Revenge against boredom - punk rock and skateboarding; excerpt from Jocko Weyland\'s The Answer is Never A Skateboarder\'s History of the World

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N 1981 RONALD REAGAN WAS IN OFFICE, there was a recession, unemployment was high and the cold war was at its height, filling my adolescent mind with hyper-realistic nightmares of nuclear annihilation. The popular culture of the time was overwhelmingly boring, conservative, and unwilling to address the ugly realities of life. Music was the domain of over-bloated rock bands whose time of innovation was 20-years past. It was grim. Skating was an outcast activity and it was becoming increasingly connected to the even more subversive and iconoclastic punk rock movement, particularly the brutally fast American offshoot of punk called hardcore. It has to be vociferously stated that punk rock was actually a movement of substance and importance and not the watered-down, artistically bankrupt style that it is today. It was new and scary and against everything that was the establishment. The music was alien--speeded up, aggressive, and genuinely strange. What the bands were saying was edifying and I took them very seri ously, imagining real changes and revolution. A whole world of radical politics and intellectual questioning that was completely absent in the discourse of the day was revealed to me. SKATEBOARDING AND PUNK ROCK CHANGED MY LIFE.

THE NEW MUSIC was dynamic and against everything sacred, its ideas forged my rebellion against society at large. I didn't know about punk's debt to Dada and the Situationist International and other precursors, all I knew was that it was new and really, really different. From the B-52s and David Bowie I branched out into increasingly inflammatory material. The record store in Boulder had a tiny new wave section and I found myself smelling the vinyl and the cardboard and examining the records like they were exotic archeological finds. My first real punk rock purchase was the 10-inch EP Black Market Clash by The Clash. Right after I got the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks and the Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables with the cover photo of police cars on fire. I listened to these LPs incessantly and was profoundly affected by their engagement with and denunciation of many of the world's ugly truths. It was as if a curtain had been ripped away to reveal the grotesque machinations of a perverted adult world. Then there was Let Them Eat Jellybeans, a compilation with DOA, Flipper, The Feederz and the Bad Brains and other bands from the extreme margins who illuminated and reveled in the dark side of America. Flipper had a Vietnam veteran guitarist and played tragically funny dirge music, hardcore punk on Quaaludes. The Bad Brains were rastas from DC who played faster than anybody else, and The Feederz had a song about being sodomized by Jesus Christ.

These and the other bands I discovered offered a dizzying variety of opinions, stories, declamations, rants, and manifestoes, from the existential surf music of Agent Orange and the suburban despair of the Adolescents and Black Flag's rawness in California to the eclectic hardcore bands featured on the Flex Your Head compilation from DC and the Boston scene's Unsafe At Any Speed. Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, Antisect and Amebix were English squatter bands that were extremely political and exuded end of the world bleakness in their heavy, dark music. The spectrum of subjects covered by the bands under the general umbrella of punk and hardcore included but was not in the least restricted to anti-vivisectionism, the joys of cunnilingus, child abuse, the Boer rebellion, the corporate takeover of the world and many, many fiery indictments of organized religion. It was thrilling to hear these things even mentioned, let alone set to sounds that touched a deep chord.

Along with the change in my musical tastes and nascent political consciousness, my wardrobe went from surf-skate style Town & Country shorts and Ocean Pacific shirts to my uncle's hand me down army pants and combat boots and striped work shirts requisitioned from my father that I painted band names and logos on with house paint. I was really into Argyle socks because they were about as uncool as you could get. I cut the sleeves off of a T-shirt and spray painted the anarchy A symbol on it, tied bandannas around my wrist and sometimes around my ankles. The real break came the last day of eighth grade when I took a copy of Action Now magazine to the barber and showed him a picture of Steve Olson staring into the camera with a grown-out crewcut. It took some cajoling to get him to do it; he kept repeating "Are you sure you want this? I haven't given one of these in 20 years." It was truly unprecedented in our small town of Estes Park, Colorado. My new clothes and hair were a direct provocation and they really wo rked, I was looked at as weird at best and seriously demented and somebody to be shunned at worst.

I skated alone on my ramp every day the weather permitted and started to really learn tricks. First rock to fakies, putting the front trucks over the coping and rocking the board before coming in backwards. Learning regular rock and rolls was harder, the 180 degree turn after rocking the board led to a lot of sketchy slides down the wall on just my back wheels. I learned fakie ollies below coping, popping the tail off the wall and floating without hands. I did handplants half-way up, airs to fakie and tried Miller flips. I would skate for hours with just the sound of nature and the rhythm of the wheels on the ramp. Often when I fell I would yell curse words at the great outdoors in frustration, later I suspected that my mother could hear my rantings at the house. Other times I would lie there for a long time pondering the sky and the trees. Then I would look over to the meadow and see a bull Elk with his harem of cows calmly eating grass and contemplating my folly. I only had pictures and my own visual record of seeing people doing tricks to go on. I might have been doing things all wrong but there was no way of knowing, there were no skate videos to study.

Reflecting the national trend, High Roller Skatepark in Boulder was on its last legs. In the three years since 1978 the number of parks in the United States had gone from over 200 to less than 20. The Variflex team did a tour of America's remaining parks and their appearance at High Roller was like a visitation of messengers from a depleted, embattled tribe. Eric Grisham, Alien Losi, Eddie Elguera, Steve Hirsch and Freddy Desoto skated and there were at the most 30 people in attendance. Their effort to be there despite dire monetary circumstances and their exceptional skating was inspirational. It's hard now to fathom just how forgotten and marginalized skating was in 1981. There were hardly any skate ads in the magazines and the companies were down to the core-Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz, Variflex, G & S, Tracker, Madrid and Independent. Then Action Now folded and skaters were in the wilderness.

After the Variflex team came the park closed but remained intact arid unguarded for the rest of the summer. There was a feeling of post-apocalyptic desolation at the abandoned park, of unsupervised freedom along with the imperative to skate as much as possible before the bulldozers came. Since I was too young to drive I would take the bus down to Boulder and basically live at the park until my money ran out. I was starting to carve faster and translate the tricks I had learned on the ramp to the huge pool. My older sister's ex-boyfriend lived in Boulder so when I went down there I would show up unexpectedly at his apartment to stay with him. He didn't seem to mind too much as I ate the rice he gave me and enthused about my plan to get rich and buy Crass a deserted island where they could put their anarchist ideals to the test. I lived frugally and once found myself at the International House of Pancakes with exactly 89 cents imploring a cashier to sell me a single pancake. The disgrace of how declasse skating had become was clearly revealed to me one afternoon by the park as I skated by a booming roller skating rink and a foxy 14-year-old girl looked at me and derisively said, "Dude, don't you know four wheels are out, eight are in," with utter contempt in her voice.
At night I'd go down to the mall in Boulder and skate the small banks there and hang out at the arcade playing first-generation video games like Asteroids and Galaxian with the young stoner wastrels. One night I was skating back to the ex-boyfriend's and grinded a curb on a dark street until I came to a stop. An instant later something hit me from behind and I went flying onto the hood of a car. It was a bigger teenager pummeling me with his fists while his friend ran off with my board. I started running after them, but gave up after a few blocks. Often I would run out of money and couldn't take the bus so I would hitchhike back home, this was in the days when hitchhiking wasn't considered totally insane. I would skate along admiring the snow-covered peaks waiting for the one car that might come every half-hour...that would drive right past. Then another half-hour. Sometimes it took the whole day to get the 35 miles back home.

I was driven by the park after it was bulldozed and forlornly stared at the chunks of concrete and coping bits that were all that was left of that amazing place. There were probably 20 active skaters scattered in the whole state and I felt lonelier than ever in my small mountain hamlet. Powell came out with the General Issue board with a graphic of World War II era bombs, it was narrower than most boards and the first premonition of the back to the streets ethos that would reinvigorate skating 10 years later. I got one and used it with big soft red Kryptonics, riding hills and doing vertical tricks like sweepers and backside tail-slides on curbs. My ramp board was a Madrid Mike Smith model with a new-wavy trapezoidal design on the bottom, purple Bones wheels and Independent 159s with Grindmasters. I didn't really need them since the coping on the ramp was made of wood but everybody used copers, it was just the thing to do. The bottoms of boards didn't get scratched up because of rails--I had Rib Bones--so gra phics had a much longer life and were treated with more respect and protection. The thinking went that you had to have rails to grab for airs, which turned out to be not necessarily so since nobody uses them today. I had to order skate equipment through the mail, even the nuts and bolts to attach my trucks to the board since the local store didn't have mounting hardware.

Because there was nowhere to buy the records I had to have, I also ordered them through. the mail and anxiously awaited the slip from the post office announcing their arrival. Six dollars and a dollar for handling for LPs that would get me an update and a lifeline to the outside world. Most of the records were put out by the bands themselves or on small labels dedicated to the cause who had no intention of ever making any money and printed 5,000 albums at the maximum. Often these records were accompanied by handwritten notes from band members. One note I got was from Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat apologizing for the delay in sending their Out of Step EP. Not being patient enough to wait until I got home, I would take these records directly from the post office to the public library and listen to them on their archaic phonograph with headphones. I also started getting small handmade 'zines from all over the world, there was an explosion happening of do-it-yourself publishing abetted by advances in cheap copying technology. Beyond The Pale, Smashed Hits, Attack! Phenis, Rip, Shred & Tear, and bigger productions like Ripper, Maximum Rock and Roll, Flipside, and hundreds of other do-it-yourself manifestoes filled with handwritten record reviews, personal tirades against society, and poorly reproduced live band photos. Like the music, these 'zines covered a full range of subjects and opinions, all extremely personal and heartfelt and often truly iconoclastic.

I started making my own, Revenge Against Boredom, gluing and pasting pictures and doing all the writing myself. The first issue was three photocopied pages that grew to 14 pages by the time I discontinued it after issue number five, 1984. My sister was living in Berlin so I got her to distribute there. People wrote from Yugoslavia and Australia for it, and I got a letter from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore that said: "Dear RAB, Please send me your 'zine. I heard it's cool." It was a real labor of love without any ulterior motives except to be a part of a community and trade information about the underground. It was fun and creative and something to do instead of getting high and listening to Judas Priest. I would ride my bike the mile down to our mailbox and wait there for the mailman, hoping for something good to arrive. The mail was the highlight of my day. The apotheosis of this was when the December 1982 Thrasher arrived in a manila envelope with a circled smudge and "burrito stain" written next to it. I ha d gotten an older friend to take pictures of me and sent them in to the magazine for their "Photograffiti" section. I ripped the envelope open and found a note from Thrasher's editor, Kevin J Thatcher, saying thanks and check out page 33. I was giddy with self-recognition when I saw the full-page picture of myself doing an air to fakie. It wasn't about self-aggrandizement or fame, but having your far-flung tribe recognize your will to exist and skate under the toughest of circumstances.

Thrasher started publishing in 1981 and was the only light in the darkness; it was the Bible. I studied those first 30-page newsprint paper issues like my life depended on it. My only skater friends were Jon Baron and David Fuller from Boulder and Joe Johnson in Fort Collins. Making long distance phone calls was still a big deal so we only talked to each other when absolutely necessary. At Joe's we would listen to records and then skate Joe's ramp in the cold surrounded by flat plains with the mountains in the distance and llamas grazing nearby--Joe's father was an eminent veterinarian who specialized in the South American ruminants. The half-pipe was pink, 32-feet wide, and had a channel. Joe was doing Caballerials and high frontside ollies, skating as good as any pro. The biggest session there was five people. We dreamed of California.

In Estes Park I was a total freak. I had voluntarily cut myself off from society and got a mohawk, which my mother strenuously objected to so I shaved it off and started tenth grade as a skinhead. I would take my brown bag lunch down to Fish Creek behind the football field where I had smoked pot and done snuff back in my middle school. My parents worried about my anti-social leanings and tried to get me to go to dances and other school functions, but I wanted to stay home and work on Revenge Against Boredom, They didn't push too hard though. Minor Threat and the other DC bands inspired me to go straight edge, a reaction to all the drug use where I lived. I stopped smoking pot but still hung out with the stoners sometimes as they weren't that judgmental.

I finally got to see some shows in Denver by finagling rides with some older guys with new wave inclinations who were working in town for the summer. The Dead Kennedys played a show at the Mercury Cafe in Denver which was an insane scene, the place was packed to the rafters and supposedly Jello Biafra's mother (he was originally from Boulder) fell through the ceiling during the show. I didn't see that because I was jumping up on stage and running into Jello before diving into the pit and then struggling out on my hands and knees, getting pounded by feet and bodies. There was a great Denver hardcore band called Bum Kon with a charismatic singer named Bob McDonald who opened for the Dead Kennedys at another show I saw where the mosh pit was more like a riot than anything else--people flying all over the place, fights starting, total craziness.

Punk and skating informed everything. They were both new and incredibly exciting, and life affirming in that they proved that there was something of interest and value out there in the world. Every issue of Thrasher had somebody doing a new trick or airing higher, and every record I heard had sounds that had never been made before. It was a call to arms, a call to skate, to ask questions, to rebel, to think. It was an education and initiation.

This is an excerpt from Jocko Weyland's The Answer is Never--A Skateboarder's History of the World to be published by Grove Press in September 2002

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