Modern Love: David Bowie & Skateboarding

(Featured: Sidewalk Magazine, 12th June 2015.)

Aladdin-Sane-StickerjobDavid Bowie is often considered a musical chameleon, seamlessly adapting as tastes change without ever compromising himself; able to navigate into that which is relevant whilst remaining original all the while. To back this flexibility up, consider how many skateboarders have been accompanied by Bowie over the years, even if the skater isn’t to your personal tastes, the music usually is still appropriate. Some artists become synonymous with certain skateboarding entities, take Dinosaur Jr. and Alien Workshop or Gino Iannucci and Wu-Tang for example. Though it would be wrong to say Bowie hasn’t had a fairly productive relationship with the Crailtap camp and Arto Saari over the years, never has that made his music seem out of place when pinned to another style of cinematography or skateboarding. Bowie’s omnipresence within music became more notable than ever to me whilst composing the following few thousand words, I found a number of songs I’d heard at least once a day for three years at my previous job without ever realising they were by him. While as a Bowie fan this may sound stupid, please forgive me, the man has released twenty six studio albums after all (and it’s hard to get a proper grasp of what’s playing whilst hauling ass around a bar).

Earlier this year when watching Cliché’s Gypsy Life, I couldn’t help but feel a nod from Paul Hart to Arto. Skating to ‘All The Young Dudes’, pops a fakie heelflip down the Santa Monica triple set; flagging up memories of our favourite Fin’s handling of the spot in Sorry. In terms of graphics, it wouldn’t be outlandish to claim that Jason Lee’s dedication featuring Aladdin Sane during his time on Blind Skateboards isn’t one of the most sought after decks with skateboard collectors. Spitfire Wheels added a tribute from the same album cover in their ‘Fifty Ways to Burn’ piece. Baker and Lakai have also flirted with the iconic artwork while more recently Sean Cliver put his spin on it for Girl Skateboards. Though just what this is supposed to mean, baffles me… Bowie is as prevalent in musical culture as he is in ours so with this mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane and re-visit some of the moments where Uncle Ziggy has collided with our four wheeled plank of joy over the years.

Steve Olson, Foundation Skateboards Tentacles of Destruction (1993), ‘Quicksand’.

As frequently necessary to point out in this scenario, this is not the father of metro-sexual, house music loving, high popping Alex Olson. It’s the other Steve Olson. ‘Quicksand’ was a pretty perfect choice to use than right as like the songs name sake draws you in. Particularly with the first three slow motion tricks as they match the opening guitar and Bowie vocals; slowly building anticipation.

While the pace of the skating picks up, the speed of song does not and due to these contrasting paces, the section does a good job of keeping you glued and wanting more – and not because the part doesn’t deliver.

Steve’s second trick is a frontside 180 nosegrind to frontside shove-out on Hubba Hideout; consider how often you would have seen this trick on video then. Now think about how frequently you’ve seen it done lately, sans-Suciu… Another Hubba Hideout hammer; backside 180 nosegrind revert appears while the previously mentioned frontside 180 nosegrind also gets the backside shove out treatment.

Marc Johnson, Emerica Yellow (1997), ‘Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed’.

“Spy, spy, pretty girl. I see you see me through your window.” Could be considered a perfect metaphor for any Marc Johnson footage; as we stare through a lens at arguably one of the most pleasing styles in the history of skateboarding he never disappoints us. With near enough perfect timing; MJ defies Bowie’s proclamation of ‘don’t turn your nose up’ by popping a pristine nosebluntslide, with socks and footwear coordinated to the ledge it’s performed on. Perhaps there is also a slight foreshadowing towards his Fully Flared ender in the lyrics as this certainly would not be ‘the first or the last’ we see of the trick.

It’s also worth noting that MJ wears about two outfits throughout this part. White Emericas, high socks and cargo shorts with a white tee or baggy cargos and a white tee. Suggesting this part was filmed in a matter of days or MJ was just on a consistent outfit hype.

Arto Saari, Flip Skateboards Sorry (2002), ‘1984’ & ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’.

I think it’s unanimously agreed that Arto hasn’t put out a bad video part to date. How much his often well chosen musical choices factor into this should be considered, but in terms of ability alone – the parts are iconic. Going way back to Elvis Costello in the Platinum’s Crimes and Misdemeanours (, as shared ensemble with Rowley to Fugazi in Tranworld’s Feedback as we’ve already highlighted, The Smiths in the following Flip video Really Sorry and all the way to his last part with the weird but fitting electronic accompaniment of Atlas in Mind Field.

It’s here however, that we find ourselves at definitive Arto. The faster editing, sheer amount of tricks and pace of ‘1984’all result in a more frantic first half of this double song part as Arto reels off banger after banger in an onslaught of handrails and gaps. The opening instrumental to ‘1984’ also helps add a sense of mystery as you wonder ‘is he mirroring this line?’ Yep.

It’s still surprising that certain tricks on renowned spots are not highlighted as would be today. Perfect instances being the switch flip and backside kickflip down the Santa Monica triple set and the frontside 360 over the Besos bump to bar. Both are only shown from one angle in a scenario where a second (and perhaps slow mo’d) would be perfectly reasonable. Whereas in the case of the frontside 360, two more tricks follow on, suggesting that Arto simply powered through his trick book on the spot…

Moving in the latter half of the part, the calmer paced ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Suicide’ is fittingly paired with incredibly long handrail grinds and Arto plummeting down stair sets so big that he seems to freeze time for a brief moment. Rather than slowing momentum, the mellower soundtrack highlights Arto’s trademark nonchalance on a board. There are few parts that can truly be thought of as ‘just as good if it was released today’ – with this being the pinnacle.

Chocolate Montage, Girl Skateboards Yeah Right (2003), ‘Fame’ & alternatively ‘Modern Love’.

You may be aware that certain VHS copies of Yeah Right contained a different soundtrack to the one you are most familiar with, here and the next page being examples… In the original version of this, the drum roll kicks in with perfect timing as Chico Brenes pops a Varial flip of manual. Later on either Chris Roberts’ long, 5-0, nosegrind and fakie nosegrind and fakie 5-0 (22:55 – 23:12) are met with Bowie’s drawn out yawn of ‘Faaaaame…’ whilst he’s either mid grind or as four wheels hit the floor. Be sure to also take note of Chris’ switch 180 revert back to regular manual at 2:16 too… Following on, Richard Carvalo’s slams time up perfectly with the crash of symbols, after which he springs a nollie inward heelflip to manual.

Fame’s entertaining beat could be considered to sway more towards funk more than rock. What that in mind it’s worth noting that in 1983 Bowie collaborated with The Chic Organisation’s Nile Rodgers on the album ‘Let’s Dance’ so perhaps this is what sparked Bowie’s interest those waters. The slight raised tempo towards the end nicely meets Scott Johnson’s skating which is faster than others in this section. Then simmering down into a seemingly endless outro with Kenny Anderson casually rounding off the part in style.

Gino Iannucci, Girl Skateboards Yeah Right (2003), ‘Blue Jean’ (originally ‘It’s So Easy’).

It’s well known that Gino skates to Guns ‘n’ Roses It’s So Easy in Yeah Right… well, most of the time. As previously stated with Modern Love taking the place of Fame in VHS copies just before the DVD release of Yeah Right, it’s the same scenario here. Personally, I prefer this version athough it’s actually one of Gino’s least favourite of his career. When it comes to ginger rock stars go I’ll take David Bowie over Axl Rose any day but I’m sure plenty would disagree with this ‘tampering’ of a classic part. It is interesting to see how the exact same footage of Gino manages to be just as fitting to both GNR and Bowie. The backside 360 down the double set is outstanding no matter what way it’s portrayed or what soundtrack accompanies it. While, contrary to the point I’m making here, Rose squeals ‘it all fits so right’. David instead offers an arguably more appropriate and charismatic ‘whoa…’ – mimicking the response of any skateboarder in that moment.

Bryan Herman, Baker 3 (2005), ‘The Width of a Circle’.

‘Ballistic’ sums this part up nicely… Stairs get smashed and handrails get the bluntslide treatment all with power and precision yet without Herman coming across as a jock. Like he ever would though… The almost psych-rock tone of The Width of a Circle seems more than an appropriate match for Bryan Herman with stand out moments being the bandstand lipslide at 1:34, noseblunt around 1:50 and flip front crook at the two minute mark. Fans of Herman will also be stoked to know he’s set for a full part in Emerica’s MADE Chapter 2 which will should be released towards the end of this year!

Marc Johnson, Girl & Chocolate Skateboards Pretty Sweet (2012), ‘Five Years’.

As far as opening lines go, MJ here is pretty untouchable. The backside noseblunt is perfectly poised on a picnic table. With a few pushes, MJ glides through the school ground towards his next obstacle where he delivers a beautiful backside backside kickflip to meet the first strum of Bowies guitar. Shortly afterwards MJ drops a kickflip out of fakie 5-0 in tune with about chord, then proceeds to 360 flip out of the same grind in the following line. Part of Marc’s appeal could lie with how relatable he is. And not ‘relatable’ in the 2015 sense as in wallieing into oblivion…

A prime example being the casper stall on a brick quarterpipe. A completely unorthodox trick and one not expected to be done at all let alone done that well. But somehow, it’s understandable that MJ pulled it off. You could witness somebody robotically dive a 5050 down a handrail and it may be not more complicated than this casper, or anything MJ does in this part, yet would still feel more foreign. Perhaps it’s in Marc’s posture as he rolls away from tricks. Later on into this part he laser flips out of nose manual, then fakie 360 flips out of manual and then bigflip flips out another manual that has already been switch 180’d into. The tricks may be bolts and there’s a slight stomp. But it’s not a self assured robotic stomp, it’s a slightly heavy landing you’ve no doubt felt yourself when rolling away from something new for the first time. The brief pause as MJ’s arm hovers infront of his face suggests he’s just as surprised as we are. I’ve waded away from Bowie territory here but mirroring the opening, the final and more dramatic strum of his guitar matches Marc as he places a heelflip out of frontside noseslide.

Dylan Rieder, HUF Quality Footwear Presents ‘The Dylan’ Commercial (2014), ‘Some Are’.

As one of the most polarising pieces of footage released last year, the clip even prompted (a failed) attempt at a more ‘modest’ version or in another case, with the soundtrack switched up for a slightly less dramatic take on the situation

The opening backside smith grind and closing switch backside kickflip are both on near waist height obstacles and can’t be faulted. But make what you will of the close ups of Dylan’s bold, brooding brows shrouded in messy black hair, as if he’s a troubled Bronte protagonist. Conversely, what could be considered the most pretentious part of this video; the shot of Dylan sat on the floor with his shoes off and a naked model behind him (1:32), is actually a reference to Syd Barrett a musical hero of his.

Syd Barrett

Look familiar?

The choice of soundtrack was originally between Some Are and an orchestral rendition of 2nd Waltz by Elliott Smith and while the video part may be unorthodox. Perhaps it’s fitting that both men who are no stranger to bold fashion statements would collide eventually. Although, considering Bowie would walk on stage in a leotard and knee high boots, it softens the blow of Dylan cuffing his pants a little above the norm and wearing t shirts with a flamboyant neckline…

Honourable Mention: Jenkem Magazine/ Joey Sinko, An Ode to Arto Saari: Ground Control (2014), ‘Starman’ & ‘Space Oddity’.

As the place of the remixed video and remixer becomes a bigger component of the way we consume skateboard media; it seems right to give this compilation of Arto’s greatest hits a mention here. It’s not really all too strange to draw parallels between the character Ziggy Stardust and Arto after all. Both left their homes for a foreign place to then take the world by storm. Though the album sees Ziggy’s achievements and fall from grace culminating in his ‘rock and roll suicide’. Whereas following Sorry, a few falls would Arto plagued with a fair share of knee injuries over the next years. Though remaining as graceful as ever…

New Balance Numeric, Quids In (2014), ‘Starman’.

Remember the other week when Arto did probably the best backside smith grind we’ll see all year? How great it was but you still wanted to see more? Well you’ll be pleased to know New Balance Numeric are currently in Canada filming for what will no doubt be another visual masterpiece from Russell Houghten. Although Arto spends more time focusing on photography on these trips, at least one or two tricks usually grace Russell’s lens so fingers crossed.

It wasn’t actually all that long ago that the New Balance Numeric team spent a solid three weeks over here. Travelling around the North of England and the Scotland whilst filming for what would become ‘Quids In’. While the use of drone cams often divide opinions on the state of skate media, Russell Houghten can always be trusted to take an original approach, as if the aerial shots serve to put us in the position of that ‘Starman who’s waiting in the sky’. From Jordan Trahan consistently killing it, Jordan Taylor flinging himself across a variety of awkward gaps, Jack Curtin and Marquise Henry bringing some tech variety and Tom Karangelov delivering a seagull scattering gap to nosebluntslide in Manchester; Bowie’s inclusion to the video is the cherry on top.

In Conclusion

David Bowie

At his 50th party Bowie said “I don’t know where I’m going from here. But I promise it won’t be boring.” Something he seems to have stood by from the day he set foot on our earth, rather than fifty years down the line. Surprising, daring, amusing, charming; but indeed, boring – Bowie has never been. Some of the classic video parts mentioned here can only become more iconic and surely there will be more to join them in due course. Without a doubt that some variation of Aladdin Sane will remain either half boardslid away on our decks or immaculately adorned on walls for years to come also…

There are a final few words of wisdom worth bearing in mind from David Bowie though. The world at large might present us with another dubious use of skateboarding to market hair products or a ‘celebrity’ claiming they skate. Meanwhile we’re still booted out of spots by security guards often with zero interest in being reasoned with. You’ve probably been asked ‘aren’t you too old for this?’ and ‘isn’t there something better that you could be doing?’ more times than you can recollect. We might be ‘cool’ in one sense, but we aren’t really. The uninformed, the ignorant, the masses still don’t understand what it is we do and why we love it. Then again…

Rebel, rebel, how could they know?

David Bowie's different looks.



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