INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY ADAM WALLACAVAGE AND GEOFF GRAHAM
Having a sense of humor is key to an East Coast skateboarder. Being around guys like Dan Tag, you learn very quickly not to take yourself too seriously or you become the butt of a joke you will never get. Tag even started making home videos with Ben Cornish that were so good that he sent them to Tony Alva and got sponsored on the principal of just being funny and innovative – and, oh yeah, he was a good skater. The Tag sarcasm flowed to his board graphics, the epitome being that of “the flying pig” model, a self-deprecating piece of artwork where he symbolizes his persona in a cartoon graphic of Porky Pig with wings. Aside from being a great skateboarder, the guy is running his own framing business, has a mastery of martial arts, runs motorcycles and gets artsy fartsy with some hilarious artwork. Tag has ridden vert long enough to know that it’s not about what tricks you can do. It’s about the brotherhood of friends who continue to skate through the ups and downs of skateboarding. Here’s Daniel Tag, Jersey’s finest!“THERE ARE SO MANY SCENES. THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE, EVERYONE IS DOING THEIR OWN THING. THERE ARE ATTITUDES THAT COME WITH IT TOO, BUT IF YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE AN ATTITUDE, HERE’S MINE. I’M FROM JERSEY.”
Okay, first things first. Dan Tag, where were you born and raised?
I was born in Plainfield, NJ, at Muhlenberg Hospital.
[Laughs.] Thank you.
What’s your full last name?
Let’s go through that whole thing. My last name is 13 letters. I never use it because it’s insane. The Tag just got adopted because no one could ever say it. I’ll spell it. T-A-G-L-I-A-L-A-T-E-L-L-A. It’s a curse and a blessing, Murf.
[Laughs]You were born Daniel Taglialatella?
No. Wait. Daniel Thomas Taglialatella. Danny Thomas, baby!
[Laughs.] That’s the Irish side talking.
[Laughs.] That is the Irish side talking.
So little Danny Thomas Taglialatella was born in dirty Jersey.
Mamma mia! Give me a beer.
You were born into a traditional Italian family?
We were Italian and my mom was Irish. We were pretty much Italian though because when you have an Italian dad, you can’t talk about the Irish side.
[Laughs.] Why not?
I don’t know. It takes a 100% Guido to answer that question.
Were you an only child, Danny?
I have an older brother and a little sister.
What’s your older brother’s name?
Don. The Don. The Donald.
So you were growing up and going big in Jersey. When did you start skateboarding?
Well, Jersey is an amazing place because you have every breed of art fag, jock and weirdo in one little area. My brother was listening to Led Zeppelin when I was a kid, so I wanted to do the opposite. I started listening to punk, and once you do that, you’re instantly connected. Skateboarding just mixed in with that. There was no separation.
When you were listening to punk rock music, was your dad giving you a hard time?
My dad didn’t really clue into anything that I was doing until I got older. He was pretty much hands off. I was listening to punk rock because I saw what a douche my brother was and I didn’t want to be a Camaro-driving jerk.
[Laughs.] Jersey style.
He was a basketball guy with a lot of harsh opinions. I wasn’t going down that road. I would do things to bother him or get away from him.
Was he bummed out on punk rock when he heard you listening to that?
Oh, yeah. He used to walk into my room and yell, ““1-2-3-4! I killed your mother! I killed your father!”
[Laughs.] He couldn’t hang.
[Laughs.] No, not at all.
What year did you grab a skateboard?
In 1980, I was skating driveways and wedge ramps, but by 1981 I started riding a Variflex Street Lite. It was a thinner board that was the cheesy K-Mart angle for Variflex. I got that board and this kid had this halfpipe in his backyard. It was a true half pipe with no flat bottom. I went over there and that ramp had a full on super extension with five or six feet of vert. We just fakied on it and it was the best thing. I was there every day after school.
Were you looking at magazines or seeing skate videos?
I remember seeing the big Thrasher before they went little to the size they are now. I never clued into it because I was so little. You don’t really know what you’re doing at that age. You’re just stoked. I don’t remember exactly when I picked up the mags, but it was around the time that Thrasher came out. I think that was ’81.
So you and your friends were riding this halfpipe and someone happened upon a Thrasher?
Well, the kid that had the half pipe, Jeff Roning, worked at a place that sold skateboards. It was a little shop with a few little products. That kid introduced me to Thrasher. We had never even seen a video of skateboarding. To look at a magazine, it was like, “How did they get in that position? Where are they? What are they doing?” It was the most entertaining thing. You could sit there and look at it for hours. Every shot had something going on. Then you’d go out and skate the half pipe and fakie back and forth. By ’82, I was into it. I was trying to buy a better board.
Who were you skating with at that point?
[Laughs.] I went to middle school with Ben Cornish and Chris Blank, and those two were the two biggest nerds on the planet earth. It was one chunky, chubby guy and one skinny guy that was so skinny you couldn’t believe it. They were the misfits, but the dudes started skateboarding. I remember sitting across the lunchroom with Ben. He was sitting there, and I didn’t really talk to him much. Back then, if someone had on a skateboard t-shirt, there was no question they were a skateboarder, so you’d say something. I said to him, “Hey, I need some bushings.” He said, “I’ll get you some bushings if you trade me that salami sandwich.”
That was our introduction. I traded Corn a salami sandwich for some bushings and we ended up hanging out. This was in 1983. We were just starting to meet other skaters and it was getting to be a tight little scene. There were guys trying to meet up, make phone calls, build quarter pipes, and skate.
So this was before the Barn Ramp got going?
Yeah, the Barn Ramp was in ’84 or so. The Barn Ramp was happening during my first year in high school.
Describe that scene.
That’s when skateboarding, as far as I was concerned, was going to be something that I did for as long as I could walk. When that place happened there was so much going on it’s hard to put in a nutshell. In ’84, I’d never seen a person do a trick that I’d seen in a magazine. Then it came into full play. You walked through that barn door into a skateboard half pipe that was the East Coast way of mimicking a pool. We didn’t have the ability to build a pool, but, all of a sudden, you had Thrasher ramp plans. A few kids were going for it and building shit. These guys, the Kane brothers and Jay Henry, built this 8-foot trannie halfpipe with a foot of vert inside a little barn. As soon as you walked in, there was Bernie O’Dowd, John Ballon, you and Tom Groholski. I was just a little 15-year-old grom walking in there. You and Groholski were 18 or 19. It was overwhelming. Here it was. Live! Here’s how you do a layback air. Here’s how you do a frontside grind. Here’s a lien air. The progression was instantly fast for our little younger generation. We were getting into it. We were going to start bomb dropping and slamming straight into the bottom.
That’s what I did. After that, I built a ramp in my backyard. My mom used to walk out with her cup of coffee and sit on this little bench that I built. I was like, “Mom, watch, I’m going to jump in off the top!” I’d bomb drop in and just slam straight to the flat. She’d be like, “I’m going in now. I’m going inside.”
I did that shit every day. That’s what I could do now. There wasn’t anymore trying to fakie to the top. Now it was full motion. You could get better equipment and better boards. There was a scene of dudes, and it was happening every day.
That probably changed your whole life to walk into that barn and hang out with other guys that skated.
Yeah, I saw a handplant happen. John Ballon was the first dude that I saw do that. He came up and flipped up off the top. He did it like a mute air and tapped his hand. I was like, “What the hell did he just do?” I was totally perplexed. I’d try to do it and just eat shit. I’d try to get over to the Barn more and more often. Then you’d see Groholski do a handplant and think, “Okay, I get it.” Things started to click.
Where did you go from there? You’re sesssioning the Barn Ramp and getting better and better. You’re hanging out with Jay Henry and he’s losing his mind.
[Laughs.] That was fun stuff. Jay was the most hyperactive, scary dude that anybody ever met. He was the guy that molded that whole Jersey spaz style.
He’d say, “Tag, if you can’t do an invert and then do an axle stall and then do another invert, that’s fucking bullshit. Do two inverts in a row and fuckin’ do a backside air! Doing axle stalls in the middle of your run is like you’re starting over!”
I would be like, “All right.” So that started that whole thing with six inverts in a row and then a backside air because
that was the only trick I could do. I couldn’t do an axle stall, so that was it.
No axle stalls, huh?
You skated as fast as you could and as hard as you could because the guy was like your older brother. He was like, “Don’t fuck up.” That was cool. That really pushed me in a way. I didn’t really need to be pushed because I was stoked, but the guy was so intense. I think that created the intense punker environment. You had enough people around that were just full on “Fuck you. I’m doing whatever the fuck I want.” It molded that intense attitude. I think it’s an East Coast thing in a way. It’s one of those things where you can’t erase where you grew up. Jersey molds you in a way. You know, Murf.
It’s like I can’t even relax. So the Barn Ramp was during my high school time. My parents were separated and I lived with my mom. I was getting my driver’s license, so I bought an $800 Monte Carlo. I told my mom, “As soon as I get my license, I’m going to Virginia Beach.
That’s what was happening on the East Coast. You had the guys up North that we skated with in high school. You had the Boston guys. You had Freddie Smith and his crew. All of those guys would come to the Barn and connect with us. That was great. We traveled up there during high school and that was all fine and well. After high school, the new thing to do was to go south. Virginia Beach had this new ramp. The trannie was bigger. Things were taking off. You had to go there. The day I got my license, I drove to Virginia Beach. That was my first day out of the box. Bam!
[Laughs.] Did you take anybody with you?
I think that time I took Bernie or John. We started going to Virginia Beach so much over the years. That was the next place. Ocean City, Maryland was the in-between connection to that. Speaking of the Barn Ramp, that was the whole connection to the Charnoskis, Geoff Graham, Ken Sigafoos and the PA crew. The Barn introduced you to everyone in the area. Then we would all congregate down in Virginia Beach. All of a sudden, you’re in Virginia Beach meeting up with the Boston guys, all the dudes from the PA and Jersey area, and you’re sleeping in some parking lot. No one ever said, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. This is where we’re going.” We were all just flat out stoked on skateboarding. You heard through the grapevine that there was a good spot. All of a sudden, you look over in the parking lot and there’s Freddie.
Everyone was there. Everyone had their own crew of dudes. You had the Loud Ones, the Glug Team, the Fork Crew and the Toke Team. You had all of those guys and everyone was in Virginia Beach. We were just a bunch of misfits from Jersey and PA. Yeah! We were like, “How do we get a team? How did they get a team?” We were dorks and we wanted to be dorks, so then we decided to make up a team name. It was a facetious thing to make up a team name, so we decided we would be Team Steam. We’re blowing the kettle top off. It’s teatime! Boop!
We were so stupid and young and dumb. All we wanted to do was skate and make jokes.