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To All My Friends: On Spanky’s Horses


   

They say indie sleaze is back. They say fashionable celebs are wearing Apple headphones with cords again in a nod to the company’s iconic electroclash ad campaign from the 2000s[1]. They say LCD Soundsystem has a new album and that people are wearing disco leggings to their shows. They say flannels are on the rise. They say people are finally partying again. And not only are people partying, they are documenting themselves in blown out photos with the flash definitively on. They say the hot mess is upon us. They say the shirtline has assumed a v-shaped migration south. They say antiquated technologies are cool—though by antiquated technologies, they mean iPods and not Super 8 or Polaroids. They say TikTok is obsessed with Miu Miu, and Fashion Nova has already knocked off the brand’s vintage designs. They say pop punk has made its triumphant return, though somehow Travis Barker never went away. They say a (skate) blog Renaissance has arrived. They say the hipster has reawakened from her neon-colored dreams. They say the Cobra Snake is once again telling us what happened after we blacked out—historically speaking. But, to me, the single most relevant marker of indie sleaze’s infamous return is a video part from Kevin “Spanky” Long, the skater who, in many ways, defined the 2000s for me. 

It can be hard to see the period of your own youthful indiscretions paraded across the internet like so much dirty, wolf- and eagle-graphic-covered laundry. To be confronted by my own exuberant naivety elicits an acute anxiety, and yet, as if to contradict myself, I also worry that the young people are getting the story wrong, are trivializing it as a mere fashion statement—or worse, that my own peers are capitalizing on it themselves. As I reconcile the personal with the historical, I recall a statement by the character Vershinin in Anton Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters (1901), when he says, “What seems to us serious, significant, very important, will one day be forgotten or will seem unimportant…And it may be that our present life, which we accept so readily, will in time seem strange, inconvenient, stupid, not clean enough, perhaps even sinful….” The “not clean enough” part really describes the melancholy I feel about a very smelly period for me (I lived in Portland, what can I say?). But regardless of what will come out in the wash as we turn our attention to the post-9/11 period, Spanky’s Horses part for Baker Skateboards offers an initial opportunity to see what of this historical moment endures, and provides ample examples for what remains important.

Spanky’s early career was a huge part of the 2000s for me. His debut in Emerica’s This Is Skateboarding (2003) remains one of my favorite video parts of all time, ushering a new type of skateboarder (to me) who was suave, listened to The Cure, and dressed like he had just left a Misshapes party, but whose hipsterdom didn’t stop him from taking knee-buckling drops—it helped that he was also a teenager at the same time I was. His style was by turns technical and reckless, unafraid to participate in the era’s stair-counting progression, while keeping himself tightly crafted. For one line, he takes a then-unpopular varial flip up a two stair before tweaking a kickflip backside shifty down an eight stair, a line that seems less about dropping hammers, than about something more sophisticated, ironic, as if he were performing skateboarding on a harpsichord, melodica, or some other children’s instrument that otherwise undercuts the culture’s self-serious risk taking. Immediately charming, he just seemed to be interested in something else.

The thing with Long’s skateboarding, however, is that it didn’t quite stop there. A knee injury set his stair-jumping abilities back, and he was forced to rely more heavily on his creativity to remain in the limelight. His parts in Baker 3 (2005), Baker Has A Deathwish (2008), and Stay Gold (2010) all reflect a more thoughtful, introspective Spanky, pioneering the use of wallrides, wallies, and slappies; he is the first person I remember popping out of boardslides, too. His paired back style favored low-impact spots, imparting a more casual, lo-fi thrust to his skating—sort of like Spanky’s answer to the faux-naif tape-delays of Panda Bear[2], and other bands distributed on local tape labels at the time.

The same period was also one of extensive partying and alcohol abuse, and he parlayed his skate career into a modest celebrity in the New York and LA party scenes. From Buffalo, NY, my hometown, this could not have seemed more glamorous. On Patrick O’Dell’s photo blog, epiclylaterd.com, which very much informed my understanding of New York hipsterdom, the art and culture scenes seemed to take skateboarding more seriously. Seeing Spanky partying with artists, musicians, fashion designers, and popular club kids, not to mention dating the defining manic pixie dream girl of the 2000s, Cat Power, gave the impression that you did not have to leave your board at home when you went to an opening or a party. Skateboarding had caché beyond our corny little scene, at least among the cool kids of that time. (O’Dell, too, transitioned from Thrasher to photo editor at Vice, one of the defining publications of the 2000s.) Still, as the Bush years sobered into the Great Recession, Spanky’s experience also became emblematic of the era’s pitfalls. In effect, he stayed too long at the party, and while his native charisma always guaranteed an invitation, he would be demoted from professional status before the middle part of the next decade.


Horses isn’t the first pro part that Spanky has put out since his second coming. His part in Emerica’s Made Chapter 2 (2016) was his true resurrection, the moment at which Baker reissued his pro board, and Emerica once again stitched his name on a shoe. Even Thrasher made light of Spanky’s resuscitation with a sidebar on the cover of its May 2015 issue, which reads “Spanky’s Back: From Pro to Flow to Pro,” marking him as the only skater I know of who turned pro twice. And there is his utter mastery of social media, making it appear as though he has been on a constant tear for the last several years in one of the most compelling uses of the medium by any skater—a rare feat, to adapt to the vibe shift, as they say. But Spanky is a unique skater, and Horses once again shows that his wide-eyed, jovial curiosity has contributed to his ongoing relevance even in 2022. It’s right there from the start: a stop motion clip of his hands as they compulsively twist the knobs on an Etch A Sketch to form the Thrasher Magazine title card at the beginning of his part, and the cover of Neil Young’s 1970s anthem, the lush texture of which sets a modestly epic tone, and makes clear that every detail has been filtered through Spanky’s kindly neurotic intention.

While people may be looking at the 2000s for tricks that were popular then—say, a recent uptick in kickflip shifties that I have noticed lately—for Spanky, these tricks have remained with him for the last 20 years. Early in the part, he switch wallies a boulder, surfing his way through the concrete corners of SoCal public spaces. The trick feels utterly contemporary, congruent with the tastes of younger skaters who were raised on Supreme or Frog, and who eschew outward displays of skill for a fetish-like appreciation of the understated and low-key. Skill, for them, smacks of effort. But Spanky shows his maturity in how he architects the line. He is unafraid to contradict himself, concluding the display with a frontside flip into a switch nosegrind, a trick that flies in the face of a generation that prefers the dissociative, Ketamine-addled languorousness of the wallie. To flagrantly show off your ability exudes a positivity, a joie de vivre, and an enthusiasm, shifting the line’s narrative from an affective, if deeply satisfying drone, to a more lithesome, angular contrapposto, posing opposing perspectives about the nose of your board as a destination, and a point of departure.

There is still something so captivating in Spanky’s slacker spectacles, which pair the theatrics of Baker-style hammers with the matter-of-fact, stupid-smart poetics of a boardslide or wallride, as when he launches himself out of a sidewalk bump, and then clings to the facade of a giant a-frame sign. The same ethos plays out in the song, Neil Young’s prophetic track “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”. The lyrics are directed at those suffering confusion and turmoil in a time of change, calling for you to take pause when the world seems bleak. Such pop wisdom, however, does not come from the childlike vocals of the old Canadian folkster, but rather from a more robust reenvisioning by Annie Lennox, with the hand-picked obscurity of the cover making such grim pictures seem as though they are being delivered by an aging hipster (a term I use here endearingly, perhaps because I worry that I, myself, am one). The song particularly suits the suite of clips Spanky records at LA High. He takes new angles to a spot he helped to popularize for millennial skaters when he backside flipped out of a tailslide on the big bank in Stay Gold. In Horses, Spanky builds off his earlier approach, similarly searching for overlooked options, though this time the results are more oblique and dissonant, not requiring the same stamp of approval that a flip-out historically offers. He lobs wallies off a side bank into lipslides on the brick steps, and even makes use of the benches the school conspicuously installed as skatestoppers. Perhaps my favorite clip in the entire video happens here, when he confidently rolls for a while, letting the previous trick really set in, before he taps a switch hardflip with a featherweight deftness that conclusively ends the line.

It’s hard not feel a pang of nostalgia, a tugging at the heartstrings for Spanky. He has always been one of my favorite skaters: I’ve had his shoes, I’ve dressed like him. I have done my best to learn the tricks he is known for, namely frontside flips, wallrides, weird pop outs, and more recently slappies. Even though he’s an LA guy, he opened my eyes to New York, and not only to New York, but to the downtown scene, a world I have participated in for the better part of a decade. Though he is only 2 years my senior, I have a great deal to thank Spanky for, perhaps most of all skating’s relevance to other creative discourses, and that immersion—truly living it—is the only way to learn the rules, and your only hope if you ever want to present as knowing and cool. Yet, no matter how much Spanky plays the wisened skater, Horses shows just how much Spanky remains the ingenue, the perpetual am, the perennial up and comer, remaining relatable particularly because of the defining millennial impulse of always feeling like you are emerging—a lifetime amatueur that never reaches his destination. It’s both symptomatic of a generational malaise, but also an appealing survival tactic.

Such a mentality is my main takeaway from Horses. The sense of constantly being on the brink is what makes it feel old and new at the same time. It particularly informs the pair of clips Spanky films at a low-slung brick hubba. For one, he switch noseslides up its rickety ascent, pitching himself into quick kickflip off the end. For the other, he spins an additional 270 degrees with the kickflip, as if some tornadic updraft had conveyed him up the hubba’s face. Though the trick is the type of thing that, once upon a time, served as an ostentatious component of many a sponsor-me tape (how those are a thing of the past), it has been part of Spanky’s repertoire since the beginning. Twenty years ago, it would have marked Spanky as a youngster, hungry, wanting in, and willing to do such hot-mess tricks to get there. But knowing what we know today, the clip also recalls all the doors that skateboarding has opened for Spanky. It got him onto Baker and Emerica—twice. As evidenced by epiclylaterd.com, it got him in the door at Sway to attended the late Ben Cho’s Morrisey Night. It got him in the door of Max Fish (the original location), which in turn got him immortalized in the New York Times, quoted in the infamous bar’s obituary when we thought it was actually closing—”“The top 100 times of my life have all been in this bar,” he says. Like all things from this era of indie sleaze, these images have a lot to answer for—like why does O’Dell call everything “gangster”? Cringe—and for the next decade at least we will be debating their significance. But somehow, even in 2022, seeing Spanky’s sophisticated mannerisms as he flicks the gangly blizzard flip over a hump of East LA cement makes a compelling, if appropriately jaunty case for indie sleaze’s renewed relevance. Though in Spanky’s case, don’t call it a comeback.•••
1. Before anyone put a name to indie sleaze, and well in advance of the vibe shift, Vogue columnist Liana Satenstein observed the widespread retreat from AirPods back to seemingly less convenient wired headphones. Though her original 2019 article was widely contested, with critics arguing she oversold a few tabloid images of Bella Hadid as a larger trend, Satenstein’s observations nonetheless proved prophetic when TikTok trend forecaster Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn) identified wired headphones as a fundamental pilar of the nascent indie sleaze movement, indicative of both the 2000s obsession with antiquated technologies, and a nod to Apple’s aforementioned ad campaign.

The significance of wired headphones’ appearance in the mainstream obviously depends on where the edges of your particular bubbles falls, and how much weight you put behind Bella Hadid as a fashion indicator (probably a lot). But, to me, and to any skater who came of age during the 2000s, the outsize role such a seemingly trivial accessory plays in much larger cultural debates should be a reminder of the central place wired headphones occupied in conversations throughout the skate world in the 2000s. Perhaps because skaters have an oblique relationship to criticism, seldom seeking to ask fundamental questions about their cherished subculture, the most trenchant debates tend to fall upon seemingly benign and inconsequential artifacts such as headphones or pants. Whatever the reason, the launch of the iPod, and more importantly, the lightweight iPod Shuffle ushered in one of the most widespread and hotly contested conversations to hit skate fashion since everyone ditched Vision Street Wear for baggy pants. A friendlier pricetag meant that skaters were less precious about their new technology, causing a proliferation of wired headphones throughout the entire skateworld, including not just skateparks, but also appearing in ads and videos, visual real estate that was much more scarce and significant at the time. Younger skaters more or less adopted the new technology, but to older skaters, however, the ear buds closed the wearer off to the world around them, causing them to miss out on a fundamental sense of awareness that skateboarding offered. For people like legendary pro Mike Carroll, wired headphones spelled the end of skate culture as we knew it.

Regardless of which side of the debate you were on—and, to me, there was only one right side—conversations around headphones further prove the unpredictable nature of culture and history, and show how something that seems entirely trivial at the time can gain massive significance 20 years later. As Satenstein and May’s discussions demonstrate, this strange residue of our technological culture has come back around to be a central debate of our time, providing unexpected evidence of what we will remember, and what we will be remembered by (i.e. wired headphones). While there is a certain delight in overthinking such peculiar small details, it also shows how even the most insignificant moments of the past can be a source of power and premonition in the future. Or, as Taylor Scarabelli puts it in her salient second look at the indie sleaze trend: “in the age of social media, indie sleaze is not a subculture, nor a rebellion. If anything, it’s just another blip in the micro-trendscape created by Instagram, a hashtag destined to become enmeshed with the Y2K revival before it.”

2. O'Dell, Patrick and Sam Salganik, directors. Comfy in Nautica. Performed by Panda Bear. Skater: Clark Hassler. 2008.