA

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Back in the day, the best part of hanging out was exchanging music.

Chicks, man. What about the chicks?

OK, the second best thing about hanging out back in the day was exchanging music. I couldn't begin to count the number of times I heard something new being played on someone's tunes box. If you wish you still had reliable music critics within your circle of friends as much as I do, then this is the posting for you.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a trio out of San Francisco (Now based in LA) with Peter Hayes on guitar and Robert Levon Been on bass, although they occasionally swap instruments. Both sing, and their singing voices are almost indistinguishable. Their music is gritty, hard-rockin' badass Rock 'n' Roll, much like the stuff we used to listen to in high school.

My brother and I caught their act a couple of years ago here in Asheville. When he and I argue about the state of the music world (he argues rock is dead), BRMC is the first band I cite that it is not. If you are unfamiliar with their work, oooooohhhh are you in for a treat today. I got the good stuff for you here.

The album you'll want to get is Baby 81. It's good from beginning to end. Arguably, the catchiest song from it is Weapon of Choice. Here's the video from YouTube.

That's badass, right? Here's some songs for you to download and add to your ipod. Weapon of Choice and Berlin are from Baby 81, but I'm giving you the version of Berlin from their Live album and DVD released last November that can only be purchased online from their official website here. If you'd like to check out a way-cool video of an interview on BBC Radio, click here (caution - it's 199 MB). I also have for you Whenever You're Ready from American X, and Shuffle Your Feet from Howl. Their next album, Beat the Devil's Tatoo, is due out next March. Here's an early taste of it posted on YouTube.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another Prodigal Son Found

Back in the day, I didn't know him very well because he was a bit younger than me and he wasn't much of a skater (that I remember anyways - sorry dude). I remember him being much skinnier. I don't know when this picture was taken, but he clearly has a David Lee Roth Rockstar thing going on here. Without further ado - Pope! Hey Pope, how about dropping a comment telling us what you've been up to.