“I’m here to capture the rapture and the resurrection at the same time,” says Tim Dundon, pushing a wheelbarrow brimming with fresh mulch, leading me up the inclined path into his shady tropical reserve. “Isn’t life triumphing over death the resurrection? The body turns back to basics and then the basics are picked up by the next generation and the next generation makes use of it and is happy to live inside this new entity because it didn’t go to the landfill. It went to the hill with the will.”
— from “The Sodfather” by Daniel Chamberlin, originally published in Arthur (Dec. 2007)
In the spirit of Tim Dundon, we’re doing some compost work here on the site, making sure nothing goes to the landfill, and all that we did back then is available to the next generation. We’re restoring lost blog images and credits, and posting text, photos and art from old print issues of Arthur Magazine online for the first time.
There’s a lot in the archives for us to choose from, and we’re not doing it in any systematic order. If there’s something you’d like to see online sooner than later, let us know in the “Comments” section below. Requested items will then be brought online, archived and highlighted in the blog.
Above: an early draft for the cover of what was intended to be Arthur No. 26, originally scheduled for release in Spring 2007.
This issue was delayed til the fall amidst the publication’s ownership transition; by that point, some of the pieces scheduled for publication were no longer available, and Yoko Ono was no longer the cover subject. A real shame.
My biggest regret of all is we lost our massive salute to Sly and the Family Stone, which had been timed to coincide with the Spring 2007 re-release of the band’s entire catalog. The Seth Man had worked so hard, on an insane deadline, to cover it all with his customary sensitivity, scholarship and enthusiasm. Oh, the loss!
In any event, the Seth Man’s pieces appeared in some form later in the year on Julian Cope’s relentlessly inspirational Head Heritage website. Here they are:
“Landline is a weekly-ish newsletter of ideas, nudges and recommendations that hopefully form a small bailiwick outside the cruddiness at large from the former editor of Arthur Magazine. Free to read, sustained by cheap subscriptions.”
“Daniel Chamberlin is an artist, writer, yin yoga teacher and Zen student based on the low-rolling plains of East Central Indiana. He’s also the host of Inter-Dimensional Music, a weekly broadcast of “heavy mellow, kosmische slop, and void contemplation tactics,” heard since 2010 on Marfa Public Radio in Far West Texas and broadcasting on 99.1FM WQRT Indianapolis and LOOKOUT FM in Los Angeles. His creative practice combines visual art, installation, performance, and audio with mindfulness teaching based on the radical implications of yoga and Zen. His visual art is concerned with uncovering the transcendent and psychedelic aspects of otherwise mundane objects and experiences.”
“I am Erik Davis (www.techgnosis.com), an author, scholar, award-winning journalist, podcaster, and professional talker. My wide-ranging work dances around the intersection of alternative religion, media, the popular imagination, and the cultural history of California. Burning Shore will continue to rove through this wide field, as I think about now and then, culture and catastrophe, through the lens of what I call ‘California consciousness.'”
“Team Human is a podcast striving to amplify human connection. Each week we are engaging in real-time, no-holds-barred discussions with people who are hacking the machine to make it more compatible with human life, and helping redefine what it means to stay human in a digital age.”
Artist Arik Roper on the art and inspiration of filmmaker Ralph Bakshi
Art direction by Mark Frohman and Molly Frances
I found Ralph Bakshi’s work at a crucial time in my life, maybe the perfect age. I was maybe 13, exploring underground comix, Heavy Metal magazine, classic rock—all the common things adolescent males used to check out, before the internet was unleashed. Around this time, my father told me about a film called Wizards. I don’t know how it came up, maybe he saw one of my Vaughn Bode books and was reminded of it, but his description of the movie was intriguing: a dark, animated fantasy epic with violence, sex and an army from hell modeled after the Nazis. I had to see it. The year was 1986. The population was at the mercy of cable TV and whatever had been released on VHS to satisfy our movie desires. Fortunately Wizards existed on video and I managed to find a copy. It was moody, psychedelic and dark; it spoke to my interest in nature and mysticism, with some humor and voluptuous fairies thrown in. It blew me away. My drawings became more and more about this occult fantasy world, influenced by Bakshi and the others who designed the film.
Wizards was significant, but the real mindwarping was yet to come , and started the day I came across the video box for Fritz the Cat. An X-rated cartoon! I had intuited something like this must have been made by someone somewhere, and here it was. I put it back on the shelf scheming about how I could see this thing. I knew if I told my best friend Greg about Fritz the Cat that he’d rent it, since he didn’t care what his mother thought. Then we would sit back and lose our minds as we watched anthropomorphic cartoon pornography. I told Greg, he said he’d look for it. I was vaguely aware of the R. Crumb comic it was based on, so I looked for that in the meantime. The thing invaded my consciousness; I became so obsessed with the movie that I started to have dreams featuring the as-yet-unseen Fritz the Cat film. Finally Greg came through with the videotape and we watched the infamous flick. I was baffled and a little disturbed. Sure there was a lot of sex and drugs in there but what was with all the violence, the revolution, the racism issues? There was something nightmarish about seeing these talking animals screwing and killing each other. It was heavier, more bleak than I expected. And though it left me feeling slightly haunted, it didn’t diminish my interest in all things Fritz. I drew the character on my notebooks at school; I made a clay figure of him holding a cigarette and machine gun in my 8th grade art class; I even painted him—and my art teacher put it on display, eventually submitted it for a school an art show. The gun and cigarette got it disqualified.
Naturally the next step was to find out what else this guy Ralph Bakshi had made. I checked out library books on animation, read old newspaper articles on the Microfiche to learn more about the man. I managed to discover some other movie titles: Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, American Pop, and a version of Lord of the Rings. But where was I going to find this stuff? I didn’t even know if it existed on video. Every month I scoured the cable TV listings for any sign of Bakshi’s films, but nothing. Then one day Greg got his hands on Coonskin, or “Streetfight” as it had been renamed at the time. I borrowed it , brought it home after school one day and checked it out. I had read that it was considered offensive, so I was expecting shock value, but Coonskin was more than shock, it was from some dark place that I hadn’t visited before. It was relentlessly raw and visceral, the violence was staggering, and presented in the goriest of detail. I had some understanding of the laborious task of creating an animated film, and was amazed that anyone had put this much time and effort into making something so willfully disturbing. Where did this movie come from, who was it for? I didn’t quite get it at the time. I wasn’t really sure if the racism was being parodied or promoted, although the fact that no race, religion or sexual orientation was left unscathed was a clue that this was some form of harsh social satire. But there was much more to the movie than shock value. Later as I reflected and eventually read more about the film, I started to put the pieces together. Coonskin was basically a blaxploitation flick, and loosely modeled after Disney’s super-controversial, removed-from-circulation Song of the South. It was a look at racism in America from the black perspective, an urban fable full of crooked cops, hookers, mobsters, and the prison system all conspiring against the soul of America. It was very much a product of the times, saturated with that 1970s grit and melancholy that defined many films of that era.
After seeing Coonskin, I knew Bakshi was something of a maniac—an unpredictable and possibly psychotic artist who was liable to go into any territory with his films. Nothing was sacred or off-limits. This was why I liked him. And why I was surprised to learn in 1988 that he was directing a new series of Mighty Mouse cartoons for the Saturday morning slot on ABC TV. (What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was full-circle for Ralph. He had started out at Terrytoons in the 1960s working on such TV cartoons as Spiderman and DeputyDawg.) I was ready. I recorded every episode as it aired. I even got the episode where Mighty Mouse unexpectedly pulls out a crushed flower from his pocket and snorts it up, which was edited out for subsequent airings for some reason. The show lasted one season then was gone, but launched the career of its designer John Kricfalusi who redefined modern animation in the 1990s with his new project Ren & Stimpy.
During the next year or so I caught up on some of Bakshi’s films. Lord of the Rings had an entirely different look and feel. It was rotoscoped—an animation technique of tracing live actors on film— which was a stark contrast to the loose cartoon design of Bakshi’s previous films. Comical characters doing awful things resulted in maximum impact, but rotoscoping led to a more realistic style that was ultimately less personal and expressive. I felt something was lost in the process—the technique spoke louder than the content at times. I had the same impression of Bakshi’s American Pop (1981) and Fire and Ice (1983). Though the art was elaborate, they seemed to lack the fundamental soul of the earlier films. Still, they were boldly sincere and imaginative efforts which expanded on new concepts in animation. I realized that even as Bakshi struggled with the changing industry through the late ’70s and early ’80s to realize his visions, seemingly always on the verge of quitting, he’d never run out of ideas. Here was an artist with a vision who wasn’t content to compromise. Somehow he took “cartoons” and made them into “films” for adults (which includes adolescent males). He was inspiring.
Which is why it’s such a pleasure to behold Unfiltered: The: Complete Ralph Bakshi, by John M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell (Universal/Rizzoli). At long last, over 35 years after his first movie came out, somebody decided it was time for a Bakshi retrospective. It’s a striking hardback volume, loaded with previously unpublished photos, illustrations and tons of precious info. We get the insane stories behind the groundbreaking films (Wizards was Bakshi’s attempt to make a “family film,” to get back to his early interest in sci-fi fantasy and prove that he could deliver impact to a PG picture), and how most of them almost didn’t happen due to production nightmares, studio underfunding and protests from offended citizens. In short, Unfiltered is the book I’ve been waiting to read since I was 13, but one I can appreciate as an adult.
Ralph Bakshi hasn’t made a feature film or TV special since 1992, which is a cultural shame. But the times have changed again, and in some ways, his vintage work feels current. Art and culture have caught up to some of his ideas, and the climate is now more welcoming to adult animation. But, at the same time, nobody in the US is using as a serious medium for storytelling. Meanwhile, computer animation has reworked the field, eliminating most traces of individuality and style. It is unlikely that Bakshi’s films could be made today: they are time capsules in both content and execution. He was a pioneer, merging the cutesy world of animation with with raw realism, cutting social satire, sex, violence, drugs, music and all the other “adult” themes which had previously been kept outside the court of acceptable themes for a medium that was thought to be for children. Bakshi knew one of the great powers of animation: that the hyperbolic drawn image has the potential to express more than live action ever can. By injecting the zeitgeist’s innocent image of cartoons with unflattering and dark sides of the modern era, he exploited a schism in the pop culture’s mind. Underground comics started this; Bakshi took it to the screen.
Sometime in 2004, I asked Daniel Chamberlin to write a piece for Arthur to explain how on earth he could be so into the Grateful Dead—how it had happened, what was the nature of the appeal given his other tastes in music, yadda yadda. He’d talk about the Dead in conversation, but I’m not he’d ever thought about writing such a piece. I wanted him to go for it, to really think it through and get it down. Make the pitch for the Dead! I had a hunch it might resonate with Arthur’s audience, such as it was. Dan wasn’t sure, but he went for it.
Somewhere along the line, I guess I asked David Berman if he’d like to illustrate Dan’s piece. Berman had already let us publish some of his “Scenes From the First Yes Tour” comics in the first issue of Arthur, so this wasn’t a completely out-of-leftfield idea… But I also think it must have been because Berman had mentioned the Dead somewhere — in a lyric, or a poem, in an interview, in a comic strip, in private conversation, I don’t know; something about the space between the notes of Jerry Garcia solos being the key to the Dead’s appeal? (Maybe a Berman scholar can help us out here. Please.) In any event, David gave us two single-panel comics to run with the piece in the July 2004 issue fo Arthur. You can see scans of them here.
I don’t know where in the timeline of all of this I received the following email from DCB, addressed to Dan. Maybe there was some correspondence back and forth between them while he was coming up with the art to accompany the piece? Dan can’t remember and neither can I. All I know is that I’ve saved it all these years, and Berman either never sent a follow-up, or it’s lost.
oops. this is the first part of my response to your question and I haven’t even gotten to the part where i start liking the dead yet. more tomorrow.
You see a lot of reassessments of 1980’s culture nowadays. These reassessments might lead you to believe that sarcastic new wave music was the dominant trend in the decade but i remember it differently. I remember new wave as an aberrant, sometimes top 40, middle ground between the more rigorous fucktruck of hardcore (and what we now call post-punk bands) and the true ruling culture of (hair and seventies) metal and classic rock. This revisionism is standard procedure (consider how hard it is to find an admitted Uriah Heep or Three Dog Night fan on the links nowadays), and will soon have its chance to do a number on the present era as today’s teenagers tomorrow, wised up through learned humiliation, will replace their memories of attending dave matthews concerts with false ones about chasing down royal trux bootlegs at the corner store.
I have always held contempt for people who trust those that do not have their best interests in mind (like poor people who vote republican, for instance). They are in a word, dupes. And from my olympian perch (for I had placed myself above all mankind except Greg Ginn) there were no bigger dupes in sight than deadheads. Instead of creating their own culture they had borrowed that of their aunts and uncles. In fact that’s what deadheads seemed like to me, even ones my own age, prematurely elderly. But worse, old folks wearing pajamas with teddy bears on them (the grandma glasses, unkempt hair and frail arthritic music). It really gave me a stomach ache just to gaze on them. Meanwhile things were changing a bit for young strident assholes. Rollins grew his hair. The Meat Puppets slowed down, Karl Precoda grew his hair (you cannot under overestimate how big a deal this hair thing was at the time), DRI went metal as did plenty of other hardcore bands. I started to soften to guitar solos. There was less dexedrine and more acid.”You’re Living All Over Me” changed my mind about a lot of things (I remember where i was when i heard the news that a group of classic rockers nobody gave a fuck about had filed suit against Dinosaur about the name and remember feeling the helpless frustration that they (the hippies) had done it again! (Though forcing Dinosaur to add Jr. to their name might have been the original hippies final cultural victory). A lot of people started changing their minds. It seems that while we were railing against the classic rockers our heroes had decided that the real enemy was the boring rules of hardcore. In those days all shows of an “underground” nature attracted the entire “punk community” of whatever town. No band could command an audience large enough to justify subsets of fans, so touring bands were constantly the object of abuse by those in the audience of a different punk rock denomination. Why did Richmond skinheads show up at decidedly brainy Honor Role shows? It was the only game in town. This set up all kinds of conflict which (considering the artists were contrarian in nature) drove a lot of post-punk bands to adopt hippy tropes (just to piss rules loving militants off).
More than any other band I think the Butthole Surfers started to crumble the distinctions between hippie and punk.
Originally published in Arthur No. 32 (December 2008)
For the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Akron, Ohio has always been a hometown in permanent decline, a place she fled for England. Now America’s greatest ex-pat rock ‘n’ roller sees the future in her past: a reborn urban core where counter-culture businesses, including her own new restaurant (vegan, of course), are helping restore progressive community to a downtown trashed by short-sighted greed. That sense of small-is-better renewal runs through her band’s new album, which features the playing of James Walbourne, an acclaimed young rockabilly guitarist who joins Hynde here for an exclusive conversation with Arthur’s Oliver Hall.
Chrissie Hynde is in Hollywood on a short promotional tour of the United States to promote the new Pretenders album, Break Up the Concrete, which comes with a piece of seed paper that will grow flowers. Hynde likes to joke that the paper contains high-quality cannabis seeds, but my feverish experiments have yielded naught, perhaps because the “soil” in my neighborhood is plaster sand and the “water” is pure chlorine bleach. Just the sort of ungreen conditions of city life that Hynde wants to break up. Accompanying her on this trip is the Pretenders’ brilliant new guitarist, James Walbourne, fresh off of stints playing with The Pogues and Jerry Lee Lewis. Walbourne, a contagiously excited Brit in his late 20s, is about to join us here in their hotel room, and Hynde wants to make sure I’m going to bring him into the conversation when he arrives. “This magazine is different, so you don’t have to do the Chrissie Hynde Story,” she says.
For this tour Hynde and Walbourne have been playing mostly acoustic sets in radio stations and record stores. In L. A., they played at Amoeba Music and made an unannounced appearance at the McCabe’s Guitar Shop 50th anniversary show at UCLA. They briefly shook up the sleepy programming at KCRW, and I met them shortly after they’d performed on Sex Pistol Steve Jones’s local radio show, Jonesy’s Jukebox. At Amoeba, Hynde took the stage and declared “I’m a wreck” before undoing the top button of her jeans. The Amoeba show and the KCRW appearance were delivered from a fiery fuck-you-it’s-live point of view. The shows were a thrill, since Hynde’s voice sounds gorgeous as ever, and because if she occasionally got lost trying to remember one of her lyrics—which is not hard to do when your lyrics have as many non sequiturs as a Beckett play—Walbourne would improvise their way back to the song.
Chrissie Hynde’s voice as a writer and a singer is a hell of a thing. You could talk about the dramatic range of a voice that can sneer “You’re gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man” and break your heart with “Kid” on the same album, or you could talk about her expert control of tone and pitch and the effect of her voice on an audience, or you could talk about her vocal tremolo, which immediately distinguishes her from other rock singers—you could talk about all these things, and I hope that you will, but the cold fact remains: your band will never, ever be able to pull off “Tattooed Love Boys.” For my part, I suspect that Hynde’s performances are so emotionally affecting because she has never given up on the hard work of trying to imagine a public domain in which she and her art and her bandmates and her audience might more perfectly coexist. On their 1984 recording of Hynde’s song “My City Was Gone,” the Pretenders depict what it feels like to return home and find yourself in an urban-renewalized ghost town, where all local distinguishing marks have been erased or paved over, and everyone works at the same shopping mall. I imagine that if the late, great radical environmentalist Edward Abbey were still above ground, he would be merrily whistling the new Pretenders song “Break up the Concrete” while jackhammering up great chunks of the interstate and throwing beer cans heedlessly over his shoulder.
“Hi. I’m Dan Deacon. Before moving to Baltimore I went to college and grad school at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase. For the past four years I have been touring a collection of pieces for voice, electronics and audience. In my spare time I enjoying booking shows at various weird places in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to touring less and finishing up a series of pieces for large ensemble. The future surrounds us. Let us begin.”
Dan Deacon has just begun his North American tour following the release of his second album. Released last week by the essential Carpark record label, Bromst an ebullient, anthemic, densely stacked minimalist rave monster recorded with “real” instruments, including a player piano. Bromst is bonkers in the best way: I hear Eno vocals, Koyaanisqatsi-era Philip Glass, Terry Riley, gamelan, Spike Jones, vintage video games, put-your-hand-in-the-air-and-knock-on-that-door techno, organized surges, simple chord progressions embedded in layers of drums and piano notes. (Stream Bromst songs at dan deacon myspace.)
Bromst is a unique album made by a uniquely multi-gifted artist: a class clown from music composition class, a populist intellectual with a fiercely whimsical streak, a serious composer who can elevate an on-the-edge-of-danger dance party into mass communion through charisma, imaginative group gameplaying and a certain fearlessness. If you haven’t witnessed Deacon live, check out the two youtubes included in the text below; in one, audience members sing from sheet music in a basement party; in the second…well, to write about it would be to reduce it. Goosebumps, baby! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a performing artist so adept in creating group public joy without pandering—or one whose abilities, interests and ethic are so perfectly attuned to what the times call for.
There’s a lot more to say about what Deacon is up to, and why it’s so vital and inspiring. (A good place to start is this extremely perceptive thinkpiece by Rjyan Kidwell; also check out C & D’s interview in Arthur No. 27 with Deacon and director Jimmy Joe Roche about their “Ultimate Reality” film, available here.) I wanna wait to get my thoughts together on all of this til next week, though, cuz this weekend I am venturing for the first time to psychedelic Baltimore to see Deacon and his new 14-piece ensemble perform Saturday night as part of the 6th Annual Transmodern Festival.
But there’s no reason not to post the following conversation now, conducted by phone at 11am on consecutive days in February from two secret locations in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood (thanks Geoff, thanks Jack). Dan was waking up in Baltimore. The first day, midway through an answer to my second question, he confided, “I’m having a weird allergic reaction. The whole right side of my body is swelled up and I can’t open my eye all the way.” But I thought he was talking perfect sense and he was up for it, so we kept on rolling. The following is a condensation from those two conversations; any mistakes in transcription are mine, and will be corrected…
Arthur: That’s a great, evocative album cover. How did you come up with it?
Dan Deacon: I was camping with my dad this summer and one morning I woke up early, because you tend to wake up early when you’re camping, and the light was coming through the tent and it just looked really nice. I started thinking about tents, as a structure, as a place in which to live, and being a very old, old thing. I thought, I’d love to make a tent, an old fancy European-looking tent that you’d see in a movie like Lord of the Rings, where they have that kind of encampment set-up and some of them are just shitty tents, shantytowns, and then there’s the beautiful one. I realized I knew nothing about making a tent, I know nothing about construction, or sewing, so I designed it on paper first, then started to build it. It became this nightmarish project, but I’m really glad I did it. It’s 10 foot x 10 foot x 10 foot, it’s a hexagon-shaped tent, so it’s ten feet between opposite points of the hexagon, then ten feet straight up. I also wanted something [for the album cover] that could exist in reality, so if I used it in the live show, the audience could have some sort of connectivity to it, which a lot of what the record is about—about interconnectivity and feeling attached to things that otherwise feel abstract or you have no attachment for.
From the journals of musician-artist-activist David Byrne…
These are excerpts from a journal/diary. Obviously I’ve taken out all the personal stuff and left only the notes referring to the war, or rather, the invasion of Iraq. This makes me seem like a bit of an obsessive-all the rest of my life has been edited out and only the anger and paranoia remains. I’d prefer a life with the anger and paranoia edited out, but it seems that won’t be in the cards this year.
Dinner at GM’s birthday at Savoy-lots of New York Times, New Yorker and other writers present whom I didn’t know—Don DeLillo at least I knew. A situation where I couldn’t jump up and leave easily, so I guess I wasn’t going to manage to sneak out and see those Icelandic bands downtown. Surprisingly, after some chit-chat with my surrounding diners the topic inevitably turned to the war and soon got very heated. The New Yorker writer next to me, for example—a young, attractive woman-said, “the French are always a problem, they’ve CAUSED this problem; so many of these Arab intellectual problem people studied there, and their philosophers, Derrida etc., are all sympathetic”—this is a paraphrase, but you get the idea. It just went on from there. A surprising number surrounding me were gung-ho for the war. None are dummies, but it’s surprising how they toe the Bush propaganda line and don’t see it as propaganda at all. I actually shouted at one point (saying it wasn’t just the French—if you’re going to slander those who disagree with this policy then you’d better deal with the Russians and Germans too at this point) Their position is that the success of the U.S. intervention in Bosnia justifies the use of military intervention, but that took place after how many years of vacillating, and with at least a few other nations backing, no? Milosevic and co were actually still involved in their ethnic cleansing campaign when NATO began bombing. Korea and Turkey are now additional powder kegs in the conversations, both of them confusing issues and mostly avoided. Yikes, what’s going on here?
It is amazing that this topic dominates bourgeois dinner conversation–as it should–but still, it’s a strange new world. Again, I don’t feel comfortable here. Yikes.
Well, I guess I felt pushed over the edge by last night’s dinner. Decided to see if I can take out a New York Times full-page anti-war ad and recruit other musicians to lend their names and cash, as the thing might cost as much as 80 thousand!! Josh at Luaka Bop has been helpful, thanks to his experience with the Beasties’ Tibet efforts. Danielle and I did a rough layout, and Josh brought in a coordinator, a guy named David Fenton who’s done lots of political ads–and in this case Fenton had just met with Russell Simmons, who guaranteed that he, Jay-Z, Mos Def and Puff Daddy are in. Move On (the organization that has organized some of the marches) has agreed to cover half the cost if need be, which is a relief.
Osama is using the impending war to his own advantage (despite his undisguised dislike for Saddam) and is calling for more attacks on the U.S. Our government’s response is to suggest that we stock up on water and duct tape.
1. A remedy for boredom: Consider that our senses provide awareness for the universe. For transcendence, freedom is form.
2. Life is a bathhouse. Someone is likely to steal your flip-flops. If you feel impatient waiting for the world to value the knowledge that you value, you may discover a reserve of compassion by considering that ignorance is a shield for that which we are unable to face.
3. For the Sufi there is no right and wrong. Life is a dynamic, ever-changing context. This can be confusing. How does one know the right way? Consider a simple rule: Dismiss that which insults your soul.
4. That which we cannot forgive we are forced to carry.
5. What is savored by gratitude is burned into the soul of the world and lasts forever.
6. The force of attraction that limits us is our interest in the world. Consider the words of Rumi: “We are that which we seek.”
7. Look for what is arising.
8. The things that change are not our real life. Within us is another body that belongs to the changeless, and it is fully satisfying. For as long as we are embedded in what is transitory we are only creatures.
9. The soul is perfect—nothing you do will ever change that you cannot diminish it.
Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002). Cover photograph by Spike Jonze. Art direction by W.T. Nelson.
THE SOUND OF THE BONE DRILL
BMX superstardom didn’t come cheap, says Mat Hoffman
Excerpted from The Ride of My Life, BMX madman Mat Hoffman’s new autobiography written with Mark Lewman. Hoffman came out of retirement at the 2002 X Games and made history, pulling a no-handed 900 air.
I’ve broken one wrist five times. The other wrist, three times. Between my ankles, I’ve had five breaks. I’ve snapped four fingers, my thumbs four times, my hand twice, busted my feet three times, and broken three toes. (You don’t think a broken toe would hurt that much, but your entire body weight is on it.) I’ve busted my collar bones five times, snapped my pelvis, my fibula, my elbow, cracked three ribs and separated a couple from my sternum. (Breaking ribs off the sternum sucks—just about every movement you can think of is centered in your chest.) Then there’s my head: one skull fracture, two broken jaws, two broken noses, a mouthful of teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Every choice you make can be traced back to the instinctual need to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. These two forces are interconnected, different sides to the same coin. Since I started bike riding, I wanted more than anything to experience the highest highs. To get there, I was willing to accept the consequences. My medical records contain more than four hundred pages documenting my injuries. I’ve put myself in a coma, had over fifty knockouts and concussions, been sewn up with over two hundred stitches, dislocated my shoulder more than twenty times, broken about fifty bones, and had over a dozen different surgeries. I’ve torn ligaments, bruised tissue, severed arteries, spilled blood, and left hunks of my skin stuck to plywood, concrete, dirt, and bicycle components. I’ve had to endure not just physical pain, but the mental anguish of re-learning how to walk, ride my bike, or even remember who I was. I’ve dealt with mountains of health insurance red tape, and condescending doctors who took it upon themselves to lecture me before they treated my injuries, as if they needed to save me from myself.
Not everyone understands that I’ve asked for it, accepted it, and willingly volunteered. Not to sound sadistic, but I consider each of my injuries a tax I had to pay for learning what I could do on my bike. I wanted it all, and wouldn’t take any of it back if I could. Yes, I will be sore and broken when I’m older. I can feel it already, the aches and pains of a body that has been beyond and back. I’ve given up as much of myself as I could, because I love bike riding that much.
My insurance companies have always hated me, having paid hospital bills totaling more than a million dollars over the years. I’ve had to rely on surgery to keep me going. You know it’s getting serious when you start letting people take knives to your body to make you healthy.
Here are my patient notes.
Number 1: Collarbone Crush
November, 1986. It was immediately following a Mountain Dew Trick Team show. I’d just learned 360 drop-ins, and was uncorking them all day. We finished our demo, but I still wanted to ride. I took my chest protector off, figuring I’d just do easy stuff. I lined up parallel to the coping to do a simple hop drop-in, like Eddie Fiola used to do. I stalled in position for a second and went for it. For some reason my brain told my body to react as if I was doing a 360 drop-in. I fell straight to the cement and took the hit on my head and shoulder. My friend Paige said it made a sound like a helmet being thrown off the ramp with nothing in it—a loud, hollow snap. That was my grand finale. I didn’t just break my collarbone, I shattered it. I knocked myself unconscious too. The show was right next door to a hospital, of all places, with two of the best surgeons in Oklahoma City on duty that day. In surgical terms, Dr. Grana and Dr. Yates performed a fourth degree AC joint separation procedure, provided reconstruction of the coracoclavicular ligament, and did a partial removal of my left collarbone.
Number 2: Right Leg, Wrong Move
February, 1988. The 540 is a trick that makes you earn it to learn it. The price is a lot of slams. I finally thought I had them just about dialed in, and did one and looped out. My leg got caught behind me and I sat on it. There was a snapping sound and a blast wave of heat, pain, and nausea. Broken bones have a dull, throbby kind of ache to them. I got into Steve’s car to go to the hospital. Every time he hit a bump my leg would sway between my knee and ankle. My body was in shock, and the pain began to subside. We started chuckling every time it swayed, and then started laughing harder about what the hell we were laughing at. Dark humor helps. The doctor I encountered in the ER had very little humor. My first question to him was, “how long before I can ride again?” He told me I would be lucky to walk without a limp and would never ride a bike again. “Okay, thanks…bye,” was the next thing out of my mouth. I left that doctor as fast as I could, and my dad got me in to see Dr. Yates. Yates put in a titanium plate (the body rejects steel) and ten screws in my fibula to repair the complete syndesmotic disruption and fibular fracture of my right leg. I missed the first King of Vert in Paris because of this injury.