GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
INTERVIEW BY ANDY KESSLER, JIM MURPHY AND GREG EDGE
PHOTOGRAPHY: GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
A Black Flag show boils over into a riot; Jay Adams knocks coping blocks loose with a frontside grind; Public Enemy stands with the S1Ws. Pivotal moments in radical culture. Somehow, Glen E. Friedman was always there at the crucial moment when things went down; the images he captured are a visual history of our evolution. A published photographer for SkateBoarder magazine at age 14, Friedman had roots in both L.A. and NYC, and this bi-coastal perspective gave him the opportunity to be at the forefront of both cities’ exploding scenes. Get your hands on his books Fuck You Heroes, Fuck You Too and The Idealist for some amazing photography and history, then go out and document your own scene. – TC
What drives you to want to take a photo?
It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s just what you like. You know when you hear it; you feel it when you see it.
What are you listening to now?
Fugazi, the Make-Up, this new band Asian Dub Foundation is kinda cool, they’re from England, some Pakistani kids. There are different rap records out there I like, a lot of singles I hear on the radio that are pretty cool. Unfortunately, everyone is spreading themselves so thin in hip hop. They make one or two good records, and the rest are just filler. That kid Jah Rule sounds pretty cool. I actually shot some photos of him recently; we’ll see what happens. I like that band Barkmarket a lot. I don’t even know what he’s talking about, but I like the sound of it. System of a Down is some pretty radical new shit. Mostly, I listen to old records. I’m not an old fart, but I just like really good, great records and you can’t beat the classics. In my opinion, I’d love to hear new records that blow them out of the water. Unfortunately, I don’t.. So I’m still listening to late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s punk rock, The Stooges and early hip hop.
So it’s not all politics with your music?
No, it’s definitely not politics. If I shoot, it’s more political, but for my personal enjoyment, it’s not all politics. If there are bad or stupid politics on a record, I generally won’t like it, but if it’s offensive politics or something that’s just hard core, like on some hip hop records, sometimes it’s entertaining and I can deal with it. I don’t think it’s a good thing to promote, but some of it sounds cool. I love The Godfather movies. I love some gangster movies, so why shouldn’t I like some gangster rap? It’s intriguing. It’s interesting, but I don’t necessarily want to help promote those aspects anymore. I think people got the message being put out in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and anything past that is overkill. I express my politics through my photography every day. I called up Jerry Brown’s campaign and offered to let them use some of my photos of him when he was running for president. There are political messages in a lot of my photos; a lot of the bands I photograph have political messages. In The Idealist, there are some political images that have nothing to do with bands. They’re landscapes I shot in Hiroshima and in South Central LA. Those are very political images.
How do you feel about film use and veganism?
I definitely consider myself a vegan and I am absolutely 100% conscious that there’s gelatin in film. I have probably gone a lot farther than anyone else has in that, I would have to say. Maybe I’m an artist first. No, actually, I’m an inhabitant of the planet first and an artist second. My main contribution to making the world more interesting or even making it a better place is the way I take photographs and share stories and expose people to different cultures. To hopefully expand their minds. So that’s the little sacrifice that I’m making using film. I’ve gotten three continents on the same roll of film. I’ve got pictures of Australia and Italy and the Beastie Boys cover all on one roll, but, then again, I might shoot ten rolls a day if I’ve got a really big job and I think they need a lot of images, but I don’t shoot that much film. I’m really careful; I take my time and compose the images. I’m offended by the way people shoot film and over-use equipment. It’s kinda wack.
[After Greg talked to Glen, Murf and Kessler met up with Friedman and here’s what happened next. . . ]
Murf: You were there when it all started with pool skating and the boys were innovating. What was it like being in the scene when that went down?
When skateboarding was progressing in the ‘70s, there was almost nothing to compare it to. In some ways, you could compare it to punk rock back in ‘82 or hip hop in ‘87. But the creativity and the attitude of skateboarders back then. . . It’s hard to even explain, but imagine what skateboarding would be like before anyone had ever done a kickturn on vertical.
Murf: Yeah. Who did Tony Alva look to? Nobody.
Yeah, these people were innovators. They took stuff from surfing moves, then things developed on flat ground and then they took it to vertical walls. Like I explained in Fuck You Heroes, the first day I saw Tony do a frontside air at the Dog Bowl I went back to school the next day and tried to explain it to someone. They couldn’t even understand what I was talking about. It was just so out of the realm of their reality of skateboarding. Then, when Alan Gelfand came around four years later and did that ollie air. . . How do you explain that to someone? Now, that’s the root of all skateboarding. I know people who used to ride pools and do one wheelers barefoot with no grip tape. It’s shit you would say is suicidal now. The evolution of the sport is just something you can barely explain. That’s what was so beautiful. It just kept on evolving every day. It’s hard for me to get a younger generation to even comprehend. And why do they even have the interest, unless they’re really curious about the history? A skater today could just go out and do things his first day that we didn’t do for like five years, but will he have style? Will he even know what style is? Will he have any feel of the fluidity of cruising down a five-mile long hill and know what it’s like to carve? How can you call yourself a skater without knowing how to carve? It’s like being a surfer and not knowing what it’s like to get wet.
Murf: Hell, yeah.
Yeah, it’s the root of the whole thing. If you skate by yourself and it helps you express yourself and get rid of angst, it’s still the same thing. You just hate to see people become followers. Skateboarders were leaders before. They did their own thing and had their own style and had their own boards. Everyone used to make their own board. You couldn’t even consider yourself a skateboarder if you hadn’t made at least one of your own boards at home. Kids don’t even understand how we used to have to put eight ball bearings on each side of the wheel and put the cones in. Putting a board together was an all-night affair. Now you just buy bearings. Precision bearings were probably the biggest jump there ever was after the urethane wheel. That’s something that kids today have no concept of. Once you were able to get precision bearings, people were able to invent different types of wheels and have them out on the market in weeks rather than years. Later, all you had to do was pop out a wheel model and then throw in the bearings. Back in the day at the old contests, if you broke a cone or your truck fucked up or your bearings came out, you were fucked. Skateboarding has definitely changed a lot but the original attitude is still alive in a lot of kids who do their own thing. If they knew what was involved, it would probably be the most interesting story they ever heard. Especially for skaters because it’s in their blood; for them not to know is a travesty.
Murf: What do you think about all the new parks, pools and bowls being built?
People say that parks killed skateboarding in one of its phases but I think it’s great that there are huge incredible places built just for skateboarding, but, at the same time, who wants to pay to skate? Who wants to be forced to wear safety equipment to ride? It kinda of takes that original edge off. There’s just something inorganic about having to pay and wear equipment if you don’t want to.
Andy: As far as all the skateboard magazines, are there any you feel are really worthwhile?
I’d say that in almost every issue of a magazine, there’s at least one good shot. I’m not going to say that they all suck, but overall they do. I look at Big Brother and Slap. Those are my two favorites. There is some good stuff out there. I won’t say that there isn’t, but it’s far and few between.
Murf: I agree. Like in the beginning days of SkateBoarder, people taking photos – like Cassimus and you – had a quality in their photos you just don’t see anymore.
Well, to play devil’s advocate or to just give the younger guys a break, there was really only one magazine back then and now there are at least six of them in the U.S. alone. Imagine if there was only one right now. There were other ones that came and went during the time of SkateBoarder, but none of them lasted more than a year and the quality was far worse. But you had people from Surfer publications putting that thing together who won awards and were really talented art people. What Paul Haven used to do with the Craig Steyck DogTown articles is fuckin’ masterful. He influenced millions of kids all over the world. If it wasn’t for those articles, there may not even be skaters today. I think DogTown is what really set the tone for the whole success of and the whole rebel attitude of skateboarding.
Murf: Yeah, be as punk as you wanted to be.
Well, punk came after that. DogTown, I mean. The whole punk rock aesthetic of skateboarding was always what people would call punk later, but Tony Alva and Jay Adams were doing that stuff before the Sex Pistols had even played their first song. It was being done in England a couple of years later but it didn’t have the impact in America yet. Once punk rock did get here and started to have an impact, sure, it started influencing the style of people’s dress. But the attitude wasn’t changed much. It was just the way people looked and the music. People already had the attitude.
Andy: Your photos captured a specific time, one on which people still reflect. Do you think as far as skateboarding goes that you’ll ever capture a period as groundbreaking again?
I don’t think for skateboarding, because I’m not skating every day like I did back then. There’s a whole new crop of kids out there. Why not let them portray it? As long as they really believe in what they’re doing and it’s actually part of their own lifestyle and they’re not just some asshole out there shooting pictures because they want to be published, then eventually they’re going to get good pictures. I like seeing a good picture; I can tell if the photographer really digs the sport and he’s really involved in it. You can feel it. Taking pictures to me is something that’s very special. I probably shot Tony Hawk’s very first published photo and he was really special then. He was this incredible little stringbean of a kid. He was unbelievably radical for his age and for his size and I knew he was going to be big and famous and that he was going to have some technique. But just his attitude and the way he rides and all that. Now, I’m so not interested in shooting Tony Hawk, not only because he’s an idiot to do the ‘Milk mustache’ campaign, but because it’s just not interesting to me. It’s cool to watch people do gnarly airs and stuff but I could hardly imagine anything more boring than watching a half pipe. I don’t care if they’re doing McTwist McNuggets. I don’t give a shit. Those are tricks for girls, like baton twirling, too much technical, not enough style. I’m not saying if you did one of those crazy tricks ten feet out and smashed your head, I wouldn’t say that was radical, but I want to see some shit with style.
Murf: If Duane was doing it, maybe.
No, Duane was. . . you know. The funny thing about Duane is he had a lot of lines. He could do a lot of radical shit but his style was completely sketch. The reason he won contests and did so well was the excitement of him literally looking like he was going to eat shit and die, and then just pulling it off. He would get more attention for doing an air one-foot out and hanging up the back truck and still making it than someone who did a smooth stylish three-foot backside air. Duane just took it to the edge of death-defying. The fact that he did the loop was just sketchy. You never saw someone roll so unevenly on a board as Duane. He was radical, but at the same time he was so not smooth.
Murf: Was that because he was so fucked up?
Even sober he was that way. When he was drunk, you could almost see it in his style. It was almost like those karate movies with the drunken master. In a way, he’s not really drunk. His style is just sketch and I don’t think he did it on purpose.
Murf: And Jay was super smooth?
Skateboarding to Jay was like walking down the sidewalk to anybody else. He would walk down vertical walls like people would walk down the street. What kids today would do on a curb if they were aggressive radical skaters, Jay would do on a vertical wall in a pool and fall just as much. He would break a board every day he rode and he didn’t give a shit. You look at the old magazines and you see the influence they had and you realize that he really had almost no sponsors for more than a couple months at a time. He never made a lot of money off it; he just skated and couldn’t be bothered with all that shit, even when his dad owned the company. He would put stickers on his board to make extra money for photo sessions, but he was just radical. He was the most radical skateboarder of all time. Tony is the all-around greatest; Jay is the all-around most radical.
Andy: Tell me what it means to have style?
Style in skateboarding is just like style in everything else. You just know it when you see it, but the main thing is it’s natural. It‘s like when you pour water into a glass from a pitcher, it just has a flow; it just runs a certain way. Nothing interrupts that flow; it all just moves around itself. It just goes in and out and over the ice cubes. That’s basically where style comes from, the path of least resistance. Someone who rides so effortlessly you can’t tell that what they’re doing is even difficult and they look COOL.