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Monday, June 03, 2013

The boys of summer

I should probably wait two years to write this post, when Lords of Dogtown is ten years old and the legacy of the Z-Boys celebrates its 40th anniversary. It would appeal to my sense of symmetry. But it's summer now and the heat doesn't stick around in these parts. Not like Florida. In the Cleve you have to do the summer stuff while it's summer, if you have that compartmentalized mindset like me where eating a snow cone in a blizzard is unthinkable. June's one of the rare seasons I can tolerate nostalgia, particularly nostalgia for things I never actually experienced. 

In 2005 I was seventeen, deeply uncool, lonely and dreaming of the West Coast (look I am of a Certain Age I am allowed to quote terrible Everclear lyrics in my reminiscences, go read someone else's blog if you're looking for quality). Growing up in an area known for surfing, in a family of longboarders and Birdhouse devotees and people who have Kelly Slater's number in their phones, with no coordination and a pair of Weezer glasses, I was doomed to fall in love with a particular brand of dude over and over. My immediate vicinity had a good few specimens of this type: the girl-jeans trend hadn't hit yet but they wore their trousers tight; there were Mohawks and possibly-infected piercings. As your average hide-in-the-library dork I wouldn't have had a chance, but as a totally-devoid-of-swagger-substance-free-Mormon-virgin things were truly dire. But they were everywhere! Kickflipping off railings, recording crap videos of themselves faceplanting into concrete, smoking behind the band hall...you know. A lot of them were in bands too, various flavors of punk of course, which was A Problem for a girl obsessed just then with Michael Azerrad, who knew that such music was of the Devil, a girl who wanted to own a wallet with a chain attached, to wear Vans not just for show, to go to tiny rock gigs and not be desperately misplaced. There were stoner-surfer happy punks who played at German Club events and there were psycho-punks who lived in a shabby commune across the river and there were nerd-punks who wrote songs about WarCraft; there were crust-punks who smelled sort of bad but were weirdly friendly and a punk with the same birthday as me who submitted poetry to the literary magazine and had a t-shirt for every Dead Kennedys record. There were even a couple of charmingly anachronistic straightedge types. Every now and then I considered claiming to be straightedge to avoid talking about the real reason I couldn't partake of that rum and Coke (or, LBR, even the Coke itself), but never ground up the nerve. And there was something even beyond the allure of beach hair, snotty attitudes, and torn jeans; the girl punks seemed to be having a better time of things than other girls at school. My most admired lady punk peers wore riot grrrl t-shirts and argued with a history teacher who persisted in referring to the Civil War as "the War of Northern Aggression." One of them even had an egalitarianism logo tattooed on her person. All these intriguing, unquestionably cool people had one thing in common, though: a skateboard.

In 2005 I was of exactly the right age and inclinations to benefit from the release of a feature film about 1970s Venice Beach skate culture. I'd already seen the documentary Stacy Peralta directed on the same topic, the rightfully lauded Dogtown and Z-Boys, and though Lords of Dogtown isn't on the same level, at the time it was perfect, full of shriekingly gorgeous guys, cool skate segments, in-jokes, and adorably chaste sex scenes that were for little ol' me all too titillating. There was also the Heath Ledger Factor, which should never be downplayed because, lest you forget, I belong to the generation that came of age on 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale, and true love lasts a lifetime even when it's in the form of a drunkass stoned overalls-clad Californian hippie. What a method actor was Heath! Anyway. The 2003 Ataris cover of "Boys of Summer" blowing up my KaZaa account was not, incidentally, included on the Dogtown soundtrack or even used in the trailers (that honor went to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), but it blended with my mental image of southern California as the cooler version of my own familiar digs. The Black Flag line, cringeworthy now, really resonated then, man, for a mousy yet godawful pretentious teenager fixated on all things angry. There are NYC people and there are LA people--I've never been to either city but I'm an LA person, chiefly from consuming too many Pacific Sunwear ads and Gidget movies in my formative years. If people up north thought Cocoa Beach was the palm-trees-and-bikinis paradise of the continental US, that was well and good, but metro LA--Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, Venice Beach--that was where shit was real. The girls were tanner, the guys were more dangerous, the sun was brighter, the waves were bigger. Everything was sharper, harder, more vivid. Blood on skateboards, sex that looked how sunscreen smelled.

In hindsight, of course, I was not fit to be a punk of any sort--skate, surf, crust, or otherwise, because if I had been then I would have been. Recursive rebellion! It didn't occur to me, for whatever reason, to ask my cousins or uncles to show me how to skate and surf. But the aftertaste of secondhand culture remains, neon sunsets and sneakers with the rubber worn down, long hair and pot smoke. I watch Lords of Dogtown at least three times between May and September. I went alone to see We Jam Econo--at Tampa's skatepark, of course--and felt it an appropriate gateway to my adult life. I marathon every Endless Summer film on the hottest day of the summer. I listen to my uncle's stories of the year's Easter surf competition with rapt attention. I finally have that chain wallet.

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