Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

Brian 001

A young skater at the only sidewalk in town.

If you were a child in the 80s with a board, then you’ll remember the Bones Brigade. When I was about 10 I spent afternoons riding my skateboard down the only road in town, launching myself off a plywood ramp into my friends backyard. I imagined I was Steve Caballero launching out of a pool and when I was alone at night practicing in the cellar I allowed myself to dream of becoming the next Rodney Mullen.

My dreams faded over time as my skills never progressed past a small ollie and a half-assed kickflip. I chalked it up to poor balance and focused on other sports. Ever since those early days spent trying to master my board I’ve loved the skate culture. The designs always seem to hit me in the gut. I mean I could look at decks all day and my favorite sound remains the spinning of ball bearings, as I lay sprawled across freshly cut grass. Maybe it’s the community that I miss, my friends and our lame brained attempts to rack up new scars.

Mullen GraphicIt was with these memories that I watched “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography” yesterday. It all came rushing back, the decks that I pored over in the back of Thrasher and the breakdowns of tricks that I would try to master. The movie is a must-watch for anyone even remotely interested in skating (go watch it now on Netflix) and surprisingly provided some wisdom and insight from one of the more introspective members of the Brigade: Rodney Mullen. You can see him in the trailer below however I transcribed some of his more poignant statements from the film further down.

On finding your passion
“I don’t know what was wrong with me, but, but, teachers would reach out. ‘Troubled kid. Is he autistic?’ or I don’t know. I could never speak. I went through huge parts of my life not even speaking. I spoke in whispers. It was weird. Everyone did in the house, mostly. Skateboarding, what it represented, the ability to create to express myself. It became my voice.”

On taking your skills on the road
“This is where it started with me. I was twelve or thirteen. And at that time I had already won a lot of amateur contests. Big fish, small pond. Tiny pond.”

On making the most of a bad situation
“Midsummer my dad was annoyed. You know he never wanted me to skate. And he goes, ‘You’ll grow up to be a bum. And look at the culture.’ And he goes ‘Look you’ve had every benefit, you inherited good genes, you’re smart, so don’t waste it.’ I was like ‘Alright.’ ‘End of the summer you’re growing up. Skating has to end as soon as school starts. And uh, that’s it. Grow up.’ ‘Yes sir.’ So I was skating everyday. Five hours a day. Just making the most of it.”

On being true to yourself
“I went to the contest and I remember seeing all of these guys that I looked up to in the magazines and I was just the retarded kid in all the pads. I remember I did my run and I remember looking at the judges and they were looking at my board and not me. So I did my run. So they gave me scores that, whoa, they put me in first place. And I remember driving back and I had this trophy going I don’t think I deserve this but I did what I did. I did what I meant to do. And in my heart there was closure. And I was um, I was saying goodbye and, and uh flew away. Then I didn’t skate anymore. What he says goes.”

On convincing skeptics
“I got a call. Skate News. Some little, wasn’t even a magazine, called from California, and I remember, ‘Rodney, Rodney come inside long distance! From California! They want to interview you.’ Just wow. And that’s when he said it. He goes, ‘Hey, I guess you shouldn’t stop now.’”

On needing to win
“I have, I have, I have 36 trophies. Or had. I have zero trophies because I threw ‘em away or gave them away because I hate them.”

On knowing yourself
“Beethoven’s music always struck me. Always. He had this fire you know. I remember reading this story of him going deaf and pushing himself into self-isolation and that’s where he became himself. And to me that was, wow. Don’t let anything poison your individuality. Be away, break away and look in not outward.”

On your gut
“What makes us all do what we do at a high level is an inspiration that comes from so deep almost like a controlled desperation. And if you can’t tap into that then, then it just extinguishes and you can’t do it through here (points to head) it has to seep way down in there (points down his body).”

On being an individual
“My biggest blessing was being in isolation. That was my blessing. Maybe if I were somewhere else out here I would have been like them.”

On inspiring others
“Belief is at the heart of everything. All they have to do is have an acknowledgement a switch that goes off to see it. ‘Oh wow look I can do that too.’”

On invention
“Don’t get me wrong I learned a lot of basic tricks that I’d pick up from everywhere else. But I’d try to absorb them so that I can build something else out of them, because the joy isn’t creating something. The joy is in…it’s what comes out of you. That’s what keeps me going.”

More on needing to win
“[Tony Hawk] won everything, or close to it. That creates so much more pressure because there’s no gratification in winning, there’s only upholding something so you don’t lose it…it’s like a Kafka short story: you build something but you can’t live in the house because you sit around guarding it.”

Still more on needing to win (starting to get his point?)
“Contests gave me the ability to continue to do what defined me. But what they came to represent was — don’t fail.”

On contributing with your skills
“I spent a lot of time in the stacks in the libraries and be looking at these stacks of unreadable masterpieces that men devoted their lives, standing on the shoulders of geniuses before them. Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica and all these things that…who will read those? How will they change society? How did they really factor into things? And me? I was able to contribute with a lot of tricks. Those tricks now have names and those tricks factor into what everybody else does and in a very meaningful way I have helped create a vocabulary by which this community communicates. I mean…listen to how skateboarders talk. These are all words and expressions, things that we created, it’s our language, but it’s also physical. And it helps define us as individuals, how we fit within that framework and it helps define the community itself. And so when I look and I think of the contribution of all these geniuses and this smell and the browning paper of these dusty books that no one will read I think that I am so rich and that what I have done has meaning. So I don’t what that answers. Where did we start?”

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