Mad Mark Baker interview by Steve Olson with photography by Wynn Miller, Jason Reposar, Rick Battson, Jason Lunn and John Roka.
Stand and deliver… Love is the drug… Walk this way!!! From the shores of England, to the isles of Bali… ’70s Skateboard Superstar, ’90s NYC Club and Party Promoter. “You’ll never be anything.” Wrong!!! To prevail, is one thing… To rub it in the face of the haters, is another. The circus could be the foundation. The will is the strength. Persistence, the choice. Love, the Power… For all that life has to offer. Full Throttle, wide open… Howling at the moon…. 1. 2. 3. a-Go-Go… Go with the flow… you make your own. As Mr. Mad Mark Baker has and is living proof, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need… Never before, never after… There’s only one…. That is: Mark Baker.
– Introduction by Steve Olson
OLSON: Hello, hello, hello… Okay.
BAKER: Hello, one, two. Hello, one, two. Yes, it was a dog day. Check, check.
Okay. I just want to make sure the levels are hot. We’re good. Just so you know, we’re going to have a conversation and I’m going to ask you questions that I obviously already know, but that’s for the readers. So where were you born?
I was born in Brighton, England. It’s a beach town on the south coast of England. It’s got a mixed reputation for aristocracy and villainy.
And hooligans, punk rockers and mods… Why did they choose Brighton?
Brighton is a seaside town where the aristocracy used to go and bathe in the pools and the waters of Brighton last century. Over the years, it became a destination for mods, rockers, skinheads, bootboys, thugs and villains. They used to come down on bank holidays and weekends and scrap it out on the beach. Quadrophenia is a good example of how it was, as is Graham Greene’s book, Brighton Rock, and the racecourse bookies and gangsters. As time went on, Brighton attracted the best and worst of everyone in England. There is a lot of wealth and villainy and villainous money, including a big antiques business, which has a mixed crew, so Brighton is a wheeler-dealer town. By the time you’re a young kid there, you learn every hustle in the book. You learn how to “spot the fuck” and you learn that you’ve got to take care of yourself and, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re going to get eaten. That’s basically Brighton.
You’re born and raised in Brighton, and you see this as a kid, which is influential and maybe, possibly, probably inspiring.
Well, I had a pretty dysfunctional childhood to say the least. My father died when I was young and it was devastating for my mother. She was a young mother with two boys. Basically, my dad’s business partner robbed us all blind, so we were left with nothing, and my mom did her best.
She had to fend for herself.
Absolutely. She had to hustle. At the same time, she was devastated because she was very much in love with my father. Basically, I was on my own since I was very young. My mother had to go to work during the daytime, so going to school and coming home from school, I was pretty much unsupervised, so I learned to hustle when I was pretty young. My mom was on a first name basis with the hospital ER staff and the cops. [Laughs]
What kind of hustles?
Just hustles. I wasn’t bad, but I was on the edge. I was that kid with no parental supervision that terrorized the whole neighborhood with whatever I did. I had to provide for myself and I was unsupervised, so I got into mischief. Then the circus came to town and I skipped school and went there for a job for six weeks.
How old were you when you joined the circus?
I was nine. They dressed me up as a clown or put me in a gorilla outfit and stuck me on top of a truck. They were driving me around Brighton with the music blaring and I was waving at the kids and handing out flyers. That was my first job.
So you learned how to do promotions and make money.
You bet! Nobody else was giving it to me so, when the circus left, I went with it. I ran away with the circus, which is such a cliché, but I actually did it. With the circus, we were traveling all over England and I had my caravan and I was with a really mixed lot. The circus is made up of incredible talent and personalities. We had the first Russian and Eastern European performers and trapeze artists and all the animals – the lions and tigers and elephants – and all the rest of it. The people that put the show together and put up the tents and did the construction were really a rough lot. They were absolutely street thug murderous people on the run that wanted to be anonymous. We were probably the biggest circus that was traveling around England. Every once in a while, we would be in the same town as the traveling fairs. We had all the ring boys, who were the circus boys, and then there were the pikey villains that were traveling with the fairs. We used to clash and people were getting killed. It was rough.
What did you do at the circus?
We were traveling with the circus and doing PR and handing out flyers and putting up posters, but I was very drawn to the animals, so I was taking care of the lion cubs and looking after the animals. I shoveled a lot of shit. [Laughs] Sometimes I would dress up as a clown and I was in the ring during shows, which is quite funny too. I was that kid that grew up in the circus. It was always strange coming to a new town and seeing other boys my age with their families. I used to meet and make friends occasionally, but their lives were so different. I smoked, had tattoos and lived in a caravan. I knew I was different.
When we reflect on that, it shows that you understood the aspect of being a performer from a young age.
Absolutely. It’s show biz. It’s putting on a show.
The show must go on. Then you have to pack the tents.
Absolutely. The show must go on. Then you have to roll that circus into the next town and hype up that town and get them excited about the show coming to town, and I loved that. It wasn’t without its scraps. I had my fights too. I didn’t stay at home in my trailer when the ring boys were out fighting with the fair boys. I had to prove myself with the ring boys and these were some real tough guys. I got beat up a couple of times. After that, I fended for myself. I met my surrogate family too. I had an amazing Russian family, which was a group of trapeze artists. The mother of that family took me under her wing. My mom didn’t have anything to say about it because I just browbeat her down. I was going on the road and there was nothing she could say about it. By that time, my elder brother had been put into one of the best boarding schools in England. We were the charity cases.
Your brother is older?
He’s five years older and he’s a tough motherfucker too. I was a pain in the ass when I was a kid and my brother was a badass. I got smacked a couple of times and he shot me in the leg when I was young because I fucked with his stereo system. I was kind of scared of him until one day I socked him in the jaw. He was so happy that I slugged him that we kind of kissed and made up. He was like, “Motherfucker, I think you broke my jaw.” I was ten. [Laughs]
So much crazy shit went down. They say your childhood affects you as go on, but I was doing crazy shit on my bicycle and traveling with the circus and I was carrying a .22 caliber air pistol when I was eight. I was locked and loaded and I did what I had to do to protect myself. I was carrying a certain amount of anger because the teachers at school were bullying me and all the parents in the neighborhood hated me and didn’t want their kids hanging with me. One day I was being chased by a gang of kids and I ran through a plate glass door. I was all cut up and bleeding to death on the street and the neighbors just slammed the door instead of calling for an ambulance. I was nine years old, so you get the picture.
Why were the teachers picking on you?
Well, there was Mrs. Brockway. She was a monster, a bully, and she really fucked with me, and I never knew why. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was just a pain in the ass kid because I wanted attention.
Well, you were a kid that didn’t have complete parental guidance.
Yeah. I was on my own and adults were picking on me. I was always the one getting strapped or detention. They cut my swimming pool visits and I wasn’t allowed to go on outings. It was non-stop. They fucked with me really badly and it certainly made me mad at authority. I had become a bit of a handful at school and at home, so I was sent to a special school. It was a day borstal, like a juvie prison. I was in and out of special programs, and they didn’t have Adderall back then. [Laughs]
You were also a kid with a lot of energy and a fast working brain.
Exactly. They didn’t know what A.D.D. was in the late ’60s in England. They just thought we were problem kids. They didn’t know how to deal with us, so they put us in special schools, which in some cases, just bred worse troubles when you put a young bunch of complicated kids all in one spot. You could say ‘hooligans’ and then you’ve got to look at the culture of football and soccer violence in England and it was absolutely expected that you would fight for your team. It was our culture.
Who was your team?
My team was Brighton and Manchester United.
Did you play football as well? What other sports did you participate in?
I played football and I was doing the javelin. I was a good athlete. I was good at running and throwing. I could throw a rock from a hundred meters.
I used to scrap and do crazy shit. We had a crew of 15 or 20 of us that would go to soccer matches and walk into the opposing team’s grandstand with 4,000 to 5,000 of the opposing supporters, and we would break out our colors and start whaling on people. We had quite a reputation as a terrifying crew. In the ’60s and ‘70s, we were fucking people up. It was a rite of passage.
Okay, just because of my romanticization of it, I want to ask about the mods and the rockers fighting at the beach at Brighton.
Okay, I’ll tell you a story. When they were filming Quadrophenia, the mods and rockers used to come down every bank holiday. By the time I was 8 or 9, I was out there seriously scrapping every weekend and the mod movement had morphed. We were starting to move into punk rock and there were skinheads, rockers and punk rockers. When they were making the Quadrophenia movie, there was a crew of us on our skateboards watching them film and we knew every millimeter of the streets in Brighton because we skateboarded there. When they were making the movie, they were doing a simulated fight scene with the mods and rockers chasing each other up and down the seafront road, and our crew got into a real fight. They had these actor cops that were breaking up the fights, but we were scrapping. We had 4x2s and bats and it took them about an hour to realize that they had a real riot on their hands. We were whaling and fighting with rockers and it was out of control. That was pretty much what went down on the beaches and seafront every big holiday weekend. In between, punks were fighting mods and mods were fighting rockers and skinheads and on and on. The British working class like to fight.
What got you into skateboarding?
Well, my circus days went until I was 11. The police would take me home from the circus every once in a while because I was unaccompanied. There was a murder in Reading, a place where our crew had been and everyone had been questioned and they came across me and took me home. They were like, “This is the last time we’re doing this.” I had a record at that point, so they said, “You’ve got to go back to school or we will take you into child care.” Then my mom managed to get me into one of the best public boarding schools in England, same as my brother. They allowed one charity case a year. The problem was that I’d already seen and done so much by the time I was 11. I went to this school, but it was doomed to fail, and I was asked to leave after a year. The headmaster really liked me, but…
He saw potential.
Yeah. I was playing rugby and javelin, but I was light years ahead of the other 11 year olds, so they asked me to leave. I was just too disruptive. I went back to Brighton and they tried to put me in a school there, but that didn’t work out, so I didn’t really have any education. I was always getting asked to leave or getting kicked out or being put in detention, so I didn’t really get educated. Then I was hanging out in the streets getting into a whole lot of trouble. The street kids in Brighton were like a little den of thieves, and then skateboarding hit. I hustled my first skateboard and I started skating and it was perfect. I could be on the streets and put all my energy into something I loved.
Do you remember what year that was?
1975. Then the skateboarding phenomenon hit.
What kind of board was it?
The first one I had was a Surf Flyer. It was a little wooden thing, which I kept and did crazy shit with throughout my entire career. I would drop in and do speed runs on it. Then I got this red plastic board when urethane wheels had just come out, from my best friend, Gary Mann, who really helped me get into skating. The first real skateboard I got was a G&S Pro Am with Road Rider 4s. That was my first big set up. Then it started getting serious. We were skating and a local skateboard guy had a shop called Max’s in Brighton. He was importing Santa Cruz boards, Henry Hester boards, Z-Flex boards and all of that stuff. We were in awe of the California lifestyle and pictures shot by Goodrich, Friedman, Cassimus, Bolster and Fineman and we used to wait painfully for Skateboarder magazine to arrive. Then they started to have contests and build parks. I was doing speed runs on Sunday mornings and I think I hit 62 miles an hour. I had those big UFO wheels and a longboard with my trucks tightened up. We got famous for doing speed runs near a place called Devil’s Dyke, outside of Brighton. I had Italian film crews filming on the backs of motorcycles and my brother was doing drag ins driving his tricked out GT380 Suzuki.
Let’s go back for a second. Having been in the circus, you realized it was a show.
It’s show time, baby! If I had to compete against someone, I had to be better and put on a better show, so I would do crazy shit. We had a skate crew and it was a pretty rough crew.
Who was in your crew?
Twiggy, Oink, Jock, Ratzo, Lefty, Two Fingered Tony, Mad Marie, Cosh, and so many characters. We all had nicknames. Shout out to Simon Levene. We used to meet in this place called Churchill Square and kids would be breaking into cars, robbing and stealing and shoplifting. The worst of them were doing armed robbery for antiques and stuff. This buzzing little beehive of Churchill Square became the place where we’d all meet. Of course, it was like the fence shop too. Everyone would bring all their stolen goods and do villainous things. It was like a market and we’d all be hustling and smoking hash. Every few hours, you’d hear sirens and the police would come off the roofs and down the staircases and try to arrest everyone. Of course, we were dodging them. We played cat and mouse with the cops for three or four years. It was crazy and they hated us because they knew we were the center of all the villainy going on. Then The Warriors movie came out and that took us to another level and we became proper little street gangstas. Churchill Square in Brighton was this epicenter of skating and it was a shopping precinct, so we were there every day and all night. In the summertime, you’d have all the Scandinavians students coming over, all the pretty girls.
Where did your blonde hair come from?
You have beautiful blue eyes too.
Thanks, baby. [Laughs] I love your green eyes too.
We had all these Scandinavian girl students, and we’d never seen girls like that. They were gorgeous. We’d be doing our skateboard tricks and I’d be learning Swedish phrases so I could talk to them properly.
When did you realize that you had some talent on a skateboard?
I’ve always been super competitive. If I’m going to do it, I want to win it, so I practiced and practiced. We used to skate this crazy wall near Churchill Square and then they built the first skatepark. It was called the Barn.
Where was that?
The Barn was in Southwick, just outside Brighton. I lived at that skatepark and I wasn’t going to school. I was just skating and skating and skating. We were looking at the magazines and we didn’t know how to do the tricks, so we had to figure it out. We were doing downhill speed runs and slalom on the seafront and we were doing tricks for the tourists to earn a few bucks. We were building our own wooden ramps and anything we could do to copy the Californians. We started to get quite good, so we started traveling to London to a big skatepark they had opened up there. Big shout out to LSD. London Skates Dominate! They had the nice team uniforms and the Benjyboards. It was Jeremy Henderson, John Sablosky, Alex Turnbull and his brother, Marc Sinclair, Jules Gayton, Kadir and the gorgeous Thea Cutts, and, of course, my favorite skater back then, Simon Napper. It’s funny because we all still keep in touch. We’d show up to skate and they had this skatepark, Skate City, and they’d give you little red badges and blue badges and we terrorized them as well. We’d come up from Brighton, with 40 or 50 kids, and go to South Bank.
Really? That many?
Yeah. We were banned on train transport by the transport police because we were terrorizing trains and stations, and they would follow us around the country. We’d go to skate at Skate City and they had these little badges where you couldn’t ride certain things with the wrong badge. We would just rob the pro shop and take all their equipment and all their badges, so we were the kids with brand new skateboards skating around with badges they shouldn’t have had. I started making friends with those London boys, and they were skating great too, but then came the friendly competition between London and Brighton. The cream rose to the top. Just before that, my fellow skaters were Jock Paterson and Tim Dunkerley. They started this team with Max’s. Shout out to Tim and Jock. So the best skate shop was in this giant clothing store called Jean Junction and there was this crazy guy with glasses who owned it and he would say, “God, yeah, wow, rock n’ roll, sex and drugs, man!” We were like, “Is he American or is he English?” He had this American accent and he was going back and forth to California and he was the first to bring in all the skateboards. His name was Phil A.K.A. Max. Max started this team and Jock and Tim were on the team and I joined the team and I was so proud. We had these team shirts and stickers. He was making a fortune with the store. Every night, we’d all go back to his house and smoke out and it just grew. Then there were 20 or 30 of us at his house watching The Exorcist and tripping on acid. We were running around and doing all of this crazy shit.
We watched Apocalypse Now on acid too and we were skating and smoking and partying and it just went off. Then I started to win contests. We had the Pro/Am and I’d win in speed and slalom and in the pools. Skateboarding blew up and I was right there. I had the Dogtown hat on and I was skating crazy and that got me the nickname “Mad Mark”.
“Mad Mark” Baker. Where does that come from? Was it just your style?
Yeah. I was out of my mind doing what I was doing, speed runs, and being chased all over by the cops. I really channeled all of my energy into skating, and I’d take my skateboard everywhere, so I was never without it. I remember I was at my grandmother’s house, god rest her soul. She was the best person with animals and dogs. She lived on a council estate and, in previous years, I used to stay with her a lot because my mom wasn’t really capable of handling me and it was better than being in the lock-up or Social Services. I totally loved my grandmother more than anyone on the planet and my grandfather was an interesting man. He was an ex-speedway rider. My mom’s side of the family was Sephardi Spanish-Portuguese and Jewish aristocracy and my father’s side were gypsies, so I had this weird mix. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a champion speedway rider.
No! I can’t tell you how much I love speedway riding.
He was one of the original guys with the goggles and no brakes. He was “Mad Jack” Baker. To get back to your question about where I got my blond hair and blue eyes… My mother has black hair and green eyes and my brother has black hair and green eyes. People, including my brother, were like, “You’re the milkman’s kid.” It’s because my hair is blond and my eyes are blue from my dad. He was one of the most loved men around and he had the blond hair. He died at 31 when I was two and then his brother died in a motorcycle crash. Imagine my grandma losing both of her sons. I always figured we’d been cursed. Anyway, I was always in the mix of a lot of controversy and I had to stand up and fight my way out to earn my place on the street.
So you started winning skate contests.
I started winning contests and then we had Skateboard! magazine out of London and it was really good. By then, I had learned how to generate press and do a good show and be the kid’s hero and spit cool words, but I was really genuine because I had finally found something that I was proud of.
You were really good at it too – really good.
I was getting better and, instead of being the kid that all the adults wanted to hate on and get rid of, I started to earn my place. I started getting a fan-base and I started doing interviews with the magazines and, of course, I did good interviews. [Laughs]
Did you get the cover?
I got bunches of covers.
Okay, let’s not get crazy. What was your first cover?
The first cover was a photo of me with the mirrored sunglasses doing a lip grinder with a skateboard that said “Fight Nazis” on the bottom of the board, because we were out there cracking skulls.
I know that cover.
Right then there was a big Socialist Workers Party movement in England and they were fighting and there was a big skinhead presence called the National Front who were Nazis. We used to go out and crack skulls and beat these people terribly. We had bad fights. We were the skate crew and we didn’t really know what socialism meant at age 14 or 15, but we knew we didn’t like the skinhead Nazis and what they stood for with their racist politics, so we were scrapping. I got a reputation for being a bit of a scrapper.
This we know already from age nine and ten with the ring boys. How did it feel to be on the cover of a magazine? You go from Mrs. Brockway, the teacher, telling you that you’re never going to be any good and now here you are on the cover of this magazine and the skateboarding phenomenon was taking over England. How did that feel?
It was a defining moment. I saw a way out. My mum was cool with it. If I really passionately believed in it, I could do it.
She supported it the best that she could.
She absolutely supported it, but she couldn’t really say anything against it. We had already established that whatever the fuck I was going to do, I was going to do. She would just have to be an observer and I hoped she supported it. My brother was away at boarding school by then.
Well, skateboarding was good clean fun though.
Yeah. I remember having a conversation with my grandfather after being removed from whatever school I had been in. He was a great guy and he was a gypsy character too and a speedway racer and a chimney sweep. He was like, “What are you going to do with your life?” I said, “Right now it looks like I’m going to be a skateboarder.” He said, “What are you going to do with skateboarding?” I said, “I love it. I’m good at it and I’m passionate about it and I’m going to go somewhere with it, outside of Brighton, because, if I stay in this town, I’m going to be in jail for the rest of my life. I just know that I’m going to be in big trouble and terrible things are going to happen.” My grandma was fully supportive and told him to just support me. Then I started to see the beginnings working. I started traveling around England and I was starting to get paid. I was getting little wages from Phil Labato, who became my manager. I had a fuckin’ manager!
How old were you?
I was 15. I was like, “Oh my god!” I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it because I was doing what I loved. I loved every minute of every day and I wasn’t stuck anywhere. I was putting all this anger, energy, love, passion, creativity and everything that I ever learned into this and then I started to get well known. The cover was one thing, but then I started doing pictures and shows and TV and I was doing contests and traveling. When we went to competitions, we emulated Dogtown, so we were Pig City because Brighton was full of cops. Then other cities started having nicknames, like London was Sin City. Some of the names were stupid, but we were copying Dogtown in America and following everything that was going on. It was awesome. Then came the defining moment. In 1977, Bob Ballou, rest in peace, came to England and he was talking to Phil who was buying his Powerflex wheels and stuff. Phil was like, “Do you want to see Mark skate?” Ballou said, “I’ve seen pictures, but let me go have a look.” So we took him to the skatepark, and I went skateboarding, and I’ll never forget the day. Bob was this tall dude who had this California style shirt with pants and sneakers on, and I had never seen anyone wear pants with sneakers before. He was like, “Mad Mark! You’re as good as the Dogtown boys!” I was like, “Get the fuck out of here. There’s no way.” He was like, “I want you to be a team skater for Powerflex.” I was like, “Are you kidding? What?” He was like, “Do you want a team Powerflex shirt?” I was like, “Give me the shirt motherfucker!” He breaks out that blue and white shirt and I felt like I had just won the lottery. I was so proud of that team shirt. Then Bob and Phil negotiated this deal. I should have gotten a lot more, but it was fine. Then Ballou said, “I’m going to Paris next week. Do you want to come to Paris and represent Powerflex?” I was like, “Oh my god! You want me to go to Paris, France? Yes! I’m in.” So I hopped a plane with Bob Ballou and went to Paris.
Had you ever been on a plane before?
No. I’d never been on a plane.
So skateboarding put you on your first plane. Just throwing it out there.
Yes. Of course, when we got to the airport, I was so stressed out that I packed my passport in my luggage, so they had to stop the plane and unload the luggage and get my passport so that I could get on the plane. Bob was pissed but that’s okay, I made up for it. [Laughs] We went to Paris and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the plane and the flight and the coffee and croissant that we got. I don’t think I had ever had a croissant. I was used to eating those nasty white bread buns they give you in prison and institutions.
So we get to Paris and we were staying in the Latin Quarter and it’s stinky and dirty and beautiful and I’ve got this little room. The next morning we go to this skatepark called Beton Hurlant, which means Screaming Concrete, and there were 5,000 kids there and I was the star attraction. I was like, “Dude, look at this skatepark!” I went in that giant pool and, within five minutes, I blasted a seven-foot aerial out of the top of this wonky old concrete pool that was about 15 feet deep. I blasted an air above everyone’s heads and landed it and the place went nuts. I already knew how to do the show thing, but the more they yelled, the higher I went. I realized right then, that to be able to do some of the big moves that we were doing, there could be no indecision. It was, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to make it. I have to land it and make it happen.” It’s 100% commitment. If you land it, it’s great. If you didn’t and you hung up on those big airs, you had broken bones and cracked ribs and a cracked skulls. We had all of them, right?
Back then every move that we were inventing, mostly the Californians, but we were making our own moves too, every foot plant, roll in backside, roll in frontside, there is nowhere to go except for on your head in the bottom of the bowl. There is no bailing on this stuff and we had to make this stuff up as we went along. It’s different from now where you see someone else do a move and then you just make it bigger and better. We were doing it on shitty transitions, so every trick we created or copied was a shopping list of broken shit before you landed one and knew it could be done. Anyway, let’s get back to Paris. I was blasting airs above people’s heads and acting crazy and then I met my first model. She was from California and she was 16. I was 15 and I just totally fell in love because she was gorgeous.
What was her name?
I don’t remember. We’ll call her ‘Gorgeous’. She was a skater and a model and we spent the night and it was beautiful. It was young love.
You fell in love.
Absolutely. [Laughs] She was the love of my life for 48 hours.
So we ate croissants and I was rocking and rolling and it was all so beautiful. Even the stinky dog shit all over the streets of Paris was beautiful in that moment. Then Ballou says, “That’s it. I want you to skate for us. Why don’t you come to California?” I was like, “Yes!” Then something else happened while all of this was going on. Tony Alva was coming on tour to England.
He was promoting Alva Skates.
Yeah. I think Bob Ballou was also promoting Alva. I don’t quite know how it all came together, but they were saying, “This is the match up of the century in Europe – Mad Dog and Mad Mark.” By then, I was touring all over Europe. I was in Holland and Belgium and touring all over. The Benjyboards team was touring too, but not quite as extensively as I was. I was the lone wolf. I was “Mad Mark” and I wasn’t traveling with a team and that was how I wanted it. At that moment, Tony Alva was kind of my hero. He was the guy and he had his style, separate from his ego.
He was a badass.
He was a rock star and everything he did was news. When Tony came over, it was like, “Do you guys want to do a tour together?” I was like, “Hell yeah!” So Tony and I did this tour together.
Did you guys meet before the tour was set up?
No. We met in London and we were staying at Blakes Hotel and we got kicked out of Blakes Hotel for terrorizing that place.
You meet Tony through Ballou, and then you met Peter Zehnder and Wynn Miller?
Yeah. They were all on the tour and we traveled all over England. The first place we skated was the Dog Bowl in London. I had watched Tony skate and his style was subtle. Every grind was textbook and he flowed. He’d go straight into a pool he’d never skated before and create lines that no one had dreamt of. It wasn’t the mechanical routine. He’d do airs, but they weren’t the biggest airs, so I’d go in and blast over him. He always did his airs with his hand over his head and his other hand around his knee tucked in. He was a tight little ball of style. You could see his surf style. I had never really surfed, so I was blasting huge aerials and huge grinders. Everyone was like, “Oh my god! Mark is better than Tony.” I was like, “No way. You don’t get the style he has.” Anyway, we were a good road show together and, after skating, we terrorized. So we went on tour and that made the cover of Skateboard! It said, “Alva & Baker Tour – One Week’s Lunacy!” Then Tony said, “You need to come visit me in California.” I said, “There’s a flight leaving tomorrow. I’ll be there in the morning.” Not long after, I flew Freddie Laker Airways to L.A. It only cost 49 pounds to New York and 79 pounds to Los Angeles. I remember flying into L.A. and I was 16 and it was 1978.
And you had your passport.
I had my passport and I sat on that plane listening to this music, Breakfast In America by Supertramp. “Don’t you look at my girlfriend!” Then I arrive at the airport and I was standing there for two hours waiting on Tony. Finally, here he comes in this 4×4 truck, screeching in, and he’s like, “Get in!” It was a blue Ford truck and he’d just gotten it. I got in and we went to where he was living in Malibu, next to horseman Egon Merz’ ranch. The following morning, at five in the morning, he was like, “I’m going surfing. Are you coming?” I was like, “Ah, yeah.” So we went down to Malibu and I didn’t even have a surfboard. In those days, everyone in Europe wore Speedos, so I put my Speedos on and I got this blue spongy surfboard and I’m walking down the beach and Tony is running ahead of me because he’s so ashamed. I think Jay was there too. There was a whole crew out there. So I go paddling out in my Speedos at 3rd Point and I was like, “Dude, I can’t get a tan line.” So I pulled the Speedos up my ass so I could get my ass tan. I had long curly hair and I’m paddling out and people are spitting at me and throwing punches at me. I’m like, “What’s wrong with you people? Lighten up.” I paddled in and got totally crunched and thrown onto the beach with with my sponge surfboard and my Speedos in a wedgie and people wanted to beat me up. I had to punch some guy in the face because he got right up in my face. The first day I was getting in fights and Tony had totally disowned me at that point. He was like, “Dude, you need to buy some surf shorts.”
He definitely didn’t buy them for you.
No. He definitely didn’t. [Laughs] Shout out to Tony! We were surfing and skating and touring around to these incredible parks.
How was that for you as a kid who has this dream that has become a reality?
You can’t even believe it. It was a dream. It really was.
You were getting free skate products too.
Yeah. Then we started with the whole Vans thing, which was just transitioning from being a white tennis shoe with a crepe sole and we were coloring in the white and making them blue and red to be cool. So I was traveling and everyone was giving me skateboards and wheels. I was like, “This is insane.” I had boxes of wheels and trucks and I was skating with Tony. I’d met Jay Adams, Wesley Humpston, Jimmy Muir, Billy Yeron, PC and the Hackett brothers. Shout out to Dave Hackett! I was a kid from Brighton rolling around with the Dogtown crew and I was holding my own with my skating. We were going up to Malibu next to Thais Baker’s house and Andy Lyon’s house. Tony had just done the Skateboard movie with Leif Garrett, so Tony says, “We’re going to a fancy party in Hollywood.” I’m like, “Okay, whatever. Great.”
By this time, punk rock has already started to infiltrate skateboarding.
Yes. In England, we were already wearing army greens and bondage pants and little fake piercings in the nose or tongues or cheeks. We were looking raggedy with cut up clothes and we were spitting at people and pogo dancing. Tony was like, “Let’s go as punk rockers.” I was like, “Are you sure? It’s a fancy dress party!” So Tony and I get ripped up shirts and stenciled ‘punk’ on them and I sprayed his hair really big with all these different colors, so it looked really bizarre. We had black eyes with makeup and we showed up at the party and everyone was dressed in fancy dresses.
Whose house was it?
It was Dick Wolf’s mansion. We walked in and everyone was like, “Who the fuck are these two?” We were completely out of place, but Tony was one of the stars of the movie.
Yeah. So there was all of this fancy shit going on and Tony was walking around dribbling spit on his chin and terrorizing and disgusting everybody, but Dick Wolf was like, “Tony, you’re having a good old time. Glad you made it!” Tony was like, “Let’s go look in the fridge.” We go to the fridge and there were bags and bags of mushrooms in there and we stole them all. I was like, “We can’t do that.” Tony was like, “Yes, we can.” Then we wandered into the garden and there were trees of marijuana with big buds hanging off them. I had never seen trees of marijuana. So we went back in the house and got some Hefty bags and chopped them all down and bagged them up and threw them over the wall and picked them up in the truck and drove away. [Laughs] We robbed the Wolf.
We had overstayed our welcome, at that point, so we bailed, and we had weed and mushrooms for the next two months. There are so many stories. There are also stories where we saw you in San Francisco at the Cramps punk show.
We went to the Winchester contest and some of us didn’t make the finals because we were doing other things. Then we all went to the Kezar venue and it was the Dead Kennedys as the opening act and then the Cramps and the Clash. I think the Clash was touring in support of the London Calling album. It was you, Tony Alva, Brad Bowman, Steve Alba, MoFo, Kevin Thatcher and myself.
For me, I hadn’t been north and it was chilly up there and a bit gray. I’d been rockin’ with The Damned and the Sex Pistols in Brighton and punk was big. Punk was just coming to America then, and you guys were the first to be right there getting into the whole punk rock thing.
We enjoyed the energy.
It was fun. We go into the club and I hear The Cramps doing “Human Fly” and we all went nuts. We were pogoing and spitting and elbowing people and getting punched. It was so much fun. That’s when I met you. It was such a crazy night. I totally fell in love with you as a homie. You were just unbelievable. What a crazy night that was. The drive back was crazy too. We were getting in fights on the freeway and at gas stations. Tony loved getting into fights. He was always getting into fights.
He’s a fun badass cat. Here’s another deal. After that gig, there was this woman in San Francisco called Suzy Skates who was this woman who did flower delivery on roller skates. I don’t know if you were with us, but Tony and I went to a party down on Third Street over by Army in a huge loft that these people had been squatting in. I was just wondering if maybe you were there.
If Tony went, it’s likely that I would have been there too because I was with him the whole time. Some of it is just a blur. For me, coming from England, everything was bigger in America. The roads were big and the cars were big and the buildings were big and plates of food were big. It was madness. Then we get a call to see if the Dogtown crew wanted to go to Guadalajara. I was like, “Where the fuck is Guadalajara?” They said, “Mexico. Do you want to go to Mexico?” We said, “Of course, we want to go to Guadalajara.” The governor of Guadalajara had invited us to skate the opening of a new skatepark.
Who is it that they invited?
It was Plumer, Jay, Tony, me, Billy Yeron and P.C. I can’t remember if Hackett and Stacy Peralta were there. So there was this crew of Dogtown skaters that went to Guadalajara and I’m rolling with these guys and I’m accepted now and it was awesome. I was the crazy British guy on the crew. We get there and they had built the skatepark with a little fence around it and they hyped it as this fabulous thing for all the rich kids, but there were 3,000 local kids on the outside of the fence that wanted to come in. As we skated and things got crazier, we were throwing t-shirts to them and they started rioting. Then the federales came in with machine guns to protect the governor. Tony was with them because the governor’s wife definitely had a crush on Tony. I think TA was doing some extracurricular on that trip. [Laughs] A riot ensued and it went off and everyone had to run for their lives. It was madness. Later that night, we all got wasted on local tequila and visited a fancy kitty house. It was hilarious. All of us young skaters were dancing around with the Mexican chicas. We all paired off, Tony with the hottest girl, of course, and Jay spent the next two hours negotiating with the biggest 300-pound woman. We asked him later why he chose her and he said because he thought it would be cheaper. [Laughs] I loved that boy. What a trip.
How did you end up at my house?
I remember the moment I walked into your house. I met Bucky and your dad and your mom. I still remember the hug your mom gave me because I never really had a family. From my heart, as much as Tony and the boys all had their personalities, you were my favorite and you were hanging with those guys and doing your own thing. Tony had already won Skater of the Year and then you won it. I remember you saying to me, “Dude, for a change of scenery, you should come down and stay with me in Seal Beach.” I was like, “Absolutely. I’d love to.” You and I instantly became friends. So I came down to your house and we got along great. Your mom and dad were super cool and it was nice to have a family. I was a long way from home.
Yeah. They’re nice people.
Yes. You were ripping with a different style and you were a punk rocker too. You were shredding with your black and white checkerboards. Were you skating for Santa Cruz then?
It was a different vibe then, but you had credibility and enough game to roll with whomever. You had your own brand and your own style. That was great.
That’s when I had the yellow Porsche. Do you remember that?
Yes. How could I forget the yellow 911? That was my dream car, not the color though. [Laughs]
That was my first car. That was probably the worst thing I ever bought. Then we went to skate Lakewood.
We skated Lakewood and then we went to Arizona and skated the contest with the big tombstone at High Roller.
Yes! Plumer tail dropped in from the tombstones into the bowl. I think you probably dropped in too.
I think I did. I placed in that competition.
That was so much fun.
It was great. Then I went back to London and got another cover and interview in Skateboard! magazine. It said, “Baker’s Back!” Now I was established. I had been rolling with the Dogtown boys and you and all of the rest of them. I went skating around England doing shows and contests and I was at a whole other level.
The invert had come into play too.
Yeah. I was doing handplants, footplants and rock n’ rolls and then I was doing frontside rock n’ rolls with no hands. There was a competition right after I got back and I did all these tricks. It was unfair because I had just gotten back from Cali. I absolutely smashed it and the kids went crazy. Then I did this big interview about “Baker is Back!” It was a great interview. My friend, Tim Dunkerley, had written it and it was a life changer for me. I saw my whole life now outside of potentially going to prison. You asked me when I thought I was good at skateboarding, and it was around then. I thought, “Now I can do this.” I’m certainly not the best in America, but I held my own there. As far as Europe, I certainly didn’t see anyone that had the collective bag of tricks and crazy airs and raw personality that I had. I was there in my blue silk Powerflex jacket and my white tube socks and I had a pair of Rectors on and my Vans and I had three suitcases full of skateboarding equipment and I was just giving it away to all of my friends.
I’d been home for like a week and Phil goes, “Hey Mark, rock n’ roll! You’re going to Sweden!” I said, “What? Where the fuck is Sweden?” He goes, “You know, the girls, ABBA.” I was like, “Done. When am I leaving?” He said, “This afternoon. You have to get to the airport right now. Rock n’ roll! Yeah!” He was a crazy fella. I was like, “Okay. I’m going.” So I jump on a plane and my hair is still wet from my shower. I flew British Airways at three o’clock in the afternoon and I landed at 4:13 their time. As I’m flying in, it’s dark. I was like, “What time zone are we in?” As we’re taxiing in, I see the gate and it says it’s 4:13 and it’s minus 28 degrees. I say to the stewardess, “There’s something wrong with that clock, right? Is it four in the morning or four in the afternoon? I don’t even know where I am. It says it’s minus 28 degrees. Where is this? Antarctica?” I look out the window and the people taking the luggage had on moon boots and their faces were covered and they had giant Michelin Man coats on. There was snow everywhere and they opened the door to that plane and the gust of air that came in was so cold that I couldn’t breathe. By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, my wet hair was jingle jangling. I only had my silk jacket and a t-shirt and a pair of Rector shorts on, and I was like, “This is the coldest place that I’ve ever imagined.” I got into a car with Alf Ericsson and his sidekick, Leffe, these two crazy guys and they were like, “Dude, we’re going straight to New Sport House. There are people waiting for you.” I said, “Okay, cool, but can we get some clothes? I’m really cold.” They said, “We’ll go shopping later. Right now you need to skate.” Then I walked into this indoor skate place with 1,500 people in it and most of them were the cutest, most beautiful girls. I was like, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Luckily, I spoke some Swedish because of Brighton.
And you are the star attraction.
Oh, I am the star! [Laughs] I walked in and they all started clapping and screaming and shouting. I’m looking around and I was in that pool so quickly doing moves that I didn’t even know I could do. There was a full pipe and a little ramp and a big bowl and I just went nuts. I blew this place away. Amongst the team there, there were a bunch of local skaters including Tony Magnusson, Per Viking Christensen and Torbjorn Stenstrom. They had these boards that were like 15 inches wide and 25 inches long. I guess they were New Sport boards, but they were weird. When I came back the next morning, these kids were doing half of the tricks that I’d just done the night before. I was like, “Oh my god, I need to watch these guys.” They learned so quickly. Shout out Tony! Shout out Per! R.I.P. They were the cutest kids and the girls there were just beyond. It was incredible. So we had a little gang of girls and guys and someone said, “Here, you’re going to take my apartment.” In England, we have these nasty sheets and blankets that you’d get pneumonia and allergies from, so I’d never seen a down comforter with goose feathers before. In Sweden, I had the greatest bed of all time. It was all fluffy with fluffy pillows. I wanted to sleep in it, on top of it, underneath it and on the floor next to it. That night I ended up sleeping with three girls and it was so beautiful and innocent. We were cuddling and they were chewing this thing called Stimorol chewing gum, which I can still remember the smell today. They had long blond hair and they were so cute. I was like, “My god, this is it.” I spent a week there traveling around and doing shows and interviews. When I got ready to leave Sweden, I was crying my eyes out. I never wanted to leave. I love Sweden so much. That was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Sweden and me. I was like, “I have got to come back here as quickly as possible.” I had fallen in love like four times that week, and I didn’t want to leave. I went back to England and started planning to go back to Sweden. Then I started going back there every month or two. Skateboarding was banned in Norway, so we couldn’t go there, so I kept going to Sweden. I was falling in love and meeting people and I got a pretty good reputation.
You were a skateboarding star.
Yeah. I was doing shows in the clubs there and they’d be like, “Here’s Mad Mark Baker in the house! Rock n’ roll, Scoobity Doo!” I’d come out on the stage or dance floor with my zippy California outfit on and do a few 360s and walk the dog and then I’d sit down at a table and talk to chicks. It was insane. At the time, in ’78 or ’79, Hair was the movie with all the hippie stuff. All of the guys there had become my friends – shout out to Micke Becker, Goran, Peter Jal, Henke, Madde and Sussi, and Joke Heinemann – and every night we’d all go back to someone’s house and smoke pot and wake up in the morning and have breakfast together. I was in utopia Disneyland. One night, I went back to this lovely girl’s house and, in the morning, the door starts to open to her bedroom, and it was her parents. I was like, “Oh no!” I’m under the covers hiding and she’s laughing. Her name was Anna and I can still see her eyes. She was incredible. I was trying to breathe under the covers as I was thinking her dad was about to castrate me. Then I feel this little tap on my shoulder. It was her mother and she said, “Do you want hot chocolate or coffee?” I’m in bed with her daughter and she was asking me if I wanted hot chocolate or coffee! I was like, “I love this country.” They’ve got nice clean beds with fluffy sheets and cute girls and hot chocolate for breakfast. I was like, “I’m never leaving this place.”
Then skateboarding dies.
Yes. I was on tour skating for another year, back and forth from California. There was the opening of the Marina Del Rey skatepark. Kirk Talbott and Brad Bowman and a young Tony Hawk and Alba and lots of new skaters were there and I met everyone and it was really great to be accepted. Then I was skating in England, and it starts to get quieter and quieter. Then we did another cover for Skateboard! magazine where it said that skateboarding was officially pronounced dead. That was the cover with me, Simon Napper, John Sablosky and Alex Peacock. Skateboarding was dying and I was like, “No. It can’t be dying.” Then I went and skated Harrow Skatepark, my favorite. Instead of there being 2,000 kids there, there were only 150 kids there. I was like, “Oh shit.” Then you started having guys on roller-skates and BMX bikes coming into the skateparks, and less people were skating. I was like, “Skateboarding is coming to an end. What do I do now?” My manager was like, “I can’t pay you as much money anymore. The boards aren’t selling as much now.” I was like, “Oh, no. This is really happening. Skateboarding is dying. What am I going to do now?” Was it the same in California?
Yes. Skateboarding died. It was dying.
Who knows? A recession happened in ’81. Skateboarding starts to die and it’s on the way down. It hit one of the valleys.
Was this post Bones Brigade with Stacy?
No. This was pre-Bones Brigade.
Then it came back with those guys?
Wait. I think they had the Bones Brigade then with McGill, Gelfand, Ray Bones and Jay Smith.
Exactly. They had a couple of Florida kids.
They had a couple of East Coast kids like Mike Jesiolowski too.
Then all of the skateparks started to close.
Yeah. There was an insurance deal and skateparks were getting sued and then skateboarding wasn’t the same giant hoopla.
It went into hibernation. After skateboarding died, I started bringing t-shirts in from California.
Wait. I have to ask. What happened with Mrs. Brockway? I mean you were on the cover of Skateboard! magazine.
I was traveling around and I hadn’t had any contact with her. When I got back to Brighton, my mom had moved and remarried an incredible man called Mickey. He was an older guy who was a bookmaker on the races. He was one of the greatest gentlemen in England on that scene, which is a pretty rough and tumble crew. He used to babysit the Kray brothers back in the day and he was from a tough East London Jewish neighborhood. He was a consummate gentleman, but he was on a racecourse with all of the villains, so my brother and I knew all the villains. It was a rough lot. My stepdad was a great man and he had been very supportive of my skateboarding. The crazy thing was that Mrs. Brockway had moved five doors down from my mom. I was gone all the time, and, when I got home, I was like, “Mrs. Brockway lives down the road? I think we have to have words with her and let her know how much she abused me.” My mom didn’t want to hear it though. I told my mom, “If I go down there, I’m going to be really verbal with her.” I’m really polite to women, but I really needed to shove this shit in her face because now I’m doing things. She was an angry horrible woman that tortured me mentally and physically, so I wanted to go show her what I was doing. My mom was like, “Just let things lie.”
Your mom was right.
Yeah, but I needed to get over this anger because of all the shit that had gone down in my life, which is considerable. Of all the good, bad and ugly that has gone on, the only one I couldn’t forgive was Mrs. Brockway. It was because she had no reason to treat me that way. She just tortured me for the hell of it and she shouldn’t have done that to a nine-year-old kid. Even though I’d proven them all wrong, I was still angry. Deep down inside I’ve got terrible rage. I was happy and I loved everyone and I was compassionate, kind and nice, but flip a couple of buttons about me not being worthy or blaming me for shit I’ve never done, and it’s over, you see the devil, because I got the blame for everything that ever went wrong as a kid.
You were the scapegoat.
Exactly. I was tired of it, so I had a little chip on my shoulder. If you flipped the wrong buttons, you would see the devil and it was terrifying, so I had to constantly try to keep that under control. That affects relationships too, when you have a partner or a girlfriend. There were abandonment issues and all that stuff that kids have. It’s been the single most challenging thing in my life to get over that. I had to accept who I am. I’m a pretty good guy, so I had to learn to not unload all my anger and rage at a small provocation. If you’re a guy, you’ve got that physical element, and you’re going to get hurt, and that’s not a good thing when people are getting slapped all over the place, so that’s been a thing. I finally got that under control and I’ll tell you how that happened. It’s when I finally dealt with Mrs. Brockway.
So I had started importing t-shirts and there were things going on, up and down. Somewhere in that period of time, I was away for a while. When I was away, I learned a lot. I went away not because I was totally innocent of what I was doing but because I had to protect an awful lot of people who didn’t have the time or the mental capability to go away, so basically I went away for everybody else. It doesn’t matter where, when or how. Needless to say, we were all smoking pot and doing stuff and getting by. I was in a situation where I was involved with some things that weren’t quite legal. I was 19 and all the people around me had family and lives and businesses. It all came on top of me when it all came down and I had to take a fall for the people around me. I was fine with that because I had the time and I didn’t really have anything going on in my life. The point is that you can always turn a negative into a positive if you learn from it. Throughout my life, through every catastrophe or disaster or situation that’s gone down, I’ve always tried to make the best of it and reinvent myself and come back stronger and better and learn from it. In all honesty, I think everyone can do something or has done something that could have potentially put them away. When I went away, under lock and key, I got healthier and I focused my mind on being positive. I also learned a new language.
I read and I was helping other people in that environment be better.
What environment? Just say it.
I was in prison. It was brutal too because it was solitary confinement for months on end.
But you learned one huge lesson, at a young age. You never want to go back.
That’s the point that I’m getting at. Everyone can do something wrong.
So you were framed and you get chucked into prison.
Yeah. I was completely framed. There was a crooked cop who set me up. Unbeknownst to me, a guy had gotten busted and blamed all his shit on me. He set me up to come to a place and be framed for a deal. At the same time, I was being blamed for everybody else’s dealings and it was a pretty big celebrity community that I was rolling with and they threw a life sentence at me.
They gave you a life sentence in prison for trafficking.
I hate that word, but yeah.
Were you importing?
No. I’d never done that. It was all within the country. I’d made friends with these Hells Angels and they were bringing weed and stuff in and I sort of helped them unload it. So I was in solitary confinement for months and under interrogation. I had to keep my head clear because I was in this tortuous situation of interrogation and sleep deprivation. The cop was trying to fuck my girlfriend and I had been set up and framed and taken to an island where they kept the worst criminals. It was like a bad horror movie, and they didn’t have bail, but I got through it, and it made me stronger. I learned patience and I learned to get healthier. When I got out, I was 20 years old. I had spent my last teen years in prison and I had an understanding that everyone could do something in their lives to put them away. If you get put away twice, you’re stupid, so I vowed that I’d never go back to jail. Thank god, so far, I never have, except for a weekend in the NYC tombs. Most people go in and out their whole lives, but I stayed clear. It was enough of a shock for me that I learned from it. I couldn’t tell anyone I was there, so I was sending postcards from a P.O. Box. My mother didn’t know and I was a teenager a long way from home in prison and crazy shit went down.
Then they had to take you out of prison.
Yeah. So I’m waiting to get out and the cop was telling me, “You’re never going to leave this jail until you’re in a coffin.” This guy hated me for whatever reason. He ended up going to jail later for robbing a police store for drugs, but that’s another story. So the gates to the prison opened up and I was on my way out. Freedom! As a final parting shot, since I was the prison gardener, I had planted about 150 plants around the grounds and in the guards’ mess hall. By the time I left, there were marijuana plants about three inches tall growing in the entire prison. [Laughs] It was about to become a pot plantation. That was my parting gift to all the guards. Kiss! Kiss! Goodbye! I had been counseling the prison director because he was a raging alcoholic and he was splitting up with his wife. I was also the kitchen boy that all the old ladies in the kitchen loved, so I was taking eggs and coffee and selling them to the other prisoners. I had saved up money by cutting people’s hair. It’s more accurate to say that I butchered people’s hair. [Laughs] So I left jail with $5,000 that I had saved. Two guards took me to the airport in handcuffs and, as I’m getting on the plane, I was like, “Dude, you really need to take these handcuffs off right now because that’s against the Geneva Convention.” They were sitting next to me on the plane and I kept switching seats and they were following me around the plane because they had to make sure that I was accepted into England, otherwise, I’d go straight back to them and that would be their responsibility. They didn’t speak a word of English and I spoke both English and their language. They got off the plane and I didn’t want English customs and immigration to know where I’d been or what’s been going on, so I moved away from them. I get in line at Immigration and they were chasing me down the line and I ended up being just in front of them as we entered Immigration. They were right behind me, but they didn’t speak English, and they were frustrating the Immigrations Director. I said, “I speak both languages. Can I help you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “They are a couple of guards and they are accompanying some kind of prisoner back home. I think they need to get back on the flight and go straight home, so how do they do that?” At the same time, I’m talking to the guards and telling them that everything is okay.” I double-talked and razzle-dazzled them until these guards were led back to the plane that we just flew in on to go back home.
Then I come into customs and I was freaked out. There was this blue-eyed Scottish customs guy and he said, “Can you come over here? What have you got in your bag?” I open it up and he goes straight to my pile of books. The middle of one of my books had been cut out where I’d hidden all my money and personal things. He went straight to that book and found all the money and said, “That’s a lot of money.” He’s searching in the bag and he pulled out 1/5 of a gram of hash. It was a tiny piece of hash that had been in my bag all that time since I was arrested. He goes, “What have we here? A mouse shit?” I’m like, “Oh no! I’m going in again.” He goes, “Where have you been?” I said, “I’ve been on a commune.” I started crying because I was so emotional and exhausted and I knew that piece of hash could put me back in jail. He goes, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” He flicked the piece of hash away and he goes, “Look, sonny, I know where you’ve been. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you and you seem like a good guy.” He gave me a hug and said, “Don’t fuck it up.” I’ll never forget him. It was like, finally, someone was giving me a break.
Don’t fuck it up.
Yeah. I had spent quite some time hearing the sound of a lock and key behind me and being under constant supervision and then I was free. You never really appreciate two things in your life – your health and your liberty – unless it’s taken away. If you haven’t got either of those, you have nothing. You’ve got no freedom or you’re sick. Other than that, every morning that you wake up, there’s a possibility to do anything you want if you’ve got the guts to do it. That was a big lesson for me. I decided that I was never going back to jail and I was going to live and love my life every minute. Prison reinforced the idea that I had to take advantage of every day, every situation and every opportunity and just go at life with gusto, and I did. Then, after some months of trying to find my way in England, the next chapter started, which was New York.
So I worked for about six months selling insurance door to door in England. The only saving grace was that I had spent all my money on a powder blue convertible Jaguar XJ6, so I didn’t feel like quite a loser, you know?
It was an old car and I had to get a paint job on it, but I was cruising around town in a Jag and it was awesome. Every day I was being stopped by the cops and questioned and searched by the cops, all because of my skateboarding days.
Oh yeah. I was target number one. Not only was I target number one, I had this Jag, so they were on my shit all the time. Then time went on and I was doing this and that and I had saved up money and I bought a Porsche. It was my dream car. It was a left hand drive because it was a foreign car, so it was really cheap, but I was driving around in a Porsche. It was very tempting to start getting into trouble and doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing, and I didn’t want to go back to jail, so we went to Mykonos, Greece, one summer and I meet these four guys. They were good looking young New Yorkers and I had a gang of English guys with me, so we were competing over these girls and then the girls ran off with some Italians. We met some real characters on that trip. There was another crew of guys that had these bodyguards around them carrying machine guns. Those guys had mad money and party favors. We were like, “Can we hang out?” They were like, “Yes, of course you can.” This ended up being the greatest trip, and I make best friends with this one guy. The reason that all of the guys had machine guns was because they were tied in with Pablo Escobar. They were Cali cartel guys, and I stayed friends with the boss for some time after that. I read he was killed eventually. The New York boys were like, “Do you want to come visit us in New York?” I said yes and, at that point, I imported my car to New York, as England was becoming too much and I’d been banned for speeding. When I arrived in New York at Newark airport, I had 50 pounds in my pocket and I had no idea what I was going to do. I had shipped my car over because I thought I might sell it and have money from that. So I got off the plane and the immigration guy said, “How long are you staying?” I said, “I have no idea. I only have 50 pounds.” He was like, “You’re not coming in.” I said, “Wait. I have a car. I have a Porsche. This is my new life. I’m coming to America.”
What year was this?
It was around 1985. I was 21. So the guy says, “Where is the Porsche? I want to see it.” So I walk outside and my friend Bruno (R.I.P.) is there with my car with his New York slick haircut. The immigration guy goes straight up to him and says, “Whose car is this?” He said, “It’s his. We’re selling it.” The immigration guy looked at me and said, “Good luck.” He gave me a stamp for a six-month stay.
Wow. Good luck!
So then I’m driving into New York, in the Porsche, and we pull up at the cliff in Jersey. I’m looking across the water at New York City and all I can hear is this rumble. I’m like, “Holy shit! Let’s go!” So we drive in through the tunnel and we get to Bruno’s nice apartment.
Did he have a down comforter?
[Laughs] No and we didn’t sleep for a week! So we put a gang together, all the boys, my best friend, Alan, and Izzy and a couple of others, and the girls. I was like, “What’s the hottest club in New York?” They said, “Area.”
I went there. Area had a halfpipe and I skated there.
That’s right. So we get to Area and there are 2,000 people outside and we were 20 meters away from the entrance and I was like, “There’s no way we’re getting in here.” I look up and somehow Jules Gayton is on the door doing face control.
This is the hottest club in New York and I’m waving like a loony and he sends the bouncers in and the Red Sea parts and we cruise into the club. There’s Boy George and this one and that one. Area was the club that changed the installation every six weeks. My first night in New York, I felt so totally at home with all of the black sheeps of the world. It was crazy. I was like, “I’m never leaving this city. This is my kind of town.” I started an import business and I ended up importing a bunch of Porsches and Rolls Royce. Somehow my partner managed to smash a bunch of them up while I was away on vacation, so we lost all our money and the insurance company refused to pay it. Then I’m sitting in New York completely broke with no money, but I had a Rolls Royce. Then there was a place on the upper West Side called Cafe Pacifico. It was a place that everyone would go, like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and other celebs, and the family that owned Cafe Pacifico was amazing. Todd DeMann, the son of the owner, Gloria DeMann, became one of my best friends and, eventually, my business partner. He had this amazing girlfriend, Rosemary, that was always nice to me and made me feel welcome. I used to go to Cafe Pacifico in the Rolls and then, one day, Gloria said, “Do you need a job, honey?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “I’ll give you a job as a waiter.” So I became the crazy waiter. They gave us these crazy outfits to wear because she was a colorful character, and every table I went to, I had a different personality. I would be Fritz from Berlin and then I’d be Mickey from Dublin. [Laughs] I created all these different characters and I had a story for everyone.
You brought the circus experience with you.
Yes. I was the best salesman there and I got the best tips. Every night after work, we’d go downtown to the clubs, like Save The Robots and the Milk Bar and the Palladium. I was out seven days a week until dawn. God knows what was going on. It was every night, every day, 24 hours a day, and then I started to travel to Asia.
After ten months in New York, I needed some sleep. I wasn’t sleeping for months because I was going full throttle seven days a week. So I’d go to Asia for a month and I ended up doing a couple of road trips on motorcycles. I was earning pretty good money as a waiter and I was partying and having so much fun, and meeting everybody. Then I became the manager of Cafe Pacifico and we turned it into Sweet Hurricane. Then Todd and I opened our own restaurant. I raised a few million bucks just on blind faith. That’s the incredible thing about America. I went to friends and raised money to open up my own restaurant and that place became the hottest place in New York.
What was the name of it?
Metro CC. Later, I opened Flowers in the same spot. Before that, after my car business days, my friend, Bruno, started a furniture business and he was selling furniture to low-income families in Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. This was the absolute peak of the crack epidemic, so these neighborhoods were absolutely deadly. Then he started selling jewelry and TVs and things like that, but then a lot of people weren’t paying, so I became the repo dude. Rhone, this crazy Israeli ex-paratrooper dude, and I became the debt collectors. I was in Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn and I met people there, including all the rappers that lived out there. Rhone and I were going out there sometimes in a beat up old car and sometimes in a Porsche or the Rolls Royce and, I’ll be honest, I was carrying a gun and handcuffs and we had walkie talkies. We’d arrive at some places and they’d be throwing TVs out the window at us and then the whistles would go out in the projects that we were there. My name was Mr. Sharky. That was the name I put out there as a loan shark collector. I was a good debt collector though. If they didn’t have the money, I would just put their file at the bottom of the pile, and they’d get three more months to get the money, but, if you were trying to rip us off, I’d find you. So we were out there battling it out and shit was being thrown at us. We were in the middle of so many shootouts between the cops and crack dealers. One time, I was hiding under a truck during a shootout and there was a guy getting chased by the cops with a hefty bag full of cash and other stuff and he tossed the bag, so I crawled under cars in the middle of the gunfight and retrieved the bag. We got the bag and, of course, flushed it all down the toilet.
Of course. [Laughs]
Then we opened Metro CC and then Flowers and we were friends with all the young models before the modeling thing became huge in New York City. Then the super model thing hit and Metro CC was ground zero. It was the hottest club in New York City. Bobby De Niro, Joe Pesci, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington… everyone was there. JFK Jr. and Elle MacPherson were there the night we got shut down. We were going into bad neighborhoods and opening up clubs and then the streets became lit and less dangerous and the property values went up. All the people living in bad neighborhoods, suddenly, had valuable real estates with all these honking horns and noise, so the communities always wanted to fight us. Giuliani was a dick and he was in charge of the anti-disco task force. So here we were. I’ve got nightclubs and all the young cops who were friends would come up through the ranks over the years, and they became our best friends and then some became firemen and chiefs. We had the good and the bad in our clubs. We had the gangsters and the mafia and and celebs and supermodels and everyone. On top of that, I had my relationships with the up and coming rappers, so I networked everybody. All those relationships came into play for years after that when we started opening up many more clubs including Lotus, Double Seven, Mansion, Tunnel, Life, and Bowery Bar. It just went on and on. It ballooned into this mini empire where we were running the nightlife of New York City for many years.
What was the name of your company?
CI5. I was traveling to France, Spain, Cannes, Monaco, Bali and Saint-Tropez, fashion weeks, film festivals, Grand Prix, and then came Russia and that’s a whole other story. Needless to say, I was one of the first Westerners who went to Russia. I was doing parties and bringing celebrities there. It was pretty dangerous, but I made friends with amazing people and helped a lot of people come to the U.S. Of course, Moscow was insanely fun and crazy and I’ve had strong ties to Russia since then.
When did you go to Bali for the first time?
I had gone on a road trip through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We were just riding motorcycles through Asia. Then I heard about Bali and we went to Bali on our first trip. When I got on the island, I knew this was it. I loved it. It combines a beautiful place with spirituality and peace. New York was a pretty rough place, and I had gotten shot and stabbed multiple times and I had gotten pistol-whipped. I had crashes and smashes and knew every good guy and bad guy, but I always managed to not cross the line. I was everybody’s friend and I helped everyone and I continue to do so, but I was right there on the edge the whole time. I never crossed the line though. I paid my taxes and never fucked anyone over. I was called the ‘Godfather of New York Nightlife’ and that isn’t to say that we didn’t have to do what we had to do sometimes, but no one, even the guy that stabbed me and tried to kill me and tried to shoot me in the face, nobody got clipped that didn’t deserve to be clipped. I always helped everybody. Anyway, once every year, I used to go to Bali and hug a tree and get some sleep and then go back to New York and do it all over again for 11 months. One day, I had a horrific crash in New York where I smashed my Suzuki 1100 motorcycle into the Pan-Am building going 100 miles an hour and I broke every bone in my body. I was in the hospital for I don’t know how long. While I was in the hospital, they shut down Metro CC. They locked us out and wouldn’t let us reopen. On the closing night of Metro, we made the cover of the New York Post and the Daily News. There was a picture of the fire chief in his fire hat with JFK Jr. and Elle MacPherson dancing together on a tabletop. They were like, “We’re so sorry. We love this place and you’re a brother, but we have to shut you down because of the community and Giuliani.”
It was done.
Well, I spent two months in the hospital mending and trying to get it reopened while I was smashed to pieces. Eventually, I came out of there and I limped into Bali and stayed for a month in Ubud with a 90-year-old blind man named Bobo who healed me and brought me back to life. I had nervous breakdowns and I was smashed to pieces, and I’d lost everything, again, so I was in a bad way.
You were frazzled.
Yeah. I was done. Then I got better and came back to New York and rolled my sleeves up and went back to work and smashed it with a new place. I was producing events in New York and at Sundance, etc. One day I get a call from Sony to do a party for some movie called Dogtown and Z-Boys. Stacy Peralta was the producer. You and I had talked about it when they were making the movie to do my account of it all. Anyway, we’re in Sundance and all the Dogtown crew shows up, a little heavier and older, and we all went snowboarding together. Kids were laughing at this gang of old geezers until we hit those slopes. We rocked and boarded through the restaurant, hanging off the ski lifts, etc. You and I terrorized that mountain and it was like we were kids again. There was a mob scene of autograph hunters at the base. Later that night, the party we threw got so rowdy with like 2,000 people. [Laughs] It was the last house party allowed at Sundance. That was a crazy weekend. That’s been the pace of things.
There are peaks and valleys in life.
Yes. Each time, you live and learn. The thing is that New York City has an expiration date on it. It’s certainly not for old people to do nightclubs. Over all the years, and all the clubs and all the riches and fame and fortune and disasters that I’ve gone through, I always knew in the back of my mind, that Bali would be the place I would end up. I couldn’t see any other place in the world that checks all those boxes. It’s not to say that it’s bad to have the Ferraris and houses and toys and planes, but there are a lot of keys on that chain when you have that much stuff. In Bali, you need very few keys on the chain. I’m walking around barefoot in a sarong and a t-shirt and I ride my scooter with my wolf and it’s the epitome of happiness for me right now. I’ve had an awesome career and the next chapter is just getting going. Now I get to see you.
Right. How fantastic is this? Through all this, since we met in 1978 to now, it’s over 40 years, and I’m so proud of my friend.
Thank you. I’m proud of you too. We’ve made it this far.
I’m just saying. We’ve made it.
We’ve lived and we are living. I never thought I’d make it past 20 and then 30. Then I thought that 40 would be the absolute last. Then we made it through 50 and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. I have less stress in my life and I have nothing to prove anymore and I’ve certainly mellowed out. So Mrs. Brockway, let’s get back to her.
[Laughs] Yes. Let’s go back to Mrs. Brockway. So you go back to see your mother and Mrs. Brockway lives down the street.
Yes. I’m the godfather of New York nightlife and I’ve got pictures of me with the president and every supermodel and celebrity. I’m standing next to my house with a yacht and a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari and my mom goes to show Mrs. Brockway these pictures. Mrs. Brockway is almost on her deathbed and my mom says, “Look at my son. Look what he’s done.” Mrs. Brockway says, “That’s not real. That’s not the president. That’s a cardboard cutout you took a photo with. It’s not true.” I wanted to go to her house and tell her how I felt and it would have been really ugly and that would have been her dying moment. Before I did that, I sat down with this incredible healer in Bali who spent hours walking me through a conversation with Mrs. Brockway. I was in a calm state and she walked me through a dialogue with her and then a reverse dialogue trying to see where her anger and pain came from, and mine from my childhood. I swear to god, after 50 years of anger, in four hours, I was done with Mrs. Brockway and I wished her peace on her deathbed and I moved on. That was an incredibly liberating moment because I didn’t carry that anger with me anymore. I guess the life lesson is that we all carry anger at something. It can eat you alive and destroy your life and make everyone around you miserable and that toxicity can definitely hurt you. Liberating yourself from things that have happened in your past, whether it’s physical or mental, can make you a better person. The life lesson is to enjoy every minute of your life. Take chances. Go live your dreams. It’s all out there. You can do it. You don’t have to be born into money. In fact, you can have too much money and still not enjoy your life. Go pursue your passions. Be nice and put out good things and good things will come back to you. Go out with an open heart and a loving heart. I’m blessed and fortunate that I found my happy place. I love that I get to see you and other friends that come to visit beautiful magical Bali and I’m sad that we’ve lost so many along the way, as I’d wish them all this happiness too. I guess we can announce that you and I are working with an international team to build what could possibly be one of the great skateparks of the world, definitely in Asia. Skateboarding is huge here now and, along with the surf scene, it’s going to be incredible. I’m looking forward to bringing that to fruition with you! I just wish that Jay was also here to be a part of it. We talked just before he passed and he wanted to come to Bali and teach skating to the kids and open a rehab center and live happily ever after…R.I.P. brother. I’m blessed that I have found my happy place and I’m excited at all the things we have going on right now like the OMNIA Dayclub and healthy restaurants like Beach Garden – In The Raw and organic farms and retreats and more. Friends visit all the time and more are coming as Bali is now so popular. Best of all, I live and spend every moment with the most amazing friend who makes me smile every minute… my wolf dog, Merlin. At this stage of our lives, we realize that being happy and living a quality life can be very simple. It puts a smile on your face that is worth a billion dollars. Life couldn’t be any better. Love trumps hate. Spread it like butter.