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Glue 3000: On wick & spit 


   

Skater boys discovering empathy the first time they take shrooms. - Nelly Morville

If you were looking for an official statement of skateboarding’s code of conduct, a clear description of an authentic skater’s sensibility, then you would do well to watch Bootleg Skateboard’s 2003 video, Bootleg 3000: Steady Crushin’ (dir. Jay Strickland). A paean to raw street skating, the video opens with a vertically scrolling disclaimer, parodying the types of legal text that typically accompanied representations of extreme sports at the time, though it reads more like a manifesto. “Warning!” it says, “This video contains:” originality, bad attitudes, and “style galore”. But that’s not all. Included in this skater’s bill of rights are also: cursing, smoking, and drinking; semi-automatic rifles, starving ams, rappers, and middle fingers; “lots of slow motional ghetto special efx”, long ass parts, shitty filming, the longest friend section, and, hilariously, 1 vert trick. Not to leave anything to question, the manifesto also warns that certain details have been deliberately left out, such as barcelona footy, recovering junkies, variable slo-mos, paint on pants, male models, super 8, 16mm, 35mm, slam sections, signature shoes, actors slash skaters, and Knox Godoy. In sum: “real skaters doing real things”.

While it would be a fun exercise to annotate each reference within the manifesto—like how “actors slash skaters” likely refers to Jason Lee’s film appearances and Steve Berra’s failed acting career, and Knox Godoy is an obvious allustion to Bootleg’s beef with Baker Skateboards—the point of the text was to express certain grievances Bootleg had with the skateboard industry, as well as to counter the way skateboarding had come to be defined by the early 2000s—a version of skating that Bootleg believed took itself too seriously. And we can see why. With Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater already on its third or fourth edition, Viva La Bam rising in popularity, Jason Dill insinuating himself as a regular walk-on on The Osbournes, and global shoe brands knocking at the door with enormous contracts, skateboarding was beginning to demonstrate broader, and longer lasting mainstream appeal, a newfound relatability with a larger demographic outside of its typically closed-off subculture. Sure Tony Hawk had appeared in Police Academy 4Gleaming the Cube framed Christian Slater as a heroic outsider, and the X Games were already 10 years old, but never before had skaters had the door swung open on the childhood bedroom of their subculture, positioning skaters as the headliners, and cleaning up their image for a broader spotlight, albeit that of reality TV, and not the A-list. Echoing the grievances of contemporary debates surrounding skating’s inclusion in the Olympics, as well as the ongoing questions surrounding identity and representation, Bootleg, for better and worse, felt skateboarding had largely lost its way, and decided to plant its flag in the name of its own vision, one defined equally by grievance and disenfranchisement, as well as the inalienable right of skaters to be a little reckless and stupid. To them, skateboarding should never be taken so seriously, though such a Joker-like attitude can easily boomerang when it is not ground in a more positive assertion of values, or encompass some kind of moral universe. Still, they felt like the world was laughing at them, and that authenticity existed in inverse proportion to material success. As such, the video’s disclaimer represents a self-fulfilling prophecy, advertising “no let downs!!!!!”

Glue’s incredible new video, wick & spit (dir. Stephen Ostrowski) recalls Bootleg 3000 in a lot of ways. For one, the title sequence belongs to the same low-budget, direct-to-consumer VHS technology, and late-night infomercials that inspired Bootleg’s aesthetic, and charged many of its reference points. Indeed, when the opening menu appears on the screen, its boxy appearance, desaturated color treatment, and drop-shadowed typeface makes me think I’m about to be sold a set of knives, tire polish, encyclopedias, or a tub of powerful, universal solvent like OxiClean—all for just seven easy payments of $29.99. As a child of television, who spent many late nights entranced by such commercial content, I find the nostalgic style extremely seductive and comforting. But more, Glue is awash in the low class campiness that is at the heart of Bootleg’s aesthetic, and its privileging of, to borrow expressions from Susan Sontag’s 1964 text “Notes On Camp”, style above all, and a certain failed seriousness. Let’s not forget, America in the 2000s was at peak exceptionalism: Hummers and other forms of conspicuous consumption distracted us from two foreign wars, hyper masculinity was the collective response to the trauma of 9/11, and even the left thought you were a pussy for not getting in on the propped-up exuberance of an inflated market. As far as skater’s were concerned, they were becoming the era’s merry pranksters, given a spotlight largely to fall on their face. While white, straight, and angry, Bootleg’s statement of purpose at least channels their angst into a creative expression of working class taste, one which is democratic and sketchy, but by no means unsophisticated.

Glue offers a similar counterpoint to today’s vision of skateboarding, which has only increased its scope in the almost 20 years since Bootleg 3000 came out. A response to the moment that is also entirely of it. They put out products that veer from simple genius (i.e. the neon green fly board) to just kind of weird, unwearable, and shitty (i.e. their hoodies). Profoundly alluring, their output nonetheless seems governed by an in-joke I don’t always get, or that sometimes gets deliberately repetitive and arduous, as if to stir discomfort. And like Bootleg, the allure comes from a place that’s a bit crusty, dirty, gritty—a smoothie of libido, ketamine, reality TV, and bong water. There’s all sorts of bromides about queering something. Often it means to appropriate a harmful or derogatory symbol of the patriarchy and subvert it, usually by softening the image’s edges (literally or figuratively), imbuing it with desire, and generally bringing it down to the scale of the body. But Glue remains true to its fundamentals, producing less than comfortable outcomes, and asking skaters to contend with all the underlying desire, divergence, discomfort, and contradiction wrapped up in their cultural appeal. To contend with the relationship between power and libido. Or, as photographer Buck Ellison has described it, the camera is a means to create desire with a subject, and so is fashion. That’s, in many ways, what these two mediums do best: bring us into intimate contact with the body, allowing us to project our desires onto it. In Glue’s hands, so is skateboarding. And so, amidst a swirl of nostalgia, camp, and irony, wick & spit asks us, once again, what happens when skaters stop being polite and start being real.

One could look for no better introduction to Glue’s vision than Leo Baker’s decision to skate shirtless for almost his entire part—or, at least what feels like most of it anyway. Having undergone top surgery during the pandemic, his bare chest, and stacked delts evoke the hypermasculinity of the early 2000s, a period in which no straight guy ever seemed to wear a t-shirt—a fact demonstrated equally by the gleaming pecks of Jersey Shore, as the scrawny, sinewy torsos of Josh Kalis, AVE, Kerry Getz, and Anthony Pappalardo, bodies to which an entire generation of skaters tenderly, obsessively endeared themselves. While there is a politic to his costuming that reenvisions these bygone boys clubs, Baker’s pop makes its own statement, his tectonic flatground, as commanding as any of these topless icons, wakes us up from our reverie with the startling awareness of an earthquake waking you up from a nap. Elsewhere in the part, Baker holds his back tails and noseslides with strength and poise, almost posing them like a bodybuilder showing off their lats, before exiting the stage with a casual, if no less disciplined shuvit. On manual tricks, too, his flick is crisp and precise, much like Getz and Pops’ were in their prime. To look back now, these two skaters always seemed pulled taught over their boards, earning the former the nickname, The Hockey Tempered Kerry Getz. But witnessing Baker nollie heel into a nose manual, exactingly balanced before he pops off of a hulking, head-high drop, one experiences a greater sense of relief than Getz’s rage-driven skating ever provided. He’s still a master of manuals, but the added dimension proofs out not only a physical kineticism, but also a true skate rat’s commitment of purpose (i.e. to fuck shit up). That, and Baker smiles when he skates, unlike the rest of you schmucks.

“Other pro’s [sic] whose sponsors are going to cry about them being in the video,” reads perhaps my favorite line in the Bootleg manifesto, rejecting the sports-minded division of skaters into specific teams, for images and skateboarding that reflect deeper social ties. wick & spit similarly disregards the boundaries set by sponsorships and a simple-minded relationship to IP. There’re skaters from the Unity crew, from There, from Fucking Awesome, from Limosine, and Frog. But ignoring Bootleg’s maxims that would separate skating from fashion and pop culture—from seemingly “soft” representations—the video also reflects a scene steeped with models, artists, musicians (two of Glue’s skaters double as models for the likes of Telfar, Vaquera, Marni, Eckhaus Latta, Margiela, and even Gap). It feels very much like the bad boy interdisciplinary mixing that surrounded the early 2000s downtown scene at Max Fish and Alleged Gallery, in which artists, actors, skaters, photographers, graffiti kids, fashion designers, musicians, filmmakers, and other drunks and weirdos all hung out together, people like Dill, Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, Ben Cho, Dash Snow, etc. Here, artist Ned Vena gets some BGPs amidst skaters like Ed Fisher and emo aficionado, Cooper Winterson (Vena also knocks out a 5050 kickflip earlier in the video). Fresh off his appearance on HBO’s Hacks, where he plays a gay club kid who doesn’t vote, and co-host of Montez Press Radio’s “The Dating Game,” actor Joe Appolonio fakie 360 flips the grate at Borough Hall. Performance artist Matthew Hilvers taps a slappy (on a competing company’s board no less). And though he is absent this time, I often see the “homespun conceptualist” SoiL Thornton hanging with this crew at Fanelli’s (iykyk).  

Within Glue’s universe, it is no exaggeration to say that skateboarding has become a pipeline to fame. Yet, even this proximity feels like more of a symptom of a larger problem. What had seemed like a bit of fame-whoring in the 2000s seems quaint compared to the ubiquitous pressures presented by a life that is divided between IRL needs, and online exigencies. Everyone’s life has become a reality show, and the maintenance of one's image is not simply a means of socializing, but also a matter of economic health, as one’s persona and online social networks increasingly determine not only your identity, but how you make a living. Rents are also high in America’s big cities, and wages for small-scale skate companies are comparatively low, marking skating as yet another creative endeavor that requires one to diversify one’s income, and to put a price tag on ones image.

Yet, though such conditions are understandable, there are ways that skateboarding (and, just, like the whole fucking world) loses from the conversion of all life’s efforts into labor, a condition that seems so at odds with the creative loitering, improvisation, and flaneur-like idleness that has defined skateboarding for long. To that end, Trish McGowan’s presence could not be more refreshing. Too sexy to care, too goofy to notice, Trish picks her bellybutton and makes vagaries of the fashion cycle with outfits that combine spaghetti strap tank tops from Delia’s with ratty pajama pants—like Toy Machine-era Nick Trepasso with pigtails. Her trick selection, too, puts forth a defiant laziness: with her adorable belly sticking out of a crop top, she plunges a saggy pressure flip over the hip at Fort Miley. Elsewhere, she lackadaisically seesaws onto a long, slow slappy, drawing it out the full length of the curb, less motivated by grandiosity, and more because staying put requires less effort. For one last gag, she takes a draw on a cigarette before slipping into a slightly aloof, Maralyn-esque pout. 

Admittedly, some of wick & spit’s more nostalgic elements triggered an out of body experience for me. The mix of shoegaze and post-punk lends a certain historical authenticity to the video, as does the use of antiquated video technologies, but remembering the videos that actually came out at the time reminds me that this music didn’t have much play within skating. The fashion, too, with its distressed skinny jeans and reminder that skinny’s back, also brought me back to my own teenage body dysphoria, transporting me with all the force of a bad dream to Xtreme Wheels, a former indoor skatepark in Buffalo, NY where I would be found awkwardly tugging at a pair of girls jeans my chubby body didn’t fit into, as I alternated between the crowd at a screamo show and the wooden skatepark (yes, under this post-industrial roof, you could find both). Out of fear of ever being considered a poser, it was simply easier to write-off my own experience as trivial, and to seek more serious cultural endeavors like art, though, as Sontag writes, that would have priced me out of the joy’s of camp. The price tag for self-acceptance being the weekly therapy bills I’ve been paying for years.

In any case, it was a messy era, and when you dip your toe into the past, you never know what’s going to bite. And no matter how disjunctive these historical references are, the video offers a visceral reminder that the 2000s were also the heyday of hucking, a formula that eschewed the finesse of urban plaza skating for one that arose from the angst-ridden, braindead suburbs (i.e. Walnut Creek or Long Beach). The style boiled skating’s balletic footwork, and style-driven representations into one macho, eye-catching phenomena. Some call it hammers, but it registers more as a gut punch to the stomach, perhaps because slams and makes are considered equal outcomes. Reared on this era of videos, Glue has always been attracted to the high-risk, and here, Elias Kitt and Akobi Williams grant us museum-quality stunts. But it’s the company’s latest addition, model slash musician slash skater, Donovon Wildfong who does for this genre what Roger Federer did for the power baseline game in tennis: he brings some finesse, and a bratty kind of class to an endeavor defined by physical brutality. His part stuns with a gangly fluency on a skateboard, and has all the allure of an oral fixation. Amongst other tricks, a kickflip down a Miami-based double set stops the show, both for its outsize dimension, as well as the peculiarly grand, and sweeping gesture that only a young person could seem to make, a trick so loud it seems to speak for a new generation. It’s a return to basics: against the suave, effortless technicality of the present moment, in which combos take on ever-more clever configurations, Wildfond sounds off one gigantic gesture that gives him the unearthly allure of a rockstar. And it makes us believe again that the true skater’s spirit—whatever that is—will never die.

 Indeed, Wildfong is a perfect match for Glue, because he grasps the full power of the spectacle, teasing us into a newfound appreciation for hammers. It’s provocative, the way he taps a hardflip over (and off of) Blubba not only teasing us with a light, stylistic misdemeanor, but seeming to hit at the historic meaning of the word brat: 16th century french brachet, for “hound, bitch”. Or there’s the context collapse of his impossible up the Columbus Park gap in Chinatown—a true conjoncture of various timelines into one spiraling moment. In a recent interview with Jonathan Mehring on The Chromeball Incident, the photographer discusses the famous clip of Dylan Reider doing an impossible over a metal bench alongside the East River in 2009. Mehring mentions that you cannot shoot a still of this trick, there is no individual frame that could possibly distill the motion overall—it would either look mob, or simply like an ollie. And here, it clicked. The impossible has been the trick-du-jour—really, the trick of the 2010s—and it makes sense, given that it dates from a moment in which video gained supremacy over the static image in the world of information and social media. It is the perfect trick for time-based media, its name, too, dovetailing with the gamified language that generates clicks on YouTube, and which has spilled over into more traditional forms of media, including the New York Times. You’ve definitely clicked a video titled “IMPOSSIBLE skateboard tricks”. To divide the trick into two separate angles, as the editing does, and give it three playbacks seems, in part, to complete the circle—perhaps, pardon the pun, to wrap an impossible, conceptually speaking. In layering on the sequential trope of photography, the clip only seems to crystalize the moment, refracting the impossible across multiple timelines to pitch us into a multiverse that captures the present so well. On the one hand, the editing’s Matrix-level gamification permits something that verges on what Sontag describes as camp’s insistence on pure artifice. But more, the scene offers a beautifully fragmented image of our post-historical present, translating the youthful verve of experimentation through something as baroque and replete with recursive folds as any scarf Prince ever wore around his neck.

And then there’s the kickflip body varial, which gets at the beautifully camp and twisted vision of the video on the whole, capturing its sensibility in one stunning clip. The trick transforms the video’s ethos into one calamitous gesture, which reinvigorates the sense of rebellion that always stirred at the heart of skateboarding (at least within this era). I mean, a kickflip body varial, is that even a trick we can do anymore? Muska did one a long time ago. It was a trick all my friends learned after the kickflip, but before the varial flip. In any case, its original name—the sex change—sits uncomfortably in the mouth, a condition that Wildfong exploits, doing it with all the punk potency of Hedwig and The Angry Inch (2001): crass, beautiful, campy, lyrical, he dares us to say the words, to trespass over the line of acceptability. To say that the trick is poetic is to sell it short, though. It’s so gorgeous, the way he catches it, flaunting the poverty of our language to describe it, much the same way Jake Johnson’s nollie backside flip over the same gap left us speechless 15 years ago. Except, Wildfong’s clip elicits a bodily feeling as much as an emotional one, a trick that has seemed illegal for reasons not only of good taste, but for lack of understanding. Breathing new life into dead and outdated expressions, while also asking the culture to relinquish its own dogmas. To stop taking itself so seriously. With this gesture, Wildfong antagonizes us with a trick skate culture willfully stowed away, unaddressed, though clearly the motion required to do it the body never entirely forgot.•••