Stop me if you've read this before , but throughout the course of this fantastic journey called life we will experience things of such great magnitude they will profoundly influence us till our dying day. For me, one such meteoric impact of the soul came in the celluloid form of Thrashin' (1986), so when shit started to go viral in March 2020 with all the pandemic pandemonium and no one had any real clue what might be coming around the next infectious bend, I thought to myself, "If this is it, like really it, the twilight of humankind on Earth, the fabled End of Days, what's the very last thing I want to accomplish before our final whistle blows and we all clock out for eternity ?"
Hot fuchsia pink, the color of the '80s. Also, this is the very same street I once lived on in Playa Del Rey—not the Valley.
For some, I'm sure this would be a very existential moment to reflect and ponder deeply on that which is most important above all else. But not me! I'm proud to say that without any hesitation whatsoever I knew exactly what had to be done. Yes, if this was indeed Mother Nature's curtain call, my hypothetical last labor of hot, reckless, and totally insane love would be an illustrated ode to a wondrous movie that jumpstarted my heart with a burning yen to live, thrive, and survive in the golden state of milk and honey: Califuckinfornia.
Some people find comfort in Jesus… I found mine in Thrashin'.
Let's be kind and rewind to the year of 1987, when I was finally able to rent Thrashin' from the local video store in my hometown of Stevens Point, WI. I had never once been to California—hell, I'd never been west of the Mississippi aside from a day trip or two to the metropolis of Minneapolis, MN—so all my naive Midwestern self could do was believe that anything and everything depicted in the movie was God's honest truth and it was with no small amount of envy that I watched as Corey Webster skated all over the sunny LA area, acid dropping from the San Fernando Valley down into the run-on collision of beach cities to somewhere his bros had just finished building a backyard ramp. Later on, after hanging out all night with Chrissy on the neon streets of West Hollywood, he just popped over to the Del Mar Skate Ranch to compete against contemporary rivals like Vincent Hanoi, Timmy Hanks, and Mark McCarthy. Meanwhile, my friend John Pearson and I were having to drive our miserable asses from town to town in the limited sticks of Central Wisconsin just to find a single weatherbeaten ledge or double-sided curb to "session"  amid thawing patches of snow.
These are all photos I took with my phone off the TV while rewatching my special edition Thrashin' DVD, which is an immense step up from the days of freeze-framing a VHS tape and trying to decipher the Seurat-like faces. I mean how else would I know that Gator was indeed a Dagger (okay, the credits for one, where he was listed as a "Utility Dagger")? And what about maybe the only fleeting time in the history of skateboarding that Natas was captured with a helmet on?!? And very few skaters can pull off a mustache, but Jesse Martinez is the one man who can and did and no one was ever gonna say shit to the otherwise, because The Mess.
Beyond being suckered in by the geographic mirage hook, line, and sinker, all of the skaters I'd only ever seen in the pages of Thrasher Magazine were strewn about the film! For the burgeoning skate nerd within me, where I absolutely needed to know every needless little thing, this was total trivial heaven, and I damn near wore out the VCR remote trying to frame-by-frame through all the scenes to discern the stunt doubles and other familiar faces in the background like Jesse Martinez, Christian Hosoi, Tony Alva, Per Welinder, Tony Hawk, Steve Steadham, Natas Kaupas, Eric Dressen, Lance Mountain, Steve Olson, Spidey, Steve Caballero, et al., but of course it was Eddie Reategui who trumped them all with his animated eyebrows during the extremely tense confrontation between Hook and Chrissy in the Daggers' living room.
It's only right and natural that the man who stole the show continues to live the Dagger Skates dream. Cheers, Eddie!
Most enticing of all, though, was the way in which skateboarding was depicted as the cultural hub around which all of Southern California revolved: skate night clubs, random girls strolling around in skate tees, girls actually hanging out with skaters, skate spots on every block, free-for-alls on Hollywood Boulevard, questionable old geezers inviting you to come check out the latest skate equipment in the back of their van, and, perhaps most oddly of all, not a single instance of anyone yelling, "Skate or die, fags!" from passing cars. So naturally that's where I had to go… although I honestly don't know how I would've gotten there if it wasn't for a fluke tornado whisking me away to the Land of Oz in January 1989 .
There was nothing inherently creepy about this scene at all.
This scene, however, was the stuff of dreams, because it offered up a rare glimpse into what an actual skateboard manufacturing operation in California looked like (unless I'm mistaken, this was shot at the Madrid warehouse and that's Beau Brown—perhaps the most recorded footage of him too), similar to that quick behind-the-scenes blip at the Powell-Peralta facility in Future-Primitive. I'd even go so far as to kook it and say, "Look, Smash Skates were hand-screened the olde fashioned way!" but every board back then was hand-screened, because Pandora's Chinese box had not yet been cracked.
Once I did magically make my way out to the promised land, it wasn't exactly the oasis I'd imagined it to be thanks to the illusions perpetrated by Thrashin'. Skateboarding was still very much a crime in all societal aspects and I even got jumped and sucker-punched in a schoolyard no more than a few months into the last remaining shards of my shattered fantasy. True, there were many, many more spots to skate with the occasional sponsored skateboarder actually at them, but a car was still of utmost necessity because—surprise!—Venice Beach is nowhere close to Del Mar, or, in my case Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, or anywhere else skate-worthy in the ridiculously tall state of California. And while there were indeed girls to be seen in the scene, they were definitely not chilling in any of my concrete circles .
Trigger warning: This scene contains bullying and name-calling (in case you can't read lips, Hosoi is informing the breakers that they are "wimps"), but it's also cinematically on par with the scene in The Godfather Part II, where Michael Corleone calls out his brother Fredo as a traitor. They just don't come any greater than this.
Despite the inadvertent catfishing, my love for Thrashin' did not diminish in the least, because American cinema would not be what it is today without B-grade cult camp—and this flick is indeed 110-percent processed Velveeta with all its slices coming from the modernized Romeo and Juliet trope repackaged into a hyperextended, cliche-riddled, Hollywood portrait of skateboarding in the '80s. That aggressively said, would I have been a Dagger or a Ramp Local? The latter, undeniably. I mean how did Tony Alva describe his team in the Bones Brigade documentary? Something like, "... these guys were animals, they were just like, dreadlocks, leather jackets, beer in their hand, probably just smoked a joint in the parking lot." Yeah, no, that wasn't anywhere remotely close to me. I was so Brigade it hurt.
No need for a forensic handwriting expert here—the proof is in the spray.
This did not, however, pertain to my predilection in females, because I'd grown up amongst Chrissies my entire life—all of 18 years then, good job—and there was something undeniably seductive about the more witchy types… a spellbound condition most likely brought on by the likes of Magenta in Rocky Horror Picture Show (1976), Siouxsie of the Banshees, and the soon to come Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice (1988). I was also all about horror movies at the time, so it's safe to say I was just drawn to the thrill of being scared and Velvet fit the hair-raising bill to a capital T for me .
A Tale of Two Types: One who enjoys the freestyle, the other who effortlessly dismisses it with a single derisive word: "Freestyle…." All the while, Spidey looms with great intensity.
One of the greatest epiphanies of my life came in 1992, when I moved to an isolated urban finger of LA's Ballona wetlands called Playa Del Rey. Whenever I worked late into the evening on a nerve-wracking painting for a slick bottom board at the World camp, I routinely popped in VHS cassettes to occupy sound and span time within the walls of my studio apartment. It was on one such fateful night I threw my well worn copy of Thrashin' into the VCR and subsequently blew my mind with the realization that the entire title sequence was shot in my new neighborhood. Webster's initial downhill slide to title card on Vista Del Mar—the very same street I lived on!—his pushing around the beach-adjacent basketball court just behind my apartment complex, and then the smooth concrete strands to the Marina del Rey north and Manhattan Beach south… all of which ultimately begged the continuity question: Where exactly is the beach in the San Fernando fucking Valley? Seriously, where was Webster even from, much less the Ramp Locals, because you can't beat it if you're not actually from the Val, jerk.
"Yeah, aggressive, and that's what sells skateboards." —Corey Webster, responding to Chrissy's critique that his idea for a graphic seemed "a little aggressive."
But now we come to the true existential crux of this project: Now that I've gone and jumped the gun and done That Which I Most Desired To Accomplish In Life, what do I even do now?! Fuck… —Sean Cliver
Speaking of existential crises, Tony Hawk recently shared that after the premiere in 1986, Josh Brolin allegedly left the theater to go cry in his car as his career proceed to take off downhill on its own LA Massacre until 2007 with his role in No Country For Old Men. And look at him now! All Thanos and shit! Ruling indeed, Webster.
Sorry, I know this is starting to feel a lot like the neverending disjointed story, but life has a funny way of connecting the universal dots and I did just that in Hollywood, where I caromed off Robert Rusler at a bar on the Sunset Strip in 1996 to a random encounter with Josh Richman, aka Radley, at the after-party for the jackass number two premiere in 2006. Robert sat down and shared a table with us and proved to be a remarkably down to earth dude, humoring my ebullience at meeting Hook. Josh was in a fedora/bandana combo holding his trademark cane, while I was shirtless, Sharpied, and questionably stained, so he understandably wanted nothing at all to do with me when I asked for a photo (hey, you can take the kid out of Wisconsin, but you can't take the Wisconsin out of the kid). Fortunately, I was fueled by alcohol at the time and couldn't comprehend the word "no," so belligerent persistence prevailed in the end for a priceless Kodak moment. Woohoo!
1. You have. Well, maybe you haven't if you never read the description for the latest sticker pack to accompany this season's follies, but I also took a few liberties and tweaked several things so it's not exactly the same, anyway, and not that any of this even really matters? I swear I get hung up on the most inane shit…
2. Do I always morbidly skip to such doom and gloom conclusions? Yeah, pretty much, but this particular time it felt more apocalyptically real than usual. Immediately after first hearing the issuance of a mandatory stay-at-home order from the Los Angeles mayor—a rather unprecedented decree in our day and age—I exchanged a series of texts with my old friend John, who I always turn to first in questions of survival, and he too saw the writing on the wall for humanity, saying there was a good chance that people we know will die… and some eventually did (RIP). On that somber note, while I may sound all tongue-in-cheek throughout this diarrhea burst of a post, I did and still do take the COVID situation seriously, but humor, or attempts at thereof, have always been my involuntary nervous tic in the face of that which I fear, as evidenced by virtually anything I've ever written or drawn.
3. I use the word "session" here in the most loose and laughable sense, because what we romanticized in our heads was occasionally captured coldly and cruelly by a state of the art VHS camcorder the size of a carry-on suitcase. All I can liken the mirrored experience to is hearing your recorded voice and thinking, "Shit, I really sound like that?" Because between the bright colored clothing and repetitive spastic actions, we did not look anything at all like creative cultural rebels on a concrete canvas… just two confused clowns beating our shins senseless against mundane urban infrastructure. So yeah, whenever anyone tries to tell me that skateboarding is an art, I just can't take them seriously with this ridiculous vision of me skating in my head.
4. A metaphorically cute way of equating my winning the Powell-Peralta art contest to Dorothy being yanked off the dusty face of America's pool table into a technicolor place somewhere over the rainbow—minus the ruby slippers, of course, because I never ever wanted to go home (or much less grow up, but that's a whole other animated movie with an entirely different set of psychological issues).
5. One of my firsthand introductions to the high-flying world of professional skateboarding came early on in 1989 when George Powell invited me to accompany him down to an industry BBQ party being held at the Pink Motel one Sunday afternoon. Let's just say the Alva team totally lived up to TA's aforementioned description of them, as they looked exactly like a Frank Frazetta painting of barbarians with their leather clad, busty babes come to life .
6. If I had to title this aforementioned real life Frazetta work, it would surely be "Twilight of the Gods," because all that '80s rock star life was at its vertical zenith and about to come crashing down to street level at the hands—or more specifically, feet—of the new barbarians at the gate.
7. No one sums up this arcane attraction better than Jonathan Richman with his 1995 masterpiece "Vampire Girl."